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What exactly is it you do?

by Collette Betts


I have a long and fruitless history in trying to explain what I do for a living. When pressed at parties on what his eldest daughter does, my dad replies, “she works in advertising”.

My sister, a teacher and all-round smart human being, has attempted many times to understand my job. But even she has officially given up, her mind filling with monkeys clashing cymbals whenever I mention my career.

I try not to take this too personally. But every time I go about explaining the difference between PR and a PA, it reminds me that it’s just as tough to explain the results of our work.

It isn’t easy. Demonstrating a successful PR campaign in terms we can all understand – ROI – has meant reaching for the most rudimentary evaluation methods just to extract some kind of dollar figure for the executive summary. The old chestnut that is advertising value equivalency (AVE). AKA, The Devil.

What on earth is an AVE I hear you cry? And why is it so bad?

Well, it’s like this. You secure an awesome quarter page editorial piece in a national newspaper. Then to work out the value you take the advertising rate card for a quarter page ad in that paper and times it by three, ‘cos editorial is more believable than an ad. Heck, you can times it by five, eight or 10 if you like. We’re not fussy.

Therein lies the issue. This finger in the air approach to measurement does us no favours as an industry, because you may as well make that figure up. It pays no mind to the factors that make a quality piece and why it provided the right impact for the campaign.

So, we don’t measure like this anymore. Not many PR agencies do. The standard against which we set our evaluation methodology instead stems from the PRIA and AMEC supported Barcelona Principles; a set of seven guiding mantras to make PR accountable and justify its value.

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick guide to these principles and how to leverage them:

  1. Set goals: just what are you trying to achieve? How do you want people to feel or respond? What does success look like? It’s very important to set the framework objectives that your work will be measured against before a campaign kicks off.
  2. Measure outcomes as well as outputs: quantitative scoring, such as reach, can give you some figures to play with. But the main purpose of PR is to change opinions, values and attitudes – so qualitative analysis into how the campaign has been received is essential. Harnessing customer surveys to add a couple of questions to capture brand sentiment before and after the execution will provide much-needed insight.
  3. Organisational performance impact: this is key in illustrating the overall impact of any campaign, PR or otherwise. Whether drawing on revenue, reputation value or employee retention, these performance factors provide the type of material that’ll trump AVE any day of the week.
  4. Measure media quantity and quality: back in the day, a campaign’s performance would be measured by the resounding “thwack” your clip pack made as you dropped it on the boardroom table for your end of campaign reporting meeting. While number of hits will always be a key measureable for PR, it’s also fundamental to capture the quality of the hit itself. Daily Mail has extensive reach, but that only means something if the content has some teeth. Mention of the brand, campaign key messages, positive interpretation of the story, engagement and arresting imagery are all important indicators.
  5. AVEs are not the value of communication: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. AVEs are about as useful as a chocolate teapot when it comes to providing context to PR.
  6. Social media can and should be measured: PR is now as much about community engagement as it is about reputation, which means social must fit within our realm. It’s one of the most measureable of all our channels, and it’s also the one where we have the most direct links to our target public and their opinions. Effective measurement of this platform provides major tracking opportunities for brand health.
  7. Transparency and consistency are key: you cannot demonstrate growth, effect and success without a consistent measurement framework, which means setting your methodology from the very start and sticking to it. We’re a discipline that’s all about ethics; maintaining a clear vision for all parties of results at all points of the campaign is without question the easiest way to foster a “one team” relationship.
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