Evaluating Your Publicity Campaign
Without an evaluation, police departments will learn little about a campaign’s successes or pitfalls, and there will be little evidence to support future use of the campaign. A valid evaluation should focus on two components of the campaign: its actual implementation (process) and the result (impact).
The process evaluation will determine if the agency carried out the intended plan for the publicity campaign. For example, if the campaign plan included weekly radio ads and posters in business storefronts, the process evaluation would measure the extent to which police met these weekly targets.
A process evaluation for publicity campaigns should ask the following questions:
- Did the police target the appropriate geographic areas?
- Did the police distribute the information at the proper times?
- Did the police target the proper audience?
- Did the campaign increase fear or concern within the community?
- Did the police distribute the right numbers of posters, fliers, etc.?
- Did the police end the campaign when planned?
- Did the police keep the campaign within budget?
- Did the police have mechanisms in place to identify and resolve potential problems?
The above questions are important, as they will guide the impact evaluation and provide contextual information about the overall effort’s success or failure. If the process evaluation reveals that police poorly implemented the campaign, its effectiveness will remain questionable.
The impact evaluation will answer the basic question: Did the campaign have the desired effect? While the rate of the targeted crime problem is the first obvious measure, police departments should also consider other indicators when carrying out an impact evaluation of a publicity campaign. A community offended by a campaign’s content may easily offset the gains of a minor crime reduction. A thorough impact analysis should consider measuring how a campaign affects:
- the crime problem
- community groups and businesses
- the police department.
The Crime Problem
- Did the incidence of the targeted crime change? (A reduction in the number of crimes is the most basic indicator that the campaign was a success, though the police can claim other successes even if the crime rate does not change.)
- Did the severity of the targeted crime change? (A campaign may reduce the severity of harms a crime causes. For example, a campaign may lead to police agencies’ recovering stolen cars sooner, reducing the amount of damage to the cars.)
- Did the number of targeted victims change? (Campaigns may also lead to a reduction in the number of people victimized. While the incidence of crime may not decrease, a change in the victimized population may be a benefit.)
- Did the geographic locations of the crimes change (displacement)? (A campaign may also move undesirable behaviors from one setting to another. If a police department can move rowdy after-school students from busy sidewalks to some quiet corner, the department may claim a measure of success.)
- Were residents/victims aware of the publicity campaign?
- Did the use of self-protection measures change during the campaign?
- Did public participation in crime prevention efforts change? (A victim-oriented campaign may have unexpected benefits such as increased public interest in crime prevention programs. Neighborhood Watch programs could develop, resulting from a campaign that raised crime awareness.)
- Did concern about the publicity campaign decrease?
- Did the community experience a heightened sense of anxiety because of the campaign?
- Were offenders aware of the publicity campaign?
- Did their awareness change during the campaign?
- Did offenders understand the campaign’s message?
- Did they think the information was advertised in the proper format?
- What did they perceive as the campaign’s weaknesses and strong points?
- Did the campaign affect their decisions to commit crime?
Local Businesses/Schools/Community Groups
- Were these groups happy with the campaign?
- How did the campaign enhance or affect their role in the community?
- Did they participate in the campaign?
The Police Department That Conducted the Campaign
- What did the officers think of the campaign?
- What was the financial cost of the campaign to the department?
- What were the personnel costs?
- What was the impact on officer morale and job satisfaction?
To carry out an effective campaign evaluation, police agencies must think ahead and gather the requisite data for meaningful comparisons and analyses. Departments should have valid and reliable indicators of the measures discussed above to allow for pre-and post-campaign comparisons.
- To see if a campaign increases residents’ self-protection behaviors, police should conduct a survey of residents before the start of a campaign on self-protection.
- Another survey at the end of the campaign will help explain changes in resident behavior due to the campaign.
- Multiple surveys at regular intervals during the campaign may reveal how resident behaviors vary over time, possibly highlighting the point when campaigns lose their novelty and, ultimately, their effectiveness.
A good way to test the effectiveness of crime prevention messages is to select an area similar to the one chosen for the campaign to serve as a control group, not exposing it to campaign information.66The control group will help in determining whether any changes observed are attributable to the campaign and not to other factors. An impact evaluation would then compare crime rates or resident behaviors between the two groups. In some cases, such comparisons can be misleading, however, as the publicity component may lead to a simple increase in crime reporting, falsely increasing the “crime problem.”67
Publicity campaigns have had mixed success when used in crime reduction programs. Perhaps publicity campaigns fail in delivering their intended message because of poor design or implementation, and hence, it may be premature to dismiss campaigns as ineffective crime prevention tools. While publicity attempts have had little success in changing victim or offender behavior, they should not be abandoned; rather, the police should refine them. The challenge lies in finding the proper ways to influence citizen behaviors. Finding ways to reach the public is a key component. For example, if we know that elderly women living alone have a greater fear of crime, police should seek greater campaign efficiency by addressing this group more directly.68Police in England reported that only 29 percent of residents had heard about an anti-burglary initiative they conducted.69In this case, it is clear that the publicity component did not reach the intended audience.
In order to achieve the intended goals, police publicity campaigns should do the following:
- Focus on a specific crime type.
- Avoid judgmental or patronizing messages.
- Provide clear and simple steps to change behavior.
- Appeal to a very specific group.
- Use a logo that people can easily recognize and relate to.
- Avoid scare tactics or images that may increase citizen fears
- Be limited to specific geographic areas.
- Be implemented in bursts over time (avoid long, continuous campaigns).
- Be closely monitored to ensure exposure.
- Rely on multiple dissemination methods to maximize coverage.
- Seek realistic goals and outcomes.
- Ensure that the message does not lose its relevance.
- Change message format regularly to avoid boredom and overexposure.
- Measure the crime problem before and after the campaign.
- Identify conditions leading to success or failure.
- Have an evaluation plan to measure success or failure.