This week, Ad Age ran a story about Twitter generating $48 million of media coverage in one month. The article certainly garnered a lot of attention within the marketing community, inspiring countless tweets and retweets of the information. Several PR professionals, in particular, were excited that the news showed the value of earned media, and in turn, PR.
But does it? What was missing from the commentary surrounding the article was any question of the method that was used to come up with the $48 million figure. Though it wasn't mentioned in the story, it's likely that VMS, which provided the data to Ad Age, used some kind of ad value equivalency model. Using such a method to determine PR's value has been an area of dispute in PR measurement circles for years, mainly because, despite how sophisticated the formula, it ultimately compares editorial and advertising, two things that are vastly different from each other.
Sure, having that big number is an easy fix for PR executives looking to impress their boss or clients, but it simply doesn't tell the whole story. Applying a dollar value to media coverage doesn't take into account whether the PR efforts met any of the company's business goals. It also doesn't consider other important things, such as how the company handles a crisis. Just last week, Twitter faced criticism for its media response after news of a security breach. Sure, that negative coverage might reduce the dollar amount of its earned publicity, but that still doesn't tell the whole story.
Though published in an advertising trade, the Twitter story should still serve as a wake-up call to the PR industry. Measurement tactics that apply a dollar value to media coverage, and PR, are gimmicks at best and should be used sparingly, if at all. The most important measurement of PR is that which can tie results to business goals. That might not provide as flashy a headline, but it ultimately helps the industry gain respect - and new business -which is far more important.