Because the art of public relations and maintaining a brand image can be such intangible concepts, it can be difficult for non-PR practitioners to see the value. For advertising, journalism, and marketing, the impact of a campaign or story is more obvious. It can be measured in sales quantity or dollar amount, number of views or clicks on a web ad, or number of subscribers, views, or shares of a newspaper. Public relations isn’t easy, but it’s just as, if not more important than its related fields.
The return on investment (ROI) is a financially measured value that is defined in the PR realm as money generated from a public relations campaign less the costs of implementing that campaign (Obrien, 2013). Also in Obrien’s article, he mentions the importance of determining the desired outcome of a public relations campaign. If one does not know what they wish to accomplish, it’s difficult to quantify the results in the end. In addition, looking at the company’s position before the campaign is launched as well as one year in the past helps us determine more accurately, the impact of the campaign. What was the company culture like before the PR efforts were put into action? What was going on one year ago that could have contributed to the position that the company now finds itself in? These are both important questions to ask while analyzing the ROI.
It’s easy to see the ROI as simply an accounting calculation, which part of it is just that. But, it also has to do with meeting intangible needs like social media metrics and public opinion. CEOs and business professsionals who may not be as versed on the field of public relations tend to focus on outputs rather than outcomes (Oakley Owens, 2013). This implies that people who are not of the PR mindset like to see numbers and actual hard data to prove that what PR activities are happening are worth it. That is difficult to quantify because some things like public perception are difficult to gauge. Outcomes are broader. Big picture things like how did this campaign affect a consumers mindset, and did it lead them toward our product and away from a competitor or vice versa? However, while PR continues to grow and become a vital area in the business world, top level executives who are infamous for belittling public relations have vouched for its importance and its impact on their bottom line (Lee & Yoon, 2009).
So PR is important but is it measured the same for everyone? No. While it’s easy to look at survey results or media placements, that’s not the whole story, and it’s not even the same story for every entity. Depending on the size of the business or entity, public relations practices change, and with it, ways to evaluate effectiveness. Lee and Yoon (2009) speak on the model of the 4 levels of effectiveness. This model looks at practices from an individual, program, organizational and societal perspective (Lee & Yoon, 2009). This way there is an all-encompassing evaluation of the business’ efforts. Individual focuses on the efforts of the individual practitioner and how well they perform, program level deals with the campaign itself and how well it achieved its objectives and overall goal, organizational impact looks at the ways the organization’s mission and bottom line have been affected, and finally, societal – whether the public relations practices have a positive or negative impact on equilibrium in society (Lee & Yoon, 2009). This confirms what was mentioned in Obrien’s article about aligning all departments in a business and keeping their efforts consistent toward one goal (Obrien, 2013). I thought the model described in Lee and Yoon’s piece was interesting because it seems to touch all the major players in PR activities; people, campaign, company, and consumer. I think keeping this model in mind could help a practitioner efficiently evaluate exactly what impact they are making.
Lee, Suman, & Yoon, Youngmin. (2009) Return on investment (ROI) of international public relations: A country-level analysis. Science Direct. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0363811109001404
Oakley Owens, Yasheaka. (2013) What is Public Relations ROI? YoakleyPR. Retreived from http://yoakleypr.com/wp/public-relations/what-is-public-relations-roi/#.VwF-N_krKM8
Obrien, Archie. (2013) 10 Ways to Measure ROI of Public Relations. Everything-PR. Retreived from http://everything-pr.com/roi-public-relations/41033/