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Do we measure up?

The debate around the effectiveness of Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) for public relations (PR) practitioners is nothing new. More recently, concerns around automated analysis have also gained momentum with cynics arguing that neither of these components provide a suitable platform on which to gauge the success of PR activities.
In 2010, PR practitioners from more than 30 countries attended a summit in Barcelona, which resulted in the establishment of the Barcelona Principles - a set of voluntary guidelines to measure the efficacy of PR campaigns. For the uninitiated, the principles are as follows:
    • Goal setting and measurement are important;
    • Media measurement requires quantity and quality;
    • AVE is not the value of public relations;
    • Social media can and should be measured;
    • Measuring outcomes is preferred to measuring media results (outputs);
    • Organisational results and outcomes should be measured whenever possible; and
    • Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement.
Great. But do international and local agencies even care about them? Perhaps the better question to ask is whether clients exist that do not see AVE as the Holy Grail of holding their agencies accountable for those multi-million rand campaigns. Even though international standards and industry bodies clearly emphasise that AVE is not a suitable, strategic measure, many practitioners still use this in isolation and state that it measures ROI.

Image via
Image via 123RF

Is it easier just to conform to traditional sentiment around the role of the PR agency and to 'give the client what he wants?' The concerning thing is that these principles (effectively debunking the value of AVE when it is used in isolation) have been established five years ago. Hands up how many local agencies have managed to convince their clients to share a similar viewpoint.

But let us not belabour the point. The reality is that PR, monitoring, and analysis agencies need to put their heads together and find a system that actually provides strategic insight into measuring the return on investment of campaigns. Clients should be able to live in a world where they get access to metrics that work for them and enable them to guide their communications strategy more effectively. After all, when it comes to measurements, no client has the same requirements. Why then do so many agencies adopt a 'one size fits all' approach when it comes to metrics? It is essential that agencies need to understand the requirements of their clients and then develop a measurement and analysis approach to fit.

AVE and automated analysis have a time and place. While it might not necessarily give context, it does provide a sense of the quick wins accomplished in a campaign. But even the most basic of metrics need to be interpreted in order for a client to better understand what the numbers mean in the context of a campaign. So whether it is pure AVE, the clip count, or even just the percentage of positive versus negative sentiment, a trusted analysis partner must be on hand to give insight.

So are impact and outcomes-based analysis potential solutions to supplement the traditional way of measurement? Some might baulk at the idea of academically founded and human analysis because of its resource intensity and potential cost impact. Yet, 'cheap' and 'dirty' might not always do the trick.

The monitoring and analysis agencies that can provide PR practitioners with something that gives strategic insight will be the ones that drive the new era of measurement. But this has to be a multi-pronged approach. Practitioners and agencies alike need to educate their clients about the benefits of such approaches. After all, if they see the strategic impact that a different way of measurement can have on their communications, they would not hesitate to welcome it with open arms.

About Jaco Pienaar

Jaco is an MA Information Science graduate who specialises in research, analytical framework development, and content analysis. His thesis was on Intellectual Capital measurement and he applies this to his framework developments as well as knowledge strategies. Professionally, Jaco has worked in the journalism field, academic environment, multi-national research environment, and media analysis environment. He is currently the Chief Knowledge Officer at Professional Evaluation and Research.
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KD Paine
The reality is that the Barcelona Principles are having an impact, but it takes years to change an culture that has been dominated by old ways of thinking. Just ask Martin Luther.. or for that matter advertising. AVEs began as a way of comparing PR to advetising, but that was when PR was a simpler discline and Advertising was pretty much something you paid for that appeared in print or on TV. Neither discipline bears much resemblance to what the were 50 years ago. What I see is that number of clients who are shifting away from AVEs and clip counts grows every year. According to the most recent USC Annenberg survey the number one metric used to measure PR is influence on reputation. The number one complaint from CEOs and clients that I hear is that agencies inflate impressions counts to the point that they are absurd, and I talk to dozens of people every month that are defining their success in terms of actual desired outcomes and not AVEs.There is no time and place for AVEs and other silly anachronisms of our distant past. In an era when social conversations can bring down CEOs in a matter of hours, getting "impressions" or column inches -- which is all that AVE really measures, is not the objective. You can get all the impression or column inches you want by saying something stupid in a Tweet. What really matters is, does it affect your customers, your stock price and your relatoinshpis with your stakeholders.
Posted on 31 Mar 2015 18:38
Michelle Hinson
Jaco, I beg to differ that AVEs "provide a sense of the quick wins accomplished in a campaign." To me, a win occurs if a strategic objective is met. Thanks to digital and new technologies, quality of coverage is now more important than quantity. Did the appropriate eyeballs see the content? Most importantly, did they heed the key message and act accordingly?
Posted on 1 Apr 2015 21:23

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