Public Relations is a service.
For many industries, services can be measured and return on investment can be easily quantified. This is not the case with PR. PR measurement has become a point of contention even to those within our industry.
The PR landscape is quickly changing, leading many communications professionals to call for the death of “ad value equivalency” (AVE). They say it is no longer relevant or accurate when it comes to actually giving value to media outcomes. What is frustrating is that they stop short of offering a new solution, or they offer intensive measurement processes that completely bypasses that time spent on measurement means time away from pursuing PR opportunities.
In the days of print, TV and radio, when I started my career in the industry, AVE was pretty much the main performance indicator for PR. AVE was about as straightforward as you could get. However, there is still much debate about how much more value should be given to editorial space over advertising space. Some say it’s three times more valuable, and some say it’s up to five times more valuable depending on the outlet. This divide has weakened AVE in the eyes of some professionals as an effective metric because there is no one way to calculate it.
How else can we prove the worth of our work without getting stuck in a huge time sink (which if you’re agency side, your clients are rarely willing to pay for)? I still think that AVE is a decent metric for PR, but it isn’t the only metric. As I’ve learned over the years in dealing with various executives, they understand dollars and numbers. They like it when we are able to quantify our work in their terms. Thus, when relevant, we still need to be able to put a dollar sign on the outcome of our work.
Perhaps it is time to consider a straight-up comparison: What’s the cost versus expense of the two scenarios below? Paying $20,000 for advertising (which doesn’t include the budget and time you still need to spend with designers, consultants and writers), versus paying $20,000 for the time of a PR professional to gain earned media coverage. Which comes out to more in the end? I’ll let you do the math. If a chief financial officer sees that the company pays, for example, $60,000 per year in PR, but they earn $100,000 worth of good will and good messaging about their company to their target audiences, not through advertising but in write-ups in relevant outlets, to them, that makes sense.
Before I seem too old school, let me be very clear. AVE isn’t the end-all, be-all metric of our work.
You must look at shares, social engagement, page views (if the publication offers it), etc. to see if it was effective. If it wasn’t then it’s time to tweak your messaging. You must also read all of your coverage and audience engagement messages to see if they are positive or negative, to again ensure the story you are telling is accurate and that it resonates with your target audience.
As many industry professionals know, media relations is only a small part of the equation in the greater scheme of a public relations and communications strategy. Now that most media is consumed online, and especially via social media, we have even more chances for coverage, and therefore more avenues to measure. AVE is applicable to relevant online media, but not to social media. But if you aren’t measuring social media, you would be ignoring a big part of your outcomes, which is why it has been included in the Barcelona Principles.
The most important aspect to remember about measuring PR is that there is no one-size-fits-all method out there. You must find that hybrid that works for specific clients or projects. For example, in-house PR professionals working with product developers may value user engagement and feedback more than media coverage. But then maybe they value media coverage more because it will lead new users to their product.
There have been startups touting how they have been able to measure PR based solely on their algorithms. I believe the reason there haven’t been any true winners in this field is because PR measurement isn’t as black-and-white as they claim. Don’t get me wrong. There are some good PR measurement startups that are doing an effective job at providing data on specific parts of PR engagement, especially in social media and social sharing, but I haven’t seen one clear algorithm that’s found a one-stop, all-encompassing PR metric yet.
One place that has offered solid, doable advice for PR measurement was the latest white paper from Cision called “How to Replace AVE for Modern PR Measurement.” While the title is a bit sensationalist, the tip sheet offers a good overview of what you can do to “implement a metrics-driven program,” which PR professionals can use and tailor to their specific projects and clients.
You should have a targeted engagement strategy for each client/project, so your measurement should change accordingly. For example, we can’t measure our PR efforts for our oil and gas clients in the exact same way that we measure our efforts for our communication technology clients.
The true measure of a successful PR program is: have you reached your targeted audience with your key messaging, and are they engaging positively with you and your brand? If you can answer this question with a “yes,” then congratulations. You’ve not only put together and run a solid strategic PR campaign, you’ve figured out the right hybrid mix of tools to effectively measure your successes.
Arleigh Galant-Vasconcellos is principal at The Agency.