Is advertising equivalency a necessary evil?

Vanity metrics, like advertising equivalency and media impressions, may be the scourge of PR measurement, but this PR pro argues that, for the CEO’s sake, they may be necessary.

Jason Falls—IABC conference head honcho, whiskey lover and all-around fun Louisville host—recently wrote a blog post called, “The Death of Public Relations.”

I like Jason, but I saw that and got ready for a fight.

Then I actually read the post—and I agreed with him.

No, I don’t think PR is dead. Falls’ point is the industry is at a crossroad because, as a whole, we’re not so good at measuring our worth. He says advertising equivalency and media impressions mean nothing, and we have to stop counting words and start making business sense for the CEO.

Amen.

That said, I have a quick story to tell you.

A quick story

I recently caught up with a former client from my FleishmanHillard days who works for an 80-year-old beverage company.

She’s made a name for herself in the company throughout the years, and was recently named director of corporate communications—a job she coveted when she worked in the test kitchen and was looking upward at her career.

During our chat, we talked about measurement, metrics, what’s baloney and what still works.

As an example of baloney, I mentioned the media impressions and advertising equivalencies so many of our peers still use when reporting to executives.

She said, “But Gini, it’s what they’re used to seeing so they ask for it.”

She said her CEO still takes those numbers into board meetings, so she and her team (which includes her agency) provide them. They also provide other information that makes business sense in an attempt to educate the CEO and eventually get him to stop asking for vanity metrics.

Facebook likes, Twitter followers, LinkedIn followers, Google+ circles and YouTube subscribers are also vanity metrics. But human beings love to see those numbers increase, so we inherently create goals to do just that. Unfortunately, our clients and executives also want to see big increases every month.

It’s the same with media impressions and advertising equivalencies. It’s impressive to see that a company received 100 million impressions versus four new customers from PR efforts.

Is there a place for vanity metrics?

I’m not defending vanity metrics. I try to push all of my clients away from those things.

Shonali Burke and I had this conversation a year or so ago. She said, “Clients ask for media impressions and advertising equivalencies so I can understand agencies providing those metrics, but I would hope they also provide education on better ways to measure.”

In other words, if your client wants media impressions and advertising equivalencies, are you going to refuse and bite off your nose to spite your face? Or are you going to provide them and the things that matter?

The idea, of course, is if you do the latter, the client will eventually begin to see that vanity metrics are just for vanity, and stop asking for them.

Let’s go back to Falls’ post. He said there are only two solutions to this problem:

“The first is that we educate even the tunnel-visioned tech-minded CEOs on the difference in direct response and brand marketing. But that’s a long and hard row to hoe. Sometimes, even after the education, they revert back to the Pavlovian response system and want to know the direct ROI.

The other solution is for the brand marketers to get way better at measuring their impact than they ever have been. Or at least savvy enough to ensure they’re tying all or part of their effort to a direct response mechanism.”

What do we do?

We have to do both: Educate business leaders and measure effectiveness differently.

Unfortunately, there will always be the softer side of PR-brand awareness, credibility and reputation. You know if you have it, but it’s hard to tie it directly to sales.

Then you have the other stuff that falls under PR—owned content, social media and even paid stuff (sponsored content, for instance)—that you can tie to leads and new customers.

Integration is necessary. Education is important. Doing things differently is vital. And measuring for real business goals is critical.

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.

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