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Evolution of evaluation

While PR firms have been measuring RoI for some time, the process still has a way to go.

The latter two disciplines were much more likely to include factors such as value to the overall business, goodwill and reputation, ie all areas where PR can be pivotal and that are essential for longterm business sustainability. But is this differing perspective really all that surprising? No, it's essentially a product of personal experience, responsibility and individual key performance indicators.

"Typically a brand manager will be responsible for one brand with discrete operational objectives, eg, 'achieve x per cent awareness and usage' whereas, by definition, more senior marketers will have a portfolio with much broader and diverse objectives," said Stuart Rose, founder of pharmaSMART.

"Often a brand manager has risen up through sales where the typical horizon of focus is 3-6 months. In the first 1-2 years of brand management they will probably not have experienced how other 'slow burn' elements of the communications mix, such as opinion leader development and medical education programmes, can have a profound effect on ultimate sales by shaping customer mindsets. The Pavlovian drive of the junior marketer will be to focus resources on the elements delivering short term effects, even though this may divert resources from longer-term communications activities which can significantly influence the brand's ultimate potential," Rose adds.

Just what are the implications of this differing perspective for evaluation and 'RoI' assessment? It may seem obvious, but first and foremost is the importance of setting clear and measurable objectives for all communications activities. Not only is this a fundamental prerequisite for evaluation, it can also avoid any element of subjectivity from individuals' differing perspectives.

The exact nature of what success will look like has to be agreed by all parties up front - marketer, senior management and agency alike. SMART objectives have to be the order of the day. At least then all concerned will know to what extent they have succeeded in achieving their agreed objectives, whatever the activity concerned. Arguably, as we move more toward the use of cost:impact assessments, more people will be guided towards choosing the activities that have been shown by experience to be the optimum choice in different market situations, as well as evaluating their implementation efficiently.

Arrested development?
What does this all mean for personal careers and businesses? Do those who choose and assess their communications activities most effectively become the most successful? The answer is that where the organisational culture is geared up to it, yes they probably do. Although evaluation practices across the industry vary, companies that appreciate the pivotal role that PR and medical education increasingly play in the marketing mix undertake the most rigorous evaluation. During which time they come round full circle to reinforcing the inherent value of, and to developing their understanding of, what works best in a given situation.

In this environment, marketers and agencies working together to demonstrate the value of their communications activities can reap real mutual benefits. For marketers there is not only the prospect of promotion on the back of good achievement versus objectives, but also the likelihood of maintaining or even increasing their budgets in a cost-contained industry.

For the agencies, being seen to drive effective evaluation with marketing colleagues and contribute to brand success can have two important business benefits: firstly, there is the prospect of continuing and potentially increasing budgets on current accounts; secondly, despite a growing number of healthcare agencies, it is still a relatively small and incestuous industry and people do compare notes on proven agency successes.

Then there is the question of awards, such as Communique where the effective measurement of success is an important judging criteria. Perhaps repeatedly hearing phrases like 'the winning campaign demonstrated true value in achieving xxxx' will encourage evaluation-shy companies to reflect on their current practices? Or maybe they are too frightened to assess what they've always done because it 'works for them' and no one has challenged it? Unfortunately such a head-in-the-sand approach has no place in today's regulated and cost-conscious industry and, like the dinosaurs, these firms risk becoming a thing of the past.

Both agencies and in-house practitioners need to be prepared to argue the case for allocating appropriate resources to assessing the value of communications. There is still a long way to go but, compared with some other areas of marketing spend, for which evaluation is still in its infancy, the evolution for communications is advancing steadily.

The Author
Julia Cook is chair of the HCA and principal of StepBack

1st May 2007

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