Public Relations Evaluation in the Eyes of New Zealand Practitioners
The aim of this research is to examine New Zealand public relations practitioners’ perception and application of evaluation in their practice. Evaluation is a highly topical issue amongst practitioners as a result of the increasing pressure for public relations to prove its value. International research finds that practitioners and clients tend to judge the success of public relations activity primarily by measuring the amount of media coverage in preference to evaluating psychological or behavioural change. However best practice models and recommendations from professional bodies for assessing the value of public relations have moved from a functional, outputs focused emphasis to an increased awareness of the complexity of the attitudinal and behavioural outcomes of communication. The aim of this research is to develop a deeper understanding of practitioners’ personal experience of evaluation. Using a responsive interviewing method, nine senior New Zealand practitioners were asked about how they approach evaluation in their practice, and what value it brings to their practice. Analysis of their responses showed some key findings: an appreciation of the complex nature of evaluation; an acknowledgment of professional and practice conflicts around evaluation; that evaluation is tool for gaining influence; that the practitioner–client relationship is a central driver of evaluation decisions because the clients have control of the resources; that evaluation is a way of developing the professional status of public relations and keeping the specialist, strategic role of public relations secure, and that digitisation is rapidly changing the tools and expectations of evaluation. Despite practitioner awareness of formal professional recommendations related to the practice of evaluation, this research found that informal evaluation processes and measurement of advertising value equivalents (AVEs) continue to be used and valued. The research also showed that New Zealand public relations practitioners’ practice of evaluation is aligned with that of their overseas colleagues. The research finds that the recommendations from the professional bodies may be more useful if they take greater account of practitioners’ daily experience of evaluation, particularly advising on the importance of conversations about the value of evaluation with clients, and that the professional recommendations would be more useful if they showed greater flexibility based on the variability of the unique organisational and social context.