Navigating the murky waters of professional PR measurement

In 2010, we’re utterly obsessed with measurement. This obsession hasn’t been a quantum shift, a grand epiphany, or a light bulb moment, it’s been a slow build, a snowball culminating with the global financial crisis.

Today business owners must be able to produce proof at a moment’s notice to substantiate any spend.

Gone are the ‘good’ old days when a crisp suit, lunch on the agency and the whisper of expensive cologne were enough to reassure clients of campaign success (think Madmen).

Today, we’re pay-per-click, we’re analytics, we’re tangible results, we’re figures, reports and metrics, except of course when it comes to professional public relations. The reason for this is a fundamental lack of any uniform measurement platform for PR and marketing agencies in Australia to use, by which all can be judged.

The fact that such a system remains nonexistent in 2010 almost beggars belief.

The elephant in the room is highlighted all the more by PR agencies who flout this lack of regulation by presenting clients with reports boasting hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars worth of positive PR. These often ludicrous figures are reached by a not-so-clever multiplication of AVE figures.

AVE, meaning Advertising Value Equivalent is the closest thing PR and marketing agencies have to adequate measurement tools. AVE is calculated by PR professionals literally sitting down with media clippings, a ruler and a calculator and determining the size of any given media clipping. Based on the size we are able to establish what the equivalent advertising price for the space would be.

But here’s where it gets messy. Some agencies will then add a multiplier to the total value, on the assumption that editorial is more credible than advertising. Many agencies consider 3 times AVE to be acceptable, however some use 5 times AVE or, heaven forbid, even more.

It may be partly due to these measurement disparities that the Public Relations Institute of Australia actually discourages the use of AVE figures and also states in its code of ethics:

‘Members shall refrain from proposing or agreeing that their consultancy fees or other remuneration be contingent entirely on the achievement of specified results’.

However, like it or not, clients are increasingly asking for these figures and agencies which refuse to produce them may be seen as disreputable.

Recently the director of a large Sydney agency told us she was now being asked for AVE figures by clients for the first time, even though the practice has been commonplace in Queensland (at least for our agency) for many years.

So here’s the punch: When two different agencies can deliver the same level of media coverage, but value this coverage wildly differently, how can clients adequately compare ‘apples with apples’ when it comes to PR?

The establishment of a viable evaluation platform for professional public relations and marketing, which is accepted by a majority of service providers and backed by the PRIA, is one of the most vital steps in the maturation of the industry in Australia.

Agencies who consistently deliver strong results for their clients will welcome this new age of measurement and transparency.