PR measurement is at a junction. For many years PR practitioners have trusted AVE's* to prove to the C-Suite** how effective their latest PR campaign was or how solid their media relations are. However, AVE's are being phased out to make place for tools that can measure exposure, engagement, influence and action - better known as Total Value.
Before we look at modern-day metrics though, let's remember that value is a subjective term. It differs from organisation to organisation and from person to person within that organisation. The key to selling PR to the C-Suite is uncovering that secret value system and aligning it with the way you measure PR activity.
Moving away from AVE's
AVE measurement's dilemma is that it reduces PR to just a media dimension, while PR brings so much more to the boardroom table. AVE's don't tell you exactly who saw the media coverage, whether it inspired them to tell others, or moved people to buy your client's product. In other words, did your PR campaign translate into business for your client? AVE's don't address negative coverage which can be detrimental to reputation, or the value of NOT being mentioned when your client has egg on its face. AVE's only apply to traditional media and AVE values are sometimes greatly inflated by the magical multiplier. Depending on tonality, prominence, article length, image impact and prestige of media channel, a value could be multiplied by up to twelve times!
It's no wonder then that the global PR community*** rejected AVE's as a concept to value PR when it adopted the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles in 2010. Barcelona signalled a course change and set the scene for last year's creation of the Lisbon Legacy: a 2020 Measurement Agenda, with "How to measure ROI on PR", "PR practitioner and client education" and "Developing global standards for social media measurement" as the top priorities.
ROI, language of the C-Suite
ROI is ultimately the language of the C-Suite by which PR needs to be taken seriously if we don't want to risk budgets and credibility. In fact, the need to put PR results into a business context has never been greater. Instead of focusing on volume or output metrics as a form of scorecard, we need to be able to explain what PR is doing to help drive the business.
Yet, PR brings so much more benefits than can be calculated in financial terms that one is tempted to refer to Return on Brand rather than ROI. How does one then measure it? By going beyond the core ROI definition and measuring PR holistically.
Total Value is a measurement model flexible enough for both traditional and social media. While most PR measurement efforts focus on marketing/sales and output metrics, Total Value includes brand and reputation, and engagement, influence and action. It goes beyond revenue generation to include cost savings and cost avoidance. Total Value measures PR value plus effect on business results. It answers the following questions:
Exposure - To which degree have we generated exposure for our client's content?
Engagement - Who, how and where are people engaging with this content?
Influence - To which degree has this influenced perceptions and attitudes?
Action - Which action has been taken thanks to PR activity?
The next question is whether a single, standardised tool has been developed yet to measure Total Value. The answer is no, as this is a work-in-progress, currently being fleshed out by the global PR industry. It's also unlikely to be a single metric, but rather involve a continuum of values.
For the time being PR practitioners are expected to continue to use current measurement tools. Yet, they could already start illustrating their shift to Total Value thinking by employing outcome measurers (internal reviews, opinion polls) as much as output measurers (AVE's, news clippings).
The 4th European Measurement Summit**** is around the corner with topics such as "Making Measurement Better" and "The Key to Driving Business Performance" topping the agenda. Let's join our global colleagues in developing and introducing valid metrics to our clients so that, together, we change the emphasis from output measurement to impact on reputation and the bottom line.
* Advertising Value Equivalent - the practice of placing the same value on editorial or media coverage as the cost of a paid advertisement
** C-Suite or C-Level refers to the highest level executives of a company, normally all starting with the letter "C": Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operations Officer and Chief Financial Officer
*** AMEC (International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication), Institute for PR, PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) and several other associations
**** To be held in Dublin, Ireland, from 13 to 15 June 2012