ROI and Evaluation in PR

A main part in working within the field of public relations is knowing whether or not your efforts are working for your client. Evaluating the success of a campaign is important because it lets the agency know if they have completed their task to the client’s standards. Another form of evaluating the success of a campaign is calculating your return on investment. Both evaluating and return on investment have multiple ways in which they can be implemented.

The first way to determine the success of a campaign is to simply evaluate the outcomes of it based on the initial goal of the client gave to the agency. Evaluation is a tool that is used to plan, improve effectiveness, and save money by monitoring and testing inputs and outputs. Watson and Noble (2005) have divided evaluation into four categories:

The first stage, process, is the nature of the activities involved in the preparation and dissemination of material. Then next stage, quality, is the assessment of materials or programs in terms of accuracy, clarity, design, and production values. Next, intermediate objectives, are sub-objectives necessary for a goal to be achieved. Lastly, ultimate objectives, are changes in the audience’s knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. (p. 18)

This four step process points out the need for planning and evaluation to be linked through the entire process of determining if a campaign is successful or not. If we did not evaluate the success of a campaign there would be no way of knowing if the time, effort, and money that was used was put to good use.

Along with these four steps for evaluating a campaign, the company ImpactPR has provided details about two different systems that can be employed to accurately evaluate an agency’s efforts. Mertz (1991) identifies these two systems as a closed system evaluation and an open system evaluation. A closed system evaluation focuses on messages and events and their effects on the intended public. They rely on pre-testing messages and media, and then compare these to post-test results to see if activities achieved the planned effects. The second system is the open system evaluation, which recognizes that factors outside the control of the public relations campaign influence results and look at wider considerations. This method considers public relations in terms of the overall effect it has on the organization (Mertz, 1991, p.1). The most critical reason for evaluating a public relations campaigns is to measure the company’s return on investment.

Angela Sinickas (2009), the president of Sinickas Communications, Inc., has been measuring the effectiveness of communication in our society for many years now. She wrote an article on the best ways to calculate a company’s return on investment that was published on the website ComPRehension. She said, “To calculate a return on investment, you need to connect the communication you did with a change in audience behavior, because virtually all behaviors have a financial impact for an organization” (page 1). The purpose of hiring a public relations firm is to help improve the image in the eyes of the business’s clients. After the plan is implemented seeing how well the audience receives the information is key in determining if they have reached their goal. Sinickas’s (2009) article breaks down the way to calculate a firm’s return on investment in just four steps. The first is to start with the financial value of the behavior change for which you can take credit using either a pilot/control group approach where the only variable is your communication and all the other potential factors are basically the same or use a survey to identify how many of the people who changed their behaviors say they remember your communication and ask them what percentage credit they would give to the communication in influencing their decisions or behaviors. The second step is to subtract the cost of your communication efforts, then calculate the net return of the investment by finding the amount of financial value in the return on investment calculation, and the last step is to divide the result by the cost of your communications to end up with a percentage return on investment (Sinickas, 2009, p. 1). Many times, the agency will get paid an amount that is based on how high or low the return on investment is for their client so calculating it correctly and having a high number is in the best interest of everyone.

Businesses will enlist the help of a public relations firm with the sole intention of seeing results. If the professionals within the public relations field did not evaluate their efforts or calculate their return on investment, there would be no way of knowing if the time, effort, and money they, and their client, put into the campaign was worth it. Evaluating a campaign and calculating the return on investment is a vital part of the public relations field.


Mertz, S. (1991). Evaluating PR Marketing Campaigns. ImpactPR. Retrieved from

Sinickas, A. (2009). Calculating a Return on Investment. ComPRehension. Retrieved from

Watson, T., & Noble, P. (2005). Evaluation and Communication Psychology. Evaluating Public Relations. Retrieved from


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