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PR measurement: why we must break the shatterproof ruler

Posted by Louise Palmer on 6th October 2017

Oh 1999; such a year of promise as a new century loomed. And a year of personal optimism as I started my career in PR — armed with a trusty, 30cm shatterproof ruler and a calculator…

Yes, there I was, sitting at my desk, charged with the most fundamental of jobs at such a young and impressionable age: measuring our PR results… Quite literally.

Around 8.5 column inches in the latest instalment of IT Week, multiply by five (or was it seven? Or 10? Who cared, my coverage on e-wallets was way more influential than the ad for a server on page four) and, ta-dah, I’d just justified the month’s PR budget.

PR life was more straightforward back then. But over time it’s all got a bit more complicated. Integrated PR and marketing, digital PR, social media, SEO, vloggers and bloggers. Suddenly advertising value equivalent (AVE) all becomes a bit, well, irrelevant.

So why is it that AVE continues to be an acronym that is thrown into the mix when looking at how to measure PR and communications?

Debating the measurement issue

The whole issue of measurement was up for debate at the most recent PRCA Council meeting. Being in a technology PR agency, I can be guilty of getting caught up in the tech-focused world, but the Council brings a fresh and welcome perspective.

It represents the whole breadth of the PR and communications world, from lobbying and public affairs, to corporate affairs and reputation management, and consumer and brand (and that’s just a snapshot).

For me, this diversity is the Council’s strength. And it created a particularly lively discussion, but with a great deal of consensus, largely around three points:

1. Measurement is not only important, it’s essential
2. PR isn’t a dark art; it’s absolutely possible to measure our impact — we just need to determine how
3. AVE has had its day. Put it in a box and throw away the key, so that even when a client pleads with you to free it, you can’t unleash this beast from its cave

More metrics than you could shake a ruler at

That said, I made an interesting observation during the meeting — everyone in the room knew what we meant by AVE. No-one asked for a definition or an explanation at any point in the discussion.

And therein lies a lot of the measurement problem. While the mention of AVE by a client might cause us to roll our eyes or start a mini rant about how irrelevant it is, AVE is universally understood — not only by PRs, but by the organisations we represent.

AVE may be flawed, but it’s based on a simple principle that is easy to grasp and articulate.

The alternatives are vast and varied, particularly for a group as diverse as the PRCA Council members. While some were talking backlinks and domain authority, others were highlighting sentiment and share of voice, and web traffic and marketing-qualified leads, and reputation management and even the sentiment of reaction.

It makes for a more complex metrics world, where we possibly run the risk of developing an ever-increasing list of options that make it hard to deliver consistency or even clarity for our brands.

But, from my perspective, we have a great opportunity. AMEC (the international association for measurement and the evaluation of communication) already has a set of guiding principles that as a profession we can all get behind.

Perhaps there’s a need to bring a new layer to these principles to ensure our measurement approaches recognise the nuances of our profession… But we’re on the right road.

How does our industry improve the way it measures success? Throw out our age-old, universal measurement approach, embrace diversity of measurement and, most importantly for me, have confidence that what we offer is too valuable not to be measured.

Louise Palmer

Deftly switching between business and consumer accounts, the focus for Louise remains the same; how can Wildfire tell clients’ stories in a way that is faithful, relevant and engaging? Her wide technology PR experience makes Louise an agile and versatile Associate Director and fantastic resource for the team, combining the strategic management of PR programmes with a hands-on approach to get under the skin of clients and motivate her teams.