In a reflection of our maturity, research and evaluation are now routinely required by public relations investment underwriters. As a result, the question of “should we measure?” has been supplanted by “how much should we spend to measure?”

The conventional wisdom of marketing and communication has long governed that “ten percent for research” is the right number, a number which, by the way,  is several times greater than the average.  But, like so many imperatives, the ten percent rule is a myth. The fact is, the proper allocation depends entirely on your situation.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • If you are launching the next game changer i.e. iPad.  20 percent in the prelaunch phase may not be enough  Alternatively, if you’re simply milking a dying brand, 1% may be too much
  • If your Fortune 500 company holds an $80 million PR budget, 3% of your annual budget may be more than you need. But a small-budget brand may be more affected by the actual dollars required, rendering percentages meaningless.
  • If you prioritize PR over other forms of marketing, 10% may be just right. On the other hand, the organization that emphasizes advertising might enable a lower budget for PR research

While budgeting depends on a given set of circumstances, blindly following the “conventional wisdom” will almost certainly lead to problems. Consider the following considerations for determining your PR research budget:

1. What are your organization’s objectives? Relate your PR activities and research investments to the ways by which your programs support the organization’s overall objectives.

    2. What other departments will be affected by your research? Determine the potential impact, if any, on other departments.

    3. What other research programs are currently under way? Make sure you know whether coincidental initiatives—marketing and communication research programs, for example—are in process. It’s essential to know what else might be in play and how these initiatives may affect one another in terms of research objectives, scope and budget.

    4. How will you use what you learn? While you may not know in advance exactly what your research will reveal, it is wise to have a strong hypothesis to focus attention and resources.   Knowing what you want to learn improves the likelihood that you will achieve your goals and achieve the greatest returns.

    5. Who are your internal clients and how do they feel? Often, the most meaningful determination of success or failure resides with the executives who provide funding. Understanding their expectations and preferences for planning and evaluating is essential.  Establish (and get clear agreement on) the measures by which your success will be determined so that your PR programs are researched, planned and evaluated with those goals in mind.

    Research is a core element in public relations but it need not be mysterious, expensive or complicated. One way to ensure that your PR research arrives on time, on budget and yields the right results is to create organizational—rather than conventional—wisdom by recognizing your aspirations and limitations before the first dollar is spent.

    # # #

    Mark Weiner is CEO of PRIME Research Americas, a research-based consulting firm combining talent with tools to serve clients through our network of analysis hubs in the USA, Brazil, Uruguay, Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, India and China. Visit or contact Mark at Make plans now to attend the 2011 PRIME Research and IABC Global Strategic Communication and Measurement Conference, November 2-4 in New York

    Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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    12 thoughts on “The 10 Percent Rule Is a Myth: Five Smarter Ways to Determine the “Right Amount” for PR Research

    1. Thank you all for contributing to the dialogue. Beyond the research mavens represented here, I hope the message speaks to those who believe that research is just too far out of reach. The benefits of measurement, research and evaluation can be gained for little or even no budget but the results can provide so much to elevate, inform and educate.

    2. Mark and colleagues: In my research on practices of PR measurement and evaluation since 1992, I can’t recall a response that said “we actually spent 10% of the PR/comms spend on research”. The mean in my surveys has been less than 3% and probably closer to zero than 3%.

      In response to Mark’s paper, I strongly agree with pts 1 and 4 – Objectives and what will be learnt – as the key criteria. They are more important than an aspirational benchmark percentage that no-one is spending.

      Thanks for the paper.

    3. Thanks for the post, Mark. Good, helpful comments in the cue, too. For me — I’m taking your number 4. “How will you use what you learn?”, and resolving to make it a daily mantra. Maybe, herein lies the final answer to the research ROI conundrum? Send more advice next month.

      Frank @franklinwalton

    4. Mark – I always used to think that falling back on the old “what are your objectives” argument was a safe haven for measurement professionals who didn’t really know what the answers were. BUT – after spending many months researching all the different ways there are to measure social media, and writing a 25-page white paper summarizing it, I now see the wisdom in that simple advice! With all the metrics and methods available to PR pros today in the area of measurement, one could spend a fortune just compiling data … not to mention another fortune trying to make sense of it. You are 100% right to challenge readers to carefully review what it is they need to know, and then they can figure out the metrics they just gotta have … and then, the costs can be evaluated against those factors. It may be 10%, or it may be more or less; “it depends,” as Don Bartholomew has written. Good post!

    5. David,

      Thanks for your comment. you’re right: measurement answers always seem to be rooted in objectives-setting and planning. The question in many cases isn’t “what can I afford” but rather “what do I seek to learn?” and then “how much must I invest to learn it?”


    6. Mark – It really all comes down to planning, doesn’t it? Understand business goals. Understand communications goals and how communications can and should be adding to organizational value. Set measurable objectives. Derive appropriate research and metrics. Determine where it makes most sense to invest in research and measurement based on the preceding information. The budget amount should fall out of this process.
      I often advice clients, whether corporate staff or agency teams, to take charge of the measurement agenda by recommending a comprehensive, robust set of measurement approaches, with price tags attached. Then prioritize the specific measurement initiatives. There is no formula. To a sophisticated public relations professional, there never should have been. It all depends on the situation.

    7. Mark,

      Nice job with your myth-busting post. Percentages are always tricky. Their meaning depends on the size and definition of the base. Beware of rules involving percentages,

      I particularly like your point #3. Nothing happens in a vacuum. The more public relations practitioners know about what’s going on in other communications functions, the better. From a measurement point of view, tapping into the insights from marketing research can provide outcome measurements to support the case for PR. Since PR and marketing often occupy different silos, so this type of cooperation is stymied.

      So when you’re done with myth-busting, maybe you can take on silo-busting.


    8. David,

      Thanks for building on the meaning of “10 percent.” When a research program approaches 10% of spending, it’s time to evaluate the research and the degree to which it is meeting one’s objectives. While everyone agrees on scope, timing and budget in advance, there are times when unexpected challenges emerge and when the original budget escalates. So while a public relations program may require a research budget of more than 10%, research clients should consider the 10% threshold as a time to stop, revisit the research and then decide how best to proceed. Makes perfect sense!


    9. There is another way to use the 10% approach. 10% is not a magic number to spent, rather it is a threshold where we need to reevaluate how we are using research dollars to assure we are spending wisely and not detracting from the funds required to meet the goals of the communications program,

    10. Don — thank you for your thoughtful response. Now that the necessity of research is becoming a more commonly held belief, we need to help research-consumers understand how to best allocate resources in support of it. It may seem like an elementary concept to some, but it if you haven’t dealt with budgeting for research in the past, it’s new and sometimes complicated.


    11. Hi Mark – thanks for sharing this post. I think you make many thoughtful points. The short answer to the question of, “how much should I spend on research/measurement?”, is – it depends. There are variables, many of which you discuss, that change the ‘right amount’ depending on the context. The 10% rule is sort of a one size fits none approach.

      Your point number 5 about understanding internal clients/stakeholders is very important. i remember some time back making a nice presentation on a measurement program. I was asked what % of the total budget it represented, to which I replied 7%. The feedback I received was, ‘that’s too much’. So I said, ‘let me fully understand your position, you are unwilling to spend 7% to understand if and how the other 93% is working? He said, ‘that’s correct’. At that point it was time for me to sit down – lesson learned.

      Thanks again, -Don B @Donbart

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