Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. Albert Einstein probably wasn’t talking about public relations (PR), but he could have been.
How to measure PR has been baffling the industry for a number of years. While many cling to the idea of advertising value equivalents (AVE), many more are waiting for a system that measures PR and not its communications cousin.
“AVE is attractive to businesses, marketers and sales teams because it puts a pound sign in there so people can understand it,” says First Great Western communication development manager Dan Panes. “But PR is a separate specialism to advertising so it’s like trying to compare apples and oranges.”
As Panes highlights, one of the major benefits to using AVE is that it produces a comprehensible figure. Yet this simplicity is also its downfall.
Mike Daniels, chairman at the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC), says: “What you try and achieve in advertising is not what you are trying to achieve in PR – they are very different mechanisms. PR professionals don’t do the same job as their counterparts in advertising – and people have forgotten that in their need to have a number. An increasing number of agencies are leaving AVE behind and some are telling their clients to leave it behind too.”
AMEC, in association with the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), is seeking to develop a set of ‘principles’ that it believes could eventually replace AVE.
PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham explains: “There’s a whole world of different evaluation systems out there, perhaps too many. All the main media management companies have their own methods and lots of consultancies have their own too, as do lots of their clients. This just confuses everyone because they’re not comparable. It’s also why some have clung on to AVE.
“But there’s an appetite to move on. We’re working with AMEC to agree some common principles that will inform techniques and set out four or five ways of measuring PR. There isn’t one way and we accept that. One of the problems is that too many people have spent too long looking for a silver bullet. Given the diversity in PR there isn’t a silver bullet but we hope to provide some standardised metrics that are valid.”
Ingham is confident that the details of the toolkit, as he refers to it, will have been published within six months. There will also be a ‘kitemark’ that will help standardise measurement and move people away from AVE. “We have to create something as readily understandable as AVE,” he adds.
That won’t be easy, but the benefits could be considerable for a sector that is becoming a force in communications and beyond. “PR guys need to prove they have the same sort of value as the lawyer, the finance guy and the sales guy,” says Ingham. “It’ll be our way of proving why the PR executive should be with the board on a regular basis.
Some teams, including First Great Western (see Viewpoint, below), and agencies are already working on more sophisticated measurement techniques to help communicate the impact of their PR internally – something that AMEC and the PRCA are encouraging. “We don’t want to stifle innovation,” says Ingham.
Cornish dairy brand Rodda’s is also working on measurement techniques. It is using the Wild Card Powerpoints evaluation tool in which a grading system against target media is agreed with clients as well as a points-scoring system based on the size of the article, number of key messages, quality of messages and images. It’s very straightforward, says its marketing manager Belinda Shipp, and very different from AVE.
“When I go to the board and take AVE results, it can be a bit like Monopoly money. They say they wouldn’t have spent that on advertising, not least because it’s based on rate cards,” she says. “The points system makes things more relevant. For instance, a piece in the trade press might get me lots of eyeballs but not eyeballs that are relevant. This method means we are targeting the right publications rather than the easy ones.”
The next step is to move the system on to cope with social media. One of the principles being developed by AMEC and the PRCA states that ‘social media can and should be measured’.
AMEC’s Daniels says there is “an anxiety among communications measurement folk that online measurement is being taken over by advertising and marketing. We are measuring what we can rather than what we ought to be measuring. At the European Summit on Measurement, which will be held in Dublin next month, we’ll be looking at social media measurement standards too.”
Some brands are already starting to change the way they analyse media in line with the changing media environment where users are increasingly digital and mobile. Kristina Eriksson, head of communications (EMEA) at the Financial Times, says it’s all about being targeted and quality of measurement over quantity.
“Measuring press coverage by advertising equivalents is a limited approach and does not give the full picture – especially with the rise of social media. It is now necessary to follow conversations whether they are on blogs, social media, print or broadcast. As a result, it’s more important than ever for an organisation to have open and effective lines of communication with its audiences.
She adds: “I think today’s businesses realise the value of communications and see the importance of having their own voice. The conversation is constant and if you are not telling your story, someone else will do it for you. It is not possible for us to assess every bit of coverage, so we need to be really targeted about how we use our resources and what we measure – the important evaluation factor being direct feedback from the business and our internal clients.”
Of course, coverage isn’t always good and PR can also preserve reputation and avert bad press. This is where measurement can become even trickier. As one expert points out: If you manage to stop a BBC consumer affairs programme running something about your brand, there won’t be any coverage, so how can you measure that? Equally, how can you measure building a great relationship with a journalist? Or put a value on a good reputation and measure PR’s contribution to it?
