Come back AVE, all is forgiven

At a time when a lot of industries are under budgetary pressure, the PR sector needs consensus on how to measure its worth. And it needs it soon.

At a time when a lot of industries are under budgetary pressure, the PR sector needs consensus on how to measure its worth. And it needs it soon.

Within the realm of PR, there are many methods and opinions on how best to measure the value of PR. While ultimately achieving pre-established objectives and outcomes is the business goal, in media relations particularly there is a need for compelling data to prove ROI.

A large proportion of a PR budget is spent on driving a brand and its business forward. Being able to correlate this spend with business returns has always been seen as important. The advent of social media has made the need for compelling measurement even more pressing and complicated.

Advertising Value Equivalency was a commonly used metric that gave senior management and clients a simple method of calculating ROI. While AVE is an outdated concept – too crude and un-qualitative – media relations experts would benefit hugely from a modern, simple, and justifiable alternative.

In its heyday, AVE was useful. Clients knew what they spent on PR, and they had a number with a dollar sign showing what their potential advertising spend would have been to get similar coverage. We knew that it wasn't scientific but that wasn't the point. We told clients not to take it seriously as an ROI metric but use it as a benchmark and compare prior periods or regions and businesses to give a guide. It worked. It was simple, universal. Its limitations and credibility were transparent.

In the era of big data, can PR prove its worth?
Other marketing disciplines are now able to give clear and credible ROI numbers. Online advertising, for instance, provides fantastic data to purchasers, which compounds the problem of media relations activity not being able to show its worth.

PR professionals should take a larger role in the debate. At recent PR measurement events, PR people are somewhat conspicuous by their absence. The majority of delegates seem to be measurement and analytics pros, data and clipping vendors. Participation levels by PR pros are not high enough.

There are a number of serious endeavors underway to provide credible metrics. Measurement bodies and standards committees have, rightly, denounced the credibility of many old measurement techniques and recommend they no longer be used. The International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication along with other trade bodies (i.e. PRSA, CIPR, etc.) have also outlined some best practice principles, the Barcelona Principles, help to more clearly define measurement in this ambiguous space. These Principles give PR practitioners a set of guidelines, but they are not widely remembered and understood.

One interesting idea comes from AMEC's US Agency Research Leaders Group. Through consultation, they have developed a Valid Metrics Framework, a matrix that allows the visual representation of communications efforts and how they affect the target audiences. While still a work in process, efforts such as the grid are beginning to “connect the dots” on how public relations efforts move the needle in ways that matter to the C-suite.

Seasoned executives know the value of good PR. Good coverage in respected media is still often the Holy Grail for many CEOs. PR crises kill businesses. Social media is shaping reputations faster than ever and has put earned media right back into the spotlight. The SEO experts know that good editorial is golden in terms of the traffic it brings and the ranking improvement it provides. We know that PR is seriously good for business and, anecdotally, we can cite clients who get business from good coverage. But we are in a hiatus in terms of providing an ROI number, and it is badly timed.

While the measurement industry works on consensus, PR providers are best served by ensuring they are accurately aligned with, and report on, clients' (measurable) objectives and use their monitoring and tracking systems effectively.

At Cognito, we constantly work to improve our processes and core technology to give clients the most accurate picture possible of their PR profile compared to their competitors, as well demonstrating the link between good press coverage, business generation, and retention.

Tom Coombes is CEO of Cognito, a global PR and marketing firm that specializes in financial services with offices across the USA, Europe, and Asia.

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