It’s easy to think that within the fast-paced world of PR, everything is in perpetual flux.

By their very nature, client campaigns are continuously evolving and commercial positioning shifts and changes with market sentiment and corporate growth.  Add to this the very nature of domestic and national media, coupled with the ever-present rolling news cycle and one can easily come to the conclusion that there are precious few constants – that nothing within the world of the the public relations executive remains static.

That however, simply isn’t true.  It’s a nice idea, for sure – and undoubtedly seriously enticing to many on the outside looking in – but the truth of the matter is somewhat more pragmatic.  And that’s especially the case when it comes to the issue of – wait for it, PR campaign evaluation….

For – and here’s another truth – the reality for many PR executives working their way up through the industry, is that the ability to accurately measure and assess the true worth of their activity and output is far harder than one dares to think.

That in part is one of the reasons why for many years the PR industry (and the corporate PR industry in particular) was all too often neglected – with the discipline shrouded in mystery and considered the marketing dark art.

In other words – it was an industry discipline that showed plenty of potential to create a tangible and meaningful impact to a business – but understanding and evaluating the importance and level of that impact was almost impossible to assess.

Now don’t get me wrong here – the physical ability to “measure” campaign impact, has of course been a lucrative and well-documented business.  Set one of these firms up and you can make some serious commercial returns.

Naturally, the way in which each of these firms work is very different but the basic premise is a simple one – namely, track and monitor “outputs”, develop a simple and effective output scoring system and then test and re-test.  In fact, years ago – when I first started out – I can clearly remember having to actually measure coverage in terms of literal column inches, studiously recording said figures in evaluation charts.

In any case, as a result of all this, a marketing department ends up with a dashboard of statistics, numbers and formulas that, when undertaken effectively – can provide a good performance dashboard of campaign channel performance.

But here’s the thing.  Is this really measuring the true effectiveness of a campaign?

I’ve never really thought so. These days, I’m certain it isn’t.  Why?

Because in short, corporate and business PR really, truly, isn’t about a blunt coverage output.  Instead, what we’re consistently hired to help enact and deliver is a wider behavioural change.  And the ability to influence that – and in doing so, encourage customers, prospects, partners and peers to change the way in which they act – is the true campaign metric.

What that really means is that this isn’t about column inches.  That’s not what the business owners and business development directors that hire us actually care about.

Nope.  They’re far more interested in finding the most cost-effective and targeted way in which to deliver a clear and consistent set of messages to their audience.

The channel through which that message is delivered is largely irrelevant and increasingly, results in eschewing traditional mainstream medium in favour of targeting niche communities and influencers.

Add to this the fact that some of the most effective PR campaigns don’t just sit within the remit of the marketing department but instead necessitate working directly with business development directors, chief executives and their senior teams and it’s increasingly apparent that campaign evaluation metrics simply have to change.

Mass media consumer PR campaigns are very different of course but the truth of the matter is that I’ve never met a chief executive within the sector in which we specialize that gives a damn about column inches.  That’s not what keeps these folk awake at night.

Rather, they’re far more interested in new business development and commercial growth.  Are the sales team hitting their targets, are customers actively choosing to work with the business and ultimately, are these very same customers also giving these businesses the benefit of the doubt when things can and do go wrong?

Those aren’t easy campaign metrics to measure – and to date I’ve never met an evaluation firm that has come anywhere near close – but in an age where PR has become a significant new business development and retention tool, perhaps it’s time to have a rethink?

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