PR is right to try to create its own evaluation standard as long as it
lets market forces shape the end result, says Mark Westaby
Quentin Bell, Raymond Wilson and Peter Crowe should be applauded by the
PR industry for their initiative to develop and gain acceptance for a
standard form of media evaluation unit. There are a number of reasons
why this is important for the PR industry.
Earlier this year my company, Metrica, conducted research among PRCA
member consultancies, which represent a broad cross-section of the
industry, to determine the issues surrounding a media evaluation
This revealed a number of key points. The importance of media evaluation
was confirmed, yet considerable confusion among PR professionals was
identified, with many still seeing evaluation as a black art. Most
believed that some form of media evaluation standard is required and
many continue to use the dreaded AVE (advertising value equivalent).
The media evaluation standard unit proposed by Quentin and his
colleagues would not be a panacea to these issues. Nor would it replace
existing services provided by specialist media evaluation companies such
as my own. Rather, it would form a common foundation on which to build
these services and still leave the user free to choose the best added
value solution to meet their own particular needs.
Take AVEs for instance; one of the main reasons that these have
persisted for so long is that they provide a sample form of measurement
unit, which everybody can associate with and understand - money.
Unfortunately, the AVE is fatally flawed, for reasons that have been
covered in great detail elsewhere and on which I do not intend to dwell
here. Suffice to say that I am appalled by the number of people who
continue to use AVEs, including many PR consultancies which frankly
should know better. It should also be remembered that new rules for
entry to the PRCA will include proven expertise in measurement and
planning and the AVE must have no part to play in this qualification.
The new evaluation standard unit would be simple to use and ready to
understand and provide a viable and far superior alternative.
Perhaps most importantly, the standard unit is being driven by the PR
industry itself, representing the ultimate users, with involvement from
media evaluation specialists. I would urge those who believe that we
need a broader industry standard, developed by a committee of experts,
to look at other industries which are already a long way down this
difficult path and have learnt some painful reality.
The information technology sector is a prime example. While successful
in implementing standards in niche areas, the world of ‘open’ computer
systems is now being driven by market forces from the end user rather
than standards derived from the computer manufacturers themselves. This
has left many suppliers in this sector, which are also some of the
world’s largest organisations, as ‘proprietary dinosaurs’, floundering
to adapt to the needs of a rapidly changing marketplace. While the PR
industry is clearly different in many ways from the world of IT, there
are salutary lessons to be gained from this experience.
PR market forces are moving towards a standard media evaluation unit and
the industry ignores this at its peril. I say good luck to Quentin Bell
and his supporters, who can count me among their number.
Mark Westaby is joint managing director of media evaluation specialist