SOS is not a distress call: PR pros must learn from adland campaign evaluation

Businesses in the advertising world have recently woken up to a new way of tracking the impact of their efforts and there are lessons for those of us in PR.

Are we ignoring an inconvenient truth about campaign measurement? asks Ian Hood
Are we ignoring an inconvenient truth about campaign measurement? asks Ian Hood

The problem we all have is that we somehow have to convince our masters we haven’t simply thrown their hard-earned cash away.

In the ad industry they have traditionally used market research; they go out and ask people whether their awareness or intentions have changed.

But there’s a problem, as David Ogilvy once said: people don't think how they feel, they don't say what they think, and they don't do what they say.

It’s a problem not of the same magnitude as global warming, but Al Gore would still describe it as an inconvenient truth.

Over in PR-land, there’s a considerable number of people still using advertising value equivalents (AVEs).

Given the ad industry has trouble understanding what it’s doing, this is the blind leading the blind.

Others have been actively necking the Kool-Aid of the big measurement and analysis platforms, which have introduced ‘sophisticated artificial intelligence to deliver rich insight’.

Here’s another of Al’s inconvenient truths – this is (mostly) bullshit.

If you’ve read this far, you might be forgiven for thinking I am a cynical old bastard; and you would be correct.

The thing is, although there is great work being done to properly measure campaign impact, it takes time to design an effective methodology, time to gather the data and time to interpret the results.

That’s fine if your budget has lots of zeros attached to it, but not all budgets do.

AVEs persist not because anyone really thinks they tell us anything useful, but because they are a quick and easy (in other words, cheap) metric to throw in front of the CFO.

This brings me back to what the ad industry has discovered.

It turns out that a brand’s share of organic search in a specific category, divided by the total searches for all brands in that category, correlates with market share.

Additionally, ‘share of search’ is a predictor of market share.

There is causality – if share of search increases, an increase in market share follows.

This is validated by detailed research undertaken by Les Binet, group head of effectiveness at Adam & Eve/DDB, and I would encourage all PRs with an interest in measurement to take a look at it.

It’s incredibly revealing and suggests a range of measurement metrics for the PR industry.

Assuming the brand you represent is a decent size, you can calculate overall share of search from the data provided by Google Trends – but that’s only the start of it.

In a digital economy, if a company, product or solution doesn’t appear in search results, it doesn’t exist, and so, if you want to find out what is really going on with your campaign, what matters is what appears in search.

What is the source? How did it get there? What characteristics does it have?

You might have to get your head around some basic data extraction techniques, and learn to drive a spreadsheet, but the raw data costs nothing and it enables you to quickly present a logical and verifiable campaign impact report.

That has to be better than telling your client their budget dictates a measurement-free act of faith.

Ian Hood, chief executive and co-founder, Babel PR

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