Photo: By Nirak on Flickr
In an Adage article, Public Relations Society of America President Roseanna Fiske claimed the profession is “starting to find” ways to calculate the true worth of a campaign. She states that developing standards that meet brands’ needs for effective communications and reputation management is being discussed at high-level conclaves everywhere including the past 2011 North American Summit on PR Measurement and the European Summit on Measurement – the latter of which endorsed the now-famous“Barcelona Principles” in 2010. The bottom line, according to Fiske, is that her colleagues are beginning to “turn discussion into metrics, debate into new protocols.”In pursuit of finding common ground, Fiske leaps to declaring the use ofAdvertising Value Equivalency (AVE) as the biggest stumbling block to progress, a measurement metricwhich the Barcelona Principles “resoundingly denounce.” She explains that AVE has been used for decades to place a dollar value on earned media by equating it to an advertising buy, which is a “poor and inaccurate value indicator” because PR does much more than just get media coverage. Instead, Fiske wants to measure reputation, credibility and trustworthiness.
Of course PR does more than “just get media coverage,” and of course PR must measure real business issues and outcomes if it is to survive as a communications discipline. In addition, Fiske is right, PR and advertising have different purposes, so measurement shouldn’t imply an “equivalency” between the two. Furthermore, AVE, as now practiced, is misleading and unscrupulous.
However, before throwing the concept of media costs out the window, I’d like to consult with Ms. Fiske and champion the PR industry on three relevant considerations:
1. Abandon AVE but do not fail to see value in understanding the cost of media space and time
The Barcelona Principles may indeed denounce AVE as the “value of public relations.” However, Principle #5 also contains a caveat that, “where a comparison has to be made between the cost of space from earned media versus paid media, validated metrics should be used, stated for what they are, and reflect:
a. Negotiated advertising rates relevant to the client, as available
b. Quality of the coverage – including negative results
c. Physical space of the coverage, and the portion that is relevant”
The PR industry needs to know that brand managers in most large corporations do compare the cost of space from earned media against paid media, so the need for valid data is alive and well. The real problem in the PR industry is the prolific use of non-valid data, inflationary multipliers and loosely-defined parameters for clip measurement.
2. Make the necessary investments in collecting real-time PR data for the industry
It is amazing how the PR industry is quick to ignore costs and simplify measurement based solely on qualitative story elements with less-precise quantitative metrics such as audience impressions or story counts. In fact, there is a lot of valuable information found in the cost of media space such as the reputation of a media source driven by the open market, potential traffic generated, size of creative element and more. Consider how online CPM is based on payment per-thousand-clicks.
The advertising industry has been investing in the process of collecting data for decades. Companies like SQAD, Nielsen, comScore and others have aligned with the industry so advertising agencies, publishers and brand managers all have had consistent and necessary tools to quantify and qualify the impact of advertising. The PR industry needs to do the same. Once PRSA firmly establishes a metrics model everyone can live with, it needs to encourage the industry to champion companies that provide independent tools to gather and analyse agreed upon metrics.
While there are several PR metrics based companies BurrellesLuce, Dow Jones, VOCUS and CARMA International, the industry needs to manage the market and qualify what types of data align best with the approved approach for defining the impact of PR.
3. Reinforce that PR metrics should be reviewed and promoted consistently
OK, since 71% of PRSA’s members are in media relations, it would seem there is a demand for real-time analytical tools to measure their clips as accurately as possible. Wouldn’t it make sense for the industry to determine which data is most likely to link media coverage to business results like “reputation, credibility and trustworthiness?”
In fact, this work has already been done in a study published in 2010 by the Institute for Public Relations Commission on PR Measurement and Evaluation. The paper, “A New Paradigm for Media Analysis: Weighted Media Cost (2010),” illustrates several studies comparing audience impressions, story counts and media costs against business outcomes including funds raised, sales leads, top-of-mind survey scores and preference data. In every case, the use of media costs improved correlations significantly. This research clearly validates that the cost of media space is relevant to any business metric. PR is no different.
The chart from “A New Paradigm for Media Analysis: Weighted Media Cost (2010),”compares the strength of correlations (r-values) between four different PR campaigns and their business outcomes using Story Counts, Audience Impressions and Media Costs – all of which have been weighted for Tone. In all cases Media Costs outperform the other metrics.
To conclude, while AVE may be “dead” as currently practiced, the PR industry could save itself a lot of time reinventing the wheel by reconsidering the use of valid media cost data as part of the measurement formula, since we know it correlates well with business results. In addition, if the PR industry is truly serious about a metrics process, the right investments need to be made for independent data gathering and analysis to measure and promote the impact of PR.
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