The news that two thirds of PRCA members support calls for a media
evaluation standard is an encouraging sign for the campaign launched at
last month’s Hard Commercial Edge of PR conference.
The term ‘standard’ is somewhat misleading, however. What the current
proposal recommends is not a prescriptive blueprint for media analysis,
which is already handled in a variety of sophisticated and illuminating
ways by expert evaluators. Instead it proposes a basic unit of
measurement which registers the proportion of the target audience
exposed to coverage in particular media.
Such a unit would complement rather than subvert existing evaluation
work, which will be further promoted in the second phase of the campaign
by issuing best practice guidelines on evaluation.
If adopted by the PR profession this proposal may also help to cure the
worrying addiction that 68 per cent of PRCA members, according to the
Metrica survey, apparently have to Advertising Value Equivalents.
AVEs are really useful if you ever need a spurious figure for how much
editorial space would have cost to buy if it were available - which it
isn’t. But sadly they tell you nothing about whether any of it reached
your target audience. All they tell you is how much money you might have
spent on buying editorial space. Except that you can’t buy it. And there
is no ratecard for it.
Worst of all it is a tool which can all too easily be employed by PR
people to justify their existence, without having to prove whether their
work was actually effective.
It’s a bit like the tale of the tramp who comes away from staring
morosely into a Rolls-Royce showroom with a beatific smile plastered
across his face. When asked the reason for his change in temperament he
replies that he has made himself rich, having just saved himself pounds
100,000 by not buying a Roller. He cheerfully adds that he is on his way
to the estate agents to save himself a further pounds 500,000 by not
buying a very big house in the country.
In the same way, Advertising Value Equivalents say: ‘Look at how much
money we are saving you, which you don’t have, and which you never
intended spending on this non-existent product.’ But did the PR strategy
actually work? Er..
We can do better than that. Any clients seeing Advertising Value
Equivalents on the bottom of an agency report should throw it back at
them. Any clients asking for them should be gently taken to one side and
made to see sense.