Effectiveness of public relations (Part 1)

One of the most commonly examined subjects in the area of public relations is the effectiveness of these activities. When working with customers I am constantly confronted with the question “So what is the result of your activities?” In fact, so many books have been written on this subject that everybody is well aware of the main methods for measuring effectiveness, which even students are taught. However, my view of this issue has always been different from that of others, even though I could not find the answer, which I follow myself, in the entire flow of information. And only recently I heard it while visiting one client in Scandinavia – “PR is either effective or not”.

Thus, in my view, in an ideal case there can be no objective measurements, as the existent ones most usually are only subjective calculations, comparisons of articles, etc. I believe that all of them come from marketing, while PR specialists simply adapt to them. Common methods for measuring effectiveness are the idea of advertising creators, who use the approach that everything can be measured, evaluated, calculated, circulated, number of impressions can be gathered, frequency and time on TV can be traced, etc.; however, all this is just a formality – advertising representatives rarely speak about whether someone actually saw the advertisement or not, whether or not it had some kind of effect. Of course, these things can more or less be calculated in marketing and advertising and that is common. The problem arises when attempts are made to apply those same evaluation criteria to public relations.

After all, what is true public relations? It is talk, communication, writing, reading, and mutual discussion. And what can be the result of a discussion between two people? Sometimes there is no result at all, sometimes the result is obvious, say, when after discussions two people change their opinion, they decide on something, get frustrated or, to the contrary, are fascinated with something. This is exactly the result achieved in public relations. Even though it may not obviously manifest itself – neither in articles, reportages, nor anywhere else – but someone’s opinion may change after certain actions, which would be the most certain result. I liked the idea of one person that calculating the effectiveness of public relations based on the number of articles appearing in media is the same as measuring the effectiveness of friendship based on the number of friends. After all, friendship is not required to create some product – people are friends because they feel good being together, it is useful for both of them in moral terms. So it is absolutely unnecessary to do that in public relations, although often required.

I am deeply convinced that public relations is a sensitive area, thus very similar to friendship. They are based on emotions, relations, things that cannot be felt but only anticipated, thus formal evaluation thereof is complex and essentially pointless. When do we say that a conversation was successful? When we feel good after it, are satisfied, relaxed or solve some problem, etc. Thus thinking about PR we should first of all talk about the level of satisfaction, i.e. if a customer sees actions being developed as beneficial, both sides feel perfect in their cooperation, this means that we will continue working and will not separate. However, if the benefit is not felt and a PR specialist does not manage to prove it to the customer, then we are likely to go separate ways. Of course all this sounds good in theory, as in practice you have to account to your customer on what was done, how much was said and communicated, otherwise, people won’t understand what they were billed for. Thus in the end we have to draw up reports required by a client, because some find formally presented things necessary and allowing to decide on the result.
To Be Continued


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