Evaluation, evaluation, evaluation

It’s all very well creating a stunning PR campaign but what’s the point if you don’t understand why it was successful or in some cases unsuccessful.

It has always been hard for public relations to show the true value of it’s work. The old system of AVE’s (Advertising Value Equivalent) is flawed in many ways, AVE rates on the basis that advertising and public relations hold the same value, this is not the case. An online advert doesn’t hold the same worth for example as an influential blogger writing a positive piece on a product or service. In traditional media such as newspapers there is no value that can put on a positive mention in an article on the front page the same can be said for a piece on the BBC. This is because you cannot buy advertising on the front page of a national newspaper or on a BBC TV station. In my (humble) opinion when people use AVE’s they are just being too lazy to produce a proper evaluation.

With the hard financial times we are currently in people want to get the most out of their money, so now more than ever clients want an accurate evaluation of their PR activity. Presenting them with a couple of press clippings and AVE’s is not going to cut it anymore. It’s important to provide your client with an accurate evaluation not just so they know you’ve done your job, but also to see for yourself what has worked well and what may not have worked so well. It’s also a great way to show how valuable PR really is, historically when times get tough communications departments are the first ones to be cut this is a huge mistake (obviously!) but if you provide the CEO with an evaluation of the work you have done he can see just how valuable PR is to the business.

So now you know how important an evaluation is, how do you produce a good one? Firstly you need to remind yourself of exactly what you wanted to achieve from the campaign, once you have done this you can evaluate whether the campaign was successful or not. Depending on what your campaign planned to achieve will largely determine what evaluation techniques you will use, however below are a few examples of techniques you can use that are more valuable than just AVE’s:

Audience coverage and response the basic of all tools is to monitor whether your message has reached your intended audience and if it has, what their response is to their message. This can encompass some of the methods below, and essentially is the foundation of your evaluation.

Digital Media Monitoring as I have spoken about in previous posts is integral. Monitoring what is being said about you online is incredibly important as consumers value online opinions more and more, it is also a valuable evaluation tool. Keeping track of online conversations during the time of the campaign can be a useful tool for audience awareness. There are various programs that can do this for you including Google Analytics and Lithium.

Media Mention tracking, including the likes of press clippings are still a good tool to use in conjunction with other methods. For audiences that read newspapers the value of pieces in newspapers will be hugely beneficial. In order to understand how beneficial you need to obviously know how highly your readers hold the opinions of journalists and newspapers.

Evaluation is such a huge task there are entire books, research papers, agencies and associations that focus solely on the subject. Public Relations still doesn’t have a universal evaluation process and I’m not sure this is entirely a bad thing. Public Relations campaigns can vary so hugely and like I said depending on what you want your campaign to achieve will determine what evaluation techniques you need to use. I agree there should be some official guidelines on how to produce an in depth evaluation, however I don’t believe standardising the process is particularly helpful. However there is one thing that I think all evaluations need to show, they need to demonstrate how effectively you have reached your audience and how the audience has responded, because if your message isn’t reaching you’re public you have definitely failed! How you monitor this though, is dependent on your campaign

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Platforms and channels, not just a type of shoe or a place to watch TV…

With all this talk of social media and the digital age it’s important to understand the jargon. So those of you that thought Platforms were a type of shoe from the 70’s making a come back or where you stand to get your train from, I’m afraid to say that’s not what they’re talking about!

Although not a shoe, Platforms are something tangible unlike their channel counterparts (which just for reference aren’t where you watch your favourite television programs). By reading this now you’re in fact using both a Platform, you’re computer or internet enabled device and a Channel, this very WordPress site. The internet itself has revolutionised all industries, including Public Relations but now that it is so easily accessible and has a huge variety of websites and social media networks it has just got even harder to control.

There are 5 core elements that are said to ‘drive’ online PR and the advent of powerful Platforms like the iPhone and Channels like Twitter add to the importance of these 5 elements:

Transparency – as I’ve mentioned before Transparency has become essential for organisations, especially in the digital age. Nowadays anybody could take a photo on their phone and have it uploaded onto Twitter ‘outing’ a company’s bad behaviour or unethical practices before they could bat an eyelid. Now more than ever it is important for organisations to be honest with their public before something is leaked and sensationalised creating a worse situation for the organisation that if they were up front from the start.

Agency – this highlights the use of user generated content. The public are no longer just consumers they are also producers of their own media. Channels like Wikipedia have set the trend for sites that allow it’s users to contribute to the content that it provides. This is great for consumers as they can voice their opinion of an organisations for all to read, however this presents some obvious obstacles for organisations as they have no control over what is said about them, another reason for them to practice Transparency.

Porosity – much like transparency and agency, porosity is the leaking of information but usually in this case unintentionally. Now that organisations rely heavily on digital communication channels such as email, Intranet, SMS and social media, it is inevitable that confidential information can find it’s way to the wider public. This can often be bad for obvious reason, but sometimes hearing the real voices of the organisation (especially when the information is not scandalous) can be a good thing for a company’s reputation.

Richness & Reach – richness is the amount of content that the internet can hold and reach is how many people can view this information. For organisations that means that everything about them can be available for all of the world to see. With Platforms like internet enabled mobile phones that means that the public can access this information from anywhere at anytime. As with the other 3 points this has it’s positives and negatives and just confirms the benefits of Transparency.

So every time we use our iPhone (other internet enabled devices are available!) we are exercising the use of an important Platform (the device not the shoe) and when we then use our iPhone to Tweet what we’ve just had for breakfast, we have demonstrated how quick and easy it is to use the Channels that our Platforms enable. Most important to remember as somebody in the Public Relations industry is the 5 drivers of online PR. These serve as essential reminders of the opportunities that the internet and it’s Channels can provide as well as the potential damage that it can cause an organisation. The obvious answer to avoiding the negatives from these 5 drivers is to really take head of the first point and practice Transparency wherever possible.