In public relations, there is a lot of research and planning involved before implanting a strategy. In order to know the effectiveness of those objectives, strategies, and tactics, evaluation has to take place. “The evaluation step in a public relations program is essential. It permits the practitioner to assess the effectiveness of the effort, demonstrate that effectiveness to management, and plan for future efforts. It also gives an opportunity to adjust tactics while the campaign is in progress. All this means that competent evaluation demonstrates the value of public relations to management” (2017).
“Dozier and Repper (1992: 186) argue that a distinction needs to be drawn between research designed to analyse the situation at the beginning of the planning process and research designed to evaluate the planning, implementation and impact of the programme. However, they them- selves blur this distinction by stressing that the first type of research acts as the benchmark for programme evaluation. In short, a research- based culture is an evaluative culture and vice versa” (Watson & Noble, 2007 p 17).
Although, not everyone agrees on the term evaluation in regards to public relations. “The term evaluation is a broad one and this breadth gives the potential for confusion. Cutlip, Center and Broom (2006: 364) both illustrate the scope of evaluation and argue that evaluation is a research-based activity: ‘The process of evaluating program planning, implementation, and impact is called “evaluation research” (Watson & Noble 2007 p 17).’
“Interest in measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of an organization’s communications effectiveness has grown in importance in recent years. In the business sector, CEOs are more and more demanding of their public relations and public affairs subordinates that they “justify” their existence and be accountable for their various programs and activities” (Lindenmann 2006).
The process of evaluation has four major components: Setting specific measurable communications goals and objectives, measuring communications outputs, measuring communications outtakes and outcomes, and measuring institutional outcomes (Lindenmann 2006).
Evaluation is impossible without setting goals (Watson & Noble 2007). Our Fundamentals of Public Relations course at Grand Valley State University has a client of an on-campus organization called Laker Traditions. The client came and presented to us about their current situation and together as a class we came up with a goal. The goal is used for the whole class, but each student does their own research to make their own campaign plan book. After both secondary and primary research, objectives were laid out to guide strategies and then tactics that go with the strategy. Then a timeline was made to decide what months were used for planning, execution, and evaluation. Evaluation is important to reflect on the effectiveness of the tactics. For example, using social media is easy to evaluate how users responded. From number of followers, likes, shares/retweets and responses. These impressions are an example of a short-term or immediate results called outputs (Lindenmann 2006).
“Interest in measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of an organization’s communications effectiveness has grown in importance in recent years. In the business sector, CEOs are more and more demanding of their public relations and public affairs subordinates that they “justify” their existence and be accountable for their various programs and activities (Lindenmann 2006).
The third component about measuring communications outtakes and outcome and this is one of the most important, testing whether messages actually were received by the target audience. Such as if they paid attention, understood the messaged, and retained them in any way. Communication is also evaluated to see if any opinion, attitude and/or behavior changes on the part of those targeted audiences to whom the messages were directed (Lindenmann 2006).
Working on a campaign targeted at a specific audience would be a waste of time if none of them paid attention to it or remembered it, or worse not even understood it. The evaluation process is important to know if strategies and tactics are effective. Some results are immediate such as impressions on social media, but others take longer such as measuring opinion, attitude and/or behavior changes.
Evaluating Public Relations Effectiveness. (2017). In Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice. Retrieved April 8, 2017, from http://highered.mheducation.com/sites/0072424028/student_view0/part2/chapter8/index.html
Lindenmann, W, K. (2006). Public Relations Research for Planning and Evaluation. Institute for Public Relations.
Watson, T. & Noble, P., (2007). Evaluating Public Relations: A Best Practice Guide to Public Relations Planning, Research and Evaluation. Chartered Institute for Public Relations. London & Philadelphia: Kogan Page.