We have the tools – so let’s demonstrate how PR can deliver value

We have the tools – so let’s demonstrate how PR can deliver value

Claire Walker

Claire Walker

‘What does PR do?’

‘How do we know if PR is working for us?’

‘What value will you bring to our business?’

Every PR professional would have come across these questions at some point in their career. Pinning down the exact value that PR brings to a business is a difficult matter,      for  the simple reason that attributing a business outcome to a PR action has always been impossible. This is mainly because any business outcome – for example, a customer    placing an order – is influenced by many channels, such as advertising, direct mail, social media and traditional media. This is known as the attribution problem.

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 Out with AVE

The hotly debated Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) has been the hallmark of PR measurement and evaluation for a long time.

It wasn’t too long ago that PR account executives would hunch over stacks of newspapers and magazines with a ruler, measuring the size and space of a piece of coverage.    This information would then be used to measure the equivalent advertising value of that space, with an extra ‘PR factor’ from 1-10 multiplied to the advertising cost to demonstrate the ‘value of PR’.

The flaws in using AVE as a sole measuring tool for PR are clear to anyone who has spent time in the industry. For one thing, media appearances and advertising work in    completely different ways, so having a metric where one is used as a benchmark is flawed. AVE rates all pieces of coverage, irrespective of sentiment, doesn't take social media  and other channels into account, and has a meaningless multiplier. In short, AVE is an evaluation fail.

Fortunately, the measurement of PR value has moved on since the days of literal interpretation of ‘column inches’. The Barcelona Principles unveiled by AMEC in June 2010  called upon the PR industry to move beyond the AVEs and focus more on business outcomes.

But four years on, it seems that the PR world hasn’t exactly embraced them. Collectively the industry either lacks the tools or the drive to embrace change in evaluation  methodologies. Cost, too, is another factor, particularly for smaller PR programmes, but it doesn't take much to do something better than AVE!

Business driven measurement

So what is the value of PR in the modern business world? Like beauty, value is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, it depends who you ask. Sales directors would say PR should generate business leads; the comms team would want to increase awareness and a positive reputation; the call centre manager would say to avoid negative media coverage; whereas the product team might want to see their kit reviewed more favourably than competitors’.

All this means agreeing on metrics that serve the key stakeholders in the business. And in line with the Barcelona Principles, they should be focused more on business outcomes than purely outputs. Examples of business outcomes might include incoming sales, share price or employee retention.

We believe that outputs such as share of voice or coverage volume still have their place, because they’re about the reach of communications. Outcomes are more reputation-based and include aspects such as net promoter scores and recommendations.

The trick is to combine the right blend of metrics that can be agreed upon by key stakeholders, and then working on the method of gathering the data, sharing it and setting benchmarks for performance.

These need to be discussed openly between agency and client – neither party is best placed to set them alone. We advocate using the SMART model and define objectives that are measurable, achievable, relevant and time-sensitive.

In our new white paper High Definition PR Evaluation, we map out our tools to create PR evaluation metrics that meet the needs of key stakeholders. The attribution problem can be broken down with tools such as Google Analytics and social media monitoring software, so it’s easier to identify and measure the impact of PR activities.

Firefly’s evaluation toolbox addresses business objectives, media impact, social media effect and search engine performance – four key areas where we feel that PR can make a real difference to the business.

And after all, whether you work client-side or for an agency, we all want to make a difference to the business we work for.

Firefly Communications PR Evaluation White Paper by Firefly Communications

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  1. Beishon de Jard-sur-Mer
    Beishon de Jard-sur-Mer

    Good stuff, Claire – but why has it taken so long?!!

  2. Thanks for the comment Mr B – it’s a good question! I don’t
    think the issues in PR evaluation are particularly new to the industry. It was hotly debated in the 90s and probably before. What’s
    changed is that the easy access to tools such as Google Analytics and Social
    Media Monitoring, which means we are now able to put a number to things that
    were previous either impossible to fathom. Also, our media habits have changed
    considerably and living through a post-recession economic climate has made
    everyone much more commercially driven. It’s a perfect storm of events which
    has enabled us to truly shake off the old ways of doing things

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