Burden of Proof

September 1, 2002
Joy Scott

Joy Scott is the principal for Scott Marketing & Public Relations.

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-09-02-2002,

In an organizational environment characterized by downsizing and zero-based budgeting, public relations no longer can convincingly argue that the function is justified without evidence of measurable results.

In an organizational environment characterized by downsizing and zero-based budgeting, public relations no longer can convincingly argue that the function is justified without evidence of measurable results.

Successful brand building relies heavily on consumer awareness, product credibility, and creating and maintaining relationships-all desired outcomes of public relations, a versatile discipline that is designed to influence behavior. But how does anyone measure influence? Furthermore, how does a company define the specific behavior it wants to influence and whether or not the behavior changed? Without a solid understanding of what to measure, how can management tell if the results of a marketing and public relations program justify the investment?

With shrinking budgets and rising expectations, few companies can afford to allocate financial and staff resources for a business function that can't quantify its value. This article examines the need for clear, concise methods for measuring the success of public relations programs and identifies steps to ensure that the measurement is made.

More than Media

For years, the success of a public relations campaign was measured in terms of the number of "hits" or media placements secured. In that sense, quantity was king. The "true value" of each placement was often viewed in terms of a media equivalency rating that estimated the value of each PR placement compared with traditional advertising. PR pros would chant, "Advertising you pay for... PR you pray for," as college interns diligently cut and pasted together impressive looking media-clip books to submit as justification for a month's invoice.

Although it's true that media placements are a desired outcome of a PR campaign-one that offers a quantifiable number to help judge the success of a specific tactic-it's ineffective for measuring the success of the overall effort. With regard to media hits, the value lies in quality, not quantity. A well-written press release may find itself among the pages of a widely circulated publication, but if the publication fails to target the right audience, the placement offers little real value. Also, media coverage per se does not guarantee a successful program-or a change in behavior or attitudes.

Clear Measurement Tools

Today's pharma executives, who rely on marketing and PR programs to support nearly every aspect of the business from new product launches to crisis communications, want a clear-cut justification of PR programs. They look for the desired PR output in media placements, white papers, and speaking engagements, as well as the number of times a spokesperson is quoted, and key messages that are communicated. But now they also look for the quality of PR outcomes, such as how target audiences receive, pay attention to, understand, retain, and act on the messages directed at them.

Fortunately, pharma companies and their PR agencies can take concrete steps to gauge the success or shortcomings of a public relations program.

Demonstrating the Value of Public Relations

Include measurement methods and projected results. When writing a plan, PR professionals should include an overview of program objectives and projected results to serve as benchmarks for evaluating program results. Those results should be tied to the company's business objectives. If the company's goal is to achieve a 20 percent market share for a specific product, it's important to show how the PR program contributes to that goal.

Identify the analysis methodology and budget for it. No one evaluation tool is universally applied. According to Guidelines and Standards for Measuring and Evaluating PR Effectiveness, published by the Institute for Public Relations Commission on PR Measurement and Evaluation, useful techniques often employed in combination include media content and placement analysis, cyberspace analysis, trade show and event measurement, polls and surveys-both pre- and post-test studies-and focus groups.

In planning the evaluation mechanisms, managers should take care to collect reactive and anecdotal data such as:

  • How does PR identify and measure incoming call-center calls?

  • How does it measure e-mail and mail response to articles?

  • If an executive bylines an article, does he or she get calls?

  • When salespeople make calls, do prospects remember having read or heard of the recent articles or news coverage in question?

  • Have website traffic patterns changed, and if so, how?

Know which messages are important. Developing key messages ensures that all parties involved are familiar with, and agree on, the most important information to convey to the public. The communication must articulate a company's or a product's positioning and differentiation. Those messages provide a useful benchmark for measuring how well they communicate them in PR materials, how well the media coverage reflects them, and how target audiences perceive and remember them.

Craft messages for different audiences. Key messages should be tailored to each audience. The "one size fits all" approach to developing messages is likely to meet the needs of only one group and alienate others. Shareholders, employees, consumers, medical professionals, and the media each have different vocabularies, needs, and interests. When explaining pharma's position on why medication costs are increasing rapidly, the content and vocabulary of the message to consumers should be different from the one directed toward policy makers. Messages to consumers may be as direct and basic as "The many new medications coming to the market help save lives and improve the quality of life for many Americans, yet they come at a cost that forces us to answer the question: "'Who will pay?'" Messages for employer audiences could focus on their particular stake: "New medications can improve the health of your employees, increase their productivity, and avoid expensive hospitalizations."

