Determining the value of public relations is one of the most complex topics in the communications field, and has been a debated point that has literally spanned centuries. It's clear to see why setting up a simple equation to determine value is desirable from a PR and general budgeting perspective - if the monetary value of PR becomes evident, leaders will be able to determine whether efforts have been effective. However, with so many possible channels through which exposure can spread, getting exact figures remains elusive.
Some of the most popular styles of return on investment tracking throughout the past few years, advertising value equivalency among them, have serious flaws that make them points of controversy. Now, equipped with tech tools that would have been inconceivable even a few years ago, departments are hoping to move forward from these metrics and establish more helpful systems.
What ever happened to AVE?
The Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) has recently taken a hard-line stance against AVE, insisting that it is not an accurate enough tool to measure today's PR efforts. This organization is not alone. Fellow groups urging an end to AVE use include the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the Internal Communications Consultancy Organization and the Public Relations Consultants Association
AVE's flaws run along a few common lines. For instance, this style of value determination assumes that a one-for-one comparison between ads and the earned coverage from PR is possible. In fact, the positive effects are so different that the real meaning of a campaign will inevitably be lost when the equivalency is drawn. Furthermore, the "ads" which PR coverage is compared to are completely hypothetical, raising unanswerable questions about what their own effects would be.
Getting a better look
The classic measurement frameworks for PR are outdated and should be replaced. This raises the question of what to replace them with. Companies will remain curious about how well their PR departments are doing, whether they are receiving adequate resources and how they can be improved. To learn these facts, they'll need some kind of data.
It's desirable to delve into the context around earned media. Not every article is equal in its usefulness, and this is the basis of University of Sydney professor of public communications Jim MacNamara. He proposes determining the traits of the media coverage, seeing what percentage of each piece is devoted to a company relative to its competition, as well as the tone of the stories, how long they are and what tone they take. Even the presence of images with news coverage can have an impact on its relative usefulness.
Companies today appear to be spending too little time determining how the public will perceive them after encountering earned media coverage of their latest exploits. While classic frameworks aren't built to process this factor, it could play a major role in determining what a mention is really worth.
Furthermore, new measurement methods today should include the potential value of influencers mentioning a brand. These individuals are the crux of many marketing campaigns and PR partnerships alike, and ignoring them means failing to change with the times and understand the current landscape of promotions. In a social media world, a single person can provide as much value as a news outlet.
Rather than being able to say "AVE is dead - here's the new model," the current state of evaluation in the PR industry is a work in progress. Companies will have to find systems that work for them, becoming more adept at monitoring multiple aspects of their coverage and determining the relative usefulness of each mention. Handling this calls for high-quality media intelligence operations and tools.
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