It’s time to grow up

Richard Merrin – Managing Director at Spreckley

One of the never-ending debates in our industry is how to measure the value of PR. One thing is for certain – the old days of AVE (advertising value equivalent) is long gone.

The PR industry itself has begun to put its house in order with the development back in 2010 of the so-called Barcelona Principles – in response to a growing demand for meaningful metrics.

There were – and still are – numerous flawed models for measurement, including AVE, which estimates media value on how much it would cost to buy an advertisement of equivalent size and circulation.

For decades this has been the metric of choice but it has a fundamental flaw – the failure to link business benefits back to PR in any empirical way.

The Barcelona Principles – seven in total – are not mandatory, but act as a guide for PR practitioners and marketeers alike. But what are they and what do they stand for?

The seven principles are as follows:

The importance of Goal Setting and Measurement

  • This is the simplest principle, declaring the value of setting goals and measuring how effectively various projects are getting you towards those goals.
  • But let us be clear, measurement by itself isn’t enough for success, and measuring the wrong thing or the wrong way is a recipe for disaster.

Measuring the Effect on Outcomes is Preferred to Measuring Outputs

  • We all work with some clients that still prefer to measure outputs, such as number of press releases distributed, number of contacts made, or even number of stories. It’s easy and quantitative, so it lends itself to pretty charts and presentations. However, outputs only measure what you did, not whether it was worth doing.
  • Lets be honest outputs are great when there’s a direct and defined link between the output and the outcomes. But it is much more sophisticated than that as outcomes can be anything from creating a positive perception of a person or organisation, or actions, such as buying a product.

It’s about business results

  • Tying outcomes to business results tells you what to do more of, what to do less of, or what to stop doing. It also defines the value of public relations efforts. And it is this point that is increasingly becoming a key KPI for many in the industry.
  • For example, with new methods of measurement – such as web traffic or direct sales – agencies can be measured directly.
  • In the B2B tech space this is also possible with analytics tools such as Wow – which can link web traffic directly back to media coverage and then from there back into the sales leads of that business. Not seen it in action yet? Do so.

Media Measurement Requires Quantity and Quality     

  • Quality refers to the completeness of the data as well as the accuracy. So agencies now need to consider metadata about the source, such as its audience and credibility, tone and the prominence of the topic in an article.
  • Quantity has to be sufficient to support the decisions that you’re going to make. For example, do you have enough data to generalise about a specific group, such a chief technology officers?

AVEs Are Not the Value of Public Relations

  • If you have enough data to truly measure the tone of the article or posting enough to estimate value, you have enough data to use more meaningful metrics.
  • Placement time and location are difficult to capture for social media, so much so that you’re better off spending the efforts on metrics that are tied to business value.
  • So at the end of the day – AVE as a traditional measurement is dead – long live the VPR

Social Media Can and Should be Measured

  • We know tremendous amounts about how people consume social media; in many ways, thanks to automated data gathering, we know more about this than about traditional media. We also know that it can be tremendously influential.
  • That said, we’re still in the beginning stages of understanding how social media influences beliefs and behaviors. For example, look at what took place during the Independence Referendum in Scotland. The scale of the Scottish Nationalist social media campaign far outweighed the pro-Union one and yet the result was the opposite.

Transparency and Replicability are Paramount to Sound Measurement

  • While some measurement tools are proprietary – so not transparent by definition – they should be replicable. That is, you run the same data through them and get very close to the same result each time. Humans bring a huge set of assumptions and perceptions to tasks such as assigning tone, whether they’re doing it manually or through a programmed algorithm. At the end of the day two equally competent humans may assign different tones to the same material.
  • However, if this is automated the results should be consistent.

So the Barcelona Principles point to one overarching direction – it is no longer good enough to justify your existence as a PR professional on the value of the coverage as if you had bought it as an advert! This might appeal to the bean counters in the business looking for some sort of return on investment. For marketing professionals, Board members and business owners alike, investing in PR is not about a ‘nice to have’, it is a hard nosed business investment decision taken to increase sales, or alter perceptions.

The result: we as PR professionals need to grow up and be prepared to be measured and judged in an empirical, quantifiable, and automated way.