Professor Anne Gregory, director at the Centre for Public Relations Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University, comments: “The thing that bedevils our industry is the focus on media coverage and that stems from the US. Media evaluation doesn’t measure impact and we have to get our heads around doing proper research. When companies like Coca-Cola revalue the brand and put intangible assets at 87%, then this is a serious business. That side of the balance sheet is all about advocacy and building reputation, things which have to be done slowly, carefully, painfully and real PR is at the heart of it.”
Gregory, who is also chair-elect at the Global Alliance for PR and Communication Management, says the value of PR is being discussed across the globe. “There is no one-size-fits-all measurement model,” she says. “The belief that there could be does the PR industry a disservice. Different companies will have different objectives and thus different ways to measure success.”
Luxury accommodation provider Unique Home Stays uses PR as its primary promotional tool. Press relations and marketing officer Rhianna Morton says tracking the success of any activity is now less about measuring facts and figures and more about tracking whether PR is helping achieve business objectives.
“Many practitioners call for a ‘standard’ to be introduced, but if you agree that all measurement should be based on a company’s specific goals and objectives, you have to agree that all PR campaigns should be measured differently, as they have different goals,” she explains. “We can track the number of enquiries or bookings generated by a particular campaign, even down to a specific article. That way we know what should or shouldn’t be repeated in the future.”
PR has fared remarkably well in recent years, according to the PRCA, and the industry is becoming increasingly confident. But if it wants to sit at the boardroom table then it will inevitably need to be accountable, as Andrew Carr, sales and marketing director at IT company Bull UK & Ireland, points out: “The things that PR needs to influence in terms of outcomes are fairly easy to measure. You can measure levels of awareness, you can measure positive perceptions and you can measure intended behaviours because you can ask target audiences about all three of these things. This is what the best evaluation systems are now looking to do.
“However, for that to become a reality requires courage from the PR industry and a level of transparency and accountability that historically it has rejected. But if you start to apply these principles of accountability and measurement to PR, it has the potential to demonstrate much greater value than disciplines such as advertising.”
Communication development manager
First Great Western
Any good communications team will know instinctively about what people are saying about their business. You need that instinct but that won’t wash at board level.
If you’re not measuring your impact how can you expect to be taken seriously? PR teams need to know how to communicate the effectiveness of their work internally. They need to set measureable goals and understand what you want to achieve.
We work closely with Report International to ensure what we measure aligns to the set goals. Instead of AVE, we calculate a ‘score’ based on the prominence of the piece, the reach of the publication and the sentiment in the article. This allows us to be much clearer about the benefits of any media activity.
Take the recent announcement of an additional 4,500 seats for the network at a cost of £29m. A BBC Breakfast hit went down very well, but we have a big localism agenda so we wanted to check how the story was covered everywhere else.
The net benefit of all the local pieces in terms of our goals far outweighed that of the national piece as they got more of our messages across. This kind of measurement means we can show the board what we are doing in terms of influencing [a wider audience] and the difference between a story in The Times and one in the Western Morning News.
Sales and marketing director
Bull UK & Ireland
Marketing Week (MW): How do you measure the success of PR?
Andrew Carr (AC): The challenge with most evaluation systems today is that they only measure the outputs of a PR campaign – in other words media coverage. Systems like advertising value equivalents (AVE) fall into this category. We recognise that the real value of PR lies in its ability to create and influence outcomes.
MW: What outcomes do you want to influence?
AC: Awareness levels, positive perceptions of the company and its products and services, alongside any changes in behaviours among our target audiences. That is the capability that our PR agency Whiteoaks is able to provide. Looking more generally across the industry, I would say that PR needs to completely change the way it thinks about presenting itself and the role and value it can offer to organisations.
MW: How important is it for the value of PR to be demonstrated?
AC: In tough economic times, there is invariably a greater demand from the business to demonstrate how all aspects of marketing, not just PR, are influencing and supporting sales. Talking to the business about numbers of clippings or AVEs becomes pretty meaningless to people who are driven and rewarded by hard numbers around outcomes. We’ve needed to demonstrate how the outputs of PR actually affect sales.
MW: Will establishing a good way of measuring PR make the discipline more valued in businesses? Can it be as valued as advertising, and in fact save money?
AC: Yes. The whole point is that PR can’t have the best of both worlds. Historically, it has sat in the corner, refused to be accountable or to align itself with specific outcomes and objectives and then complained that it is not being perceived as being a strategic business tool. Ultimately, if it wants to sit at the boardroom table and be viewed as strategic, it needs to be accountable, link to business objectives and demonstrate that it can achieve specific outcomes.
MW: How expensive are these methods? Are they so expensive that they can impact on the return on investment?
AC: Effective measurement is surprisingly inexpensive. There are organisations that will charge you high sums for complicated evaluation systems that will focus on the outputs of PR rather than the outcomes. By measuring levels of awareness, types of perception and intended behaviours – and by clearly defining your target group – you’ll be able to measure these outcomes as a relatively small percentage of an overall PR spend.