Test messages. Target audiences may not as easily understand what makes sense to the management team and its public relations executives. Before implementing a PR campaign, it is important to test key messages among several audiences, including members of the media. Informal roundtable discussions and focus groups are an excellent way to interact with specific consumer segments and gather valuable information regarding the audience's understanding of messages and their reaction to them. Information obtained from those consumers allows PR professionals to refine communications as needed, before launching a PR program.

Successfully communicate key messages. An extensive collection of press clippings offers little value if it fails to achieve the desired goal. Many constituents get their news from online news services and read the release in its entirety. Instead of using news releases as vehicles to interest reporters in doing a story, companies now use them to communicate directly to target audiences.

Consequently, it's important to assess the content of each release for its target audiences. Are messages clear? Is the release stripped of jargon? Do the headline and lead communicate the most important and compelling news? Managers must apply the analysis to other PR communications such as speeches, white papers, articles, pitch letters, and events.

Campaign managers should analyze interviews to see if they are in line with the overall goals of the media relations campaign, paying close attention to what worked well and what they should do differently in the future. They must consider the nature of each media clip. Was the story positive? Did it feature the company prominently or merely mention it? Did it highlight key messages? If so, which ones? Where did the story appear and how effective is that outlet in reaching the desired audience? Did the release appear on websites and online services as well as in print and broadcast media? Who attended a PR-planned speaking engagement and did attendees reflect the target audience?

Guidelines measuring the effectiveness of media coverage should include

  • the media outlet, including its size, scope, and frequency

  • the story's source

  • degree of exposure-mention, feature, or interview

  • audience and reach-the circulation and readership

  • subject and topic-who or what was mentioned and in what context. Was the placement an interview, an exclusive profile of the company, or a round up including the competition? If so, how prominently was the company featured?

  • subjective variables-was the tone positive, negative, or neutral?

Measure changes in awareness, attitudes, and opinions. After all is said and done-the special event is over, the large-scale marketing promotion has come to a close, and the reporters have gone home-how did things change? Did the campaign influence policy makers? Did it make consumers aware of a new therapy? Do physicians understand the advantages of one brand-name pharmaceutical over another?

Companies can use opinion awareness and comprehension studies to determine the extent to which the target audience received, paid attention to, understood, and was influenced by the message. In general, surveys produce quantifiable data from which they can make projections about larger audiences; focus groups offer qualitative data, which must be interpreted more subjectively. Companies can conduct surveys by phone, mail, fax, e-mail, and websites-as well as in person at shopping malls and through business leads received.

Recall and retention studies offer valuable insight about the audience's ability to differentiate between the recall of an advertisement and a PR placement-an important con-sideration, because many pharma companies simultaneously conduct advertising and PR campaigns.

Analyze changes in media attitude and attention such as frequency of ad placements and tone of coverage.

One method for evaluating awareness that is often overlooked is to track the kind of reception received by pharma sales reps when they call on prospects. Are prospects familiar with the company and its products? Have they read previous news articles about the company?

Measure changes in behavior. How has the PR effort contributed to a change in behavior? Short-term measurement markers include PR's ability to generate calls, e-mails, website visits, and requests for information through the website, call center, or e-mail solicitations. To tie the campaign's effectiveness to generation of sales leads, an internal mechanism must track those responses and ascertain whether they became qualified leads.

Long-term measurements of behavior change could include an increase in market share, sales made to leads generated by the PR campaign, changes in physician's prescribing patterns, the inclusion of a medication on more health plan formularies, patients' requests to receive a medication, or an increase in patient compliance.

Final Exam

Managers must evaluate the PR function in terms of its ability to advance the pharma company's mission and achieve its goals. The goal of a PR outcome analysis is to ensure that the program meets the company's needs to secure true value for its marketing dollar. Therefore, the development and execution of a PR outcomes analysis is as important as the development and execution of the overall campaign.