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Will AVEs ever die?

Last year, attended the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) conference, leaders of four trade bodies agreed that measurement must be at the heart of public relations. Fair enough. But exactly how measurement should be carried out is still causing arguments.

The key to evaluation, says Tom Watson, professor of Public Relations at Bournemouth University Media School and co-author of Evaluating Public Relations, is to focus on what you want to measure, rather than counting up mentions in the press or online: “The fundamental issue in measurement and evaluation is the setting of objectives for the outcome of PR programmes, not the output (clippings, mentions, traffic). Once the objectives are set, PR folk have a much greater opportunity to choose the appropriate benchmark that tells them how the strategy is progressing and what the results are."

Although Watson decries using advertising-value equivalents (AVEs), calling them a “junk measure of outputs“, some clients still like their simplicity. Amanda Wheeler, PR and communications manager at research agency GfK NOP, says that the problem is that budget holders still want AVE figures: “They love the security and clear direction that comes from being able to point to a neat column of figures and say, ‘yes, PR last year gave a positive ROI: we’ll keep that investment going for 2011’, and so we continue to feed the AVE beast, knowing that it’s not an accurate representation of our full achievements.”

Wheeler prefers to assess work by looking at lead generation and changes in perception, for example by measuring whether particular PR activity led to increased visitors to a specific page on a website, generated enquiries, and increased awareness of the product or service. Although Wheeler says the first is fairly easy to measure, the other two are more challenging. “The only way to count those accurately, without extra expense, is to keep pally with our colleagues in the product teams."

Of course, if it gets too complicated, there is always the option of calling in a specialist evaluation agency. However, Helen Westgate, founder and director of PR and marketing communications agency Westgate, says that in these straitened times, many clients don’t want to pay for this and prefer their agency to provide results in as cost-effective a way as possible. Like Wheeler, Westgate has found that although AVEs are an outdated form of measurement, some clients do like them. Westgate prefers to steer them away by offering an alternative evaluation system, using criteria that are most relevant, whether it’s length of articles, percentage of brand mentions, tone, or whether a picture is included. Uplift in sales is also a key measure. Often, it is not quantity, but quality. Westgate explains: “A useful measure can be as straightforward as being able to identify that a certain piece of coverage in a key trade publication led to the client winning new business.”

Measurement is much more of an issue today, believes Westgate, for two reasons. First, because everyone is now so results focused. Second, because of changing technologies: “Fifteen years ago it was hard to prove the effectiveness of PR, but now in the online world it is easier to convince people of the value of PR, because such measures as how you rank in an online search are quantifiable.”


How do you evaluate PR?

Paul Stallard, account director at agency Berkeley PR:
“Every Berkeley PR client measures the success of a campaign in a different way. Traffic sent to the site, sentiment of coverage, amount of tier one clips, get me on TV, make my phone ring – the list goes on. The only thing that stays the same is the need to be clear about what you are trying to achieve and how that fits in with the client’s other marketing and sales activity.”

Lucy Kemp, account director at communications consultancy Seal:
“It is the intelligent analysis of coverage which sheds light on whether objectives have been met – sentiment, tone, direct response, click throughs, etc. Useful evaluation is more about aligning PR campaigns with business and marketing goals. For example with Michelin we have agreed deliverables against each of their marketing objectives for 2011 and have produced a campaign plan that will;

a) drive an agreed percentage increase in web traffic, b) engage with a target number of influential bloggers and c) generate an agreed number of press cuttings in the pre-agreed target media.”

Chris Duncan, senior strategic planner at integrated agency Kindred:
“Rather than relying simply on column inches, we prefer to look further into impacts on audience behaviour and success in relation to the client’s deeper business objectives. Boundaries between communications disciplines are becoming increasingly blurred and we feel it’s essential for the communications industry to work toward more integrated evaluation metrics which reflect campaigns in their entirety.” is running a PR & ROI conference on March 3rd where a series of in-house speakers will discuss how they measure the impact of their PR.

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