Could This Be The Best Way To Measure Public Relations Results?

Feb 28 22:00 2002 Robert A. Kelly Print This Article

Could This Be The Best Way ... Public ... ... Robert A. ... be. In fact, I believe it is. How can you measure ... of an activity more ... than when you clearlya

Could This Be The Best Way To
Measure Public Relations Results?

by Robert A. Kelly

Could be. In fact,Guest Posting I believe it is. How can you measure the
results of an activity more accurately than when you clearly
achieve the goal you set at the beginning of that activity?

In my opinion, you can’t. It’s pure success when you meet
that goal.

Public relations is no different. The client/employer wants
our help in altering counterproductive perceptions among
key audiences which almost always change behaviors in a
way that helps him or her get to where they want to be.

And why are we uniquely qualified to do that job?

Because everything we do is based on the realities that people
act on their perception of the facts and that we can do
something about those perceptions. When public relations
activity successfully creates, changes or reinforces that
opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-action those
people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public
relations effort is a success.

But before we follow that client/employer on his or her
way to that kind of successful public relations end game, a
few words about the measurement challenge itself.

It’s a large challenge and one that stands between us and
the achievement of that conclusive indicator showing that
our public relations investment has been applied wisely.

Unfortunately, traditional public relations performance
measurement methods are subjective and open to varied
interpretation because we do not have viable and widely
accepted public relations measurement standards.

Instead, as we attempt to evaluate public relations
performance now, we must use highly subjective, very limited
and only partially applicable performance judgements. Among
them, inquiry generation, story content analysis, gross
impressions, and even equivalent advertising value.

It’s incredible when you think about it.

Here we are, part and parcel of America’s multi-trillion
dollar industrial, educational and organizational collossus
and, yet, we cannot demonstrate conclusively – that’s
CONCLUSIVELY – that we achieved our public relations
program’s behavioral goal.

Why? Because, as of today, it costs WAY too much public
opinion survey money to demonstrate conclusively that we
achieved the public relations perception and behavioral
goal set at the beginning of the program. In many cases, the
opinion research costs more than the entire underlying public
relations program. Thus, it’s almost always set aside in favor
of “winging it.”

What are we to do?

This article highlights what many professionals already know.
We need this final step in the public relations problem solving
sequence, and we need it badly.

What can be done? I like the NASA approach. When money is
especially short, these dedicated people repeatedly find a
way around the problem using an amazing mix of tech-
nology innovation, operational creativity and raw determination.

Here, in the year 2002, why cannot the best minds in the
fields of public relations, sociology, psychology and
opinion gathering attack the challenge of PROVING CONCLUSIVELY
that a given public relations campaign has – or has not –
changed target audience behaviors as planned at the beginning

of the program, and do so without bankrupting its participants?
Until an answer to that question presents itself, let us
follow our client/employer as s/he pursues that successful
public relations end game.

Take the client/employer bedeviled by activists who perceive
his or her organization as despoilers of the environment, or
whose newly introduced kitchen appliance is perceived as
unsafe, or who is perceived as profiting from the labors of
underage workers in its Far Eastern manufacturing plants.

Common to each are negative perceptions which invariably
lead to negative behaviors such as calls for more government
regulation, legal challenges, falling product sales, declining
share prices and boycotts, to name a few.

Secure in the knowledge that public relations problems are
nearly always defined by what people think about the facts
rather than the actual truth of the matter, the public
relations team faced with such challenges must now mount
its attack. In particular to alter counterproductive perceptions
and behaviors, and achieve the behavioral goal set at the
beginning of the activity.

First, it assesses the accuracy of each allegation. If there
is some truth to it, immediate remedial action is called
for. Even if it is patently untrue, the damaging perception
remains and must be confronted.

Now we identify our key audiences by starting with a
priority-ranking of those audiences with a clear interest
in the organization, often referred to as “stakeholders” or
“publics.” Here, among others, we might spotlight customers
and prospects, the trade and business communities, employees,
local thought-leaders and media in field locations, as well
as a number of other possible stakeholder groups.

Then, through industry and community contacts as well as
opinion sampling, we determine the level of individual concern,
i.e., the degree of awareness, personal feeling and emotion
about the allegations and where they are the strongest among
the organization’s key audiences.

Now, we establish the public relations goal. Namely, to change
public perception of the negative allegations from negative to

Within that overall public relations goal, we set down our
perception and behavior modification objectives which obviously
will require considerable communications firepower to achieve.
However, once the negative perceptions are truly understood, such a
progress marker can be set down, and agreed upon, thus
establishing the degree of behavioral change that can be

Here, we determine the public relations strategy. We only have
three choices: CREATE opinion where none exists, CHANGE
existing opinion, or REINFORCE that existing opinion. In
this case, it is clear that considerable existing opinion
has turned negative so the public relations strategy will
be to begin the process of changing that opinion – not creating or
reinforcing it -- from negative to positive.

At this point, we begin preparation of what we hope will
be persuasive messages for communication to our target
audiences. Bringing those important audiences around to
one’s way of thinking depends heavily on the quality of the
messages we prepare.

At the least, the messages must disarm rumors and correct
misstatements and inaccuracies thus providing a credible
basis upon which individuals may alter their perceptions.
Of course, pretesting a message for effectiveness with focus
groups is always recommended.

With this homework completed, “communications weaponry”
(how do we project our carefully prepared messages to our
key audiences?) must be brought to bear.

Among examples of the wide variety of communications tactics
available to us are face-to-face meetings, Internet ezines and
email, hand-placed newspaper and magazine feature articles
and broadcast appearances, special consumer briefings, news
releases, announcement luncheons, onsite media interviews,
facility tours, brochures and even promotional contests.

Especially effective in reaching target audiences with the
message are newsmaker special events. They are newsworthy by
definition and include activities such as financial roadshows,
awards ceremonies, trade conventions, celebrity appearances
and open houses.

The publicity, or communications effort can then be accelerated,
insuring that the GROUPS of tactics most likely to efficiently
reach our target audiences are chosen. Here we refer to major
tactical activities such as key Internet communications,
important podium presentations, top-level personal contacts
as well as prime-rated print and broadcast media interviews.
Because when such tools are used to communicate with each
target audience, we want them to hit home!

Here, I want to monitor progress and look for signs of
improvement. Public relations counsel and staff must speak
regularly with members of each target audience, monitor print
and broadcast media for evidence of the company’s messages
or viewpoints, and interact with key customers, prospects and
influentials. And, if resources allow, local market opinion
polling should be included.

Finally, indicators that the messages are clearly moving opinion
in your direction will start showing up. Indicators like
comments in community business meetings, mentions in research
analyst’s reports, local newspaper editorials, e-mails from
members of target audiences as well as public references by
political figures and local celebrities.

And that means we are approaching the end-game. When the
changes in behaviors become really obvious through increased
sales, print and broadcast reports, community-leader comment,
employee and community chatter and a variety of other
feedback – in other words, clearly meeting the original
behavior modification goal – two things have occurred. One,
the public relations program is a success and, two, by
achieving the behavioral goal you set at the beginning, you
are using a virtually perfect public relations performance

The missing ingredient? Affordable public opinion research.


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About Article Author

Robert A. Kelly
Robert A. Kelly

Bob Kelly, public relations consultant, was director of public
relations for Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-Public Relations, Texaco Inc.;
VP-Public Relations, Olin Corp.; VP-Public Relations, Newport
News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communications,
U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press
secretary, The White House.

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