The Seismic Shift in Public Relations Measurement


Over the past few years the world of public relations has gone through a radical change in the way program success is measured. The days of measuring how much space your press release occupied in the paper and calculating how much it would have cost to buy an equivalent sized ad are fading fast (for the most part). Ad Value Equivalency has been considered a bogus means of measuring public relations success for a variety of reasons. The simplest reason I cite is it assumes an ad can be purchased and placed in that location in the paper. This is not usually the case with front page stories. More important, AVE doesn’t measure any business outcomes–the number of widgets sold, for example.

The use of AVE in PR measurement has been debated for decades, and was questioned as far back as 1949. This article by Professor Tom Watson gives a history of AVE and its controversial evolution and (I hope) demise. It is still in use. Many executives and nonprofit board members insist on it because it’s simple to understand. Respected monitoring companies still use it, mainly to keep their competitors from stealing customers who insist on AVE as a measurement tool. But even they admit it’s bogus.

Things got serious in 2010 with the acceptance of the Barcelona Principles, which sound like an international treaty or trade agreement, but are the results of a major international effort to build industry consensus on measurement.

Working from that document, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications just released The PR Professional’s Definitive Guide to Measurement. The entire history of its development is long, and thoughtful. This is not a snap judgment by any means. It’s a seismic shift in communications evaluation. And it applies to social media as well.

A vocal proponent of outcome-based PR measurement is K.D. Paine, whose blog, The Measurement Standard, is a must-read for anybody in a field even remotely related to public relations.

Back in June she posted about The Conclave, a group of cross-industry professionals hammering out vendor-neutral standards for social media measurement. While these are not finalized yet, it looks like the world of public relations and the world of social media are getting their respective acts together regarding evaluation.

Originally posted on the Eagle Strategies blog, the class blog of the social media course I teach in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

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