In ye olde days of Public Relations the office was immersed in cigarette smoke, typewriters clattered, and a ruler was always on hand to measure column inches in order to work out the AVE of a piece of coverage. AVE stands for advertising value equivalent and focuses on how much PR-generated media coverage would cost if it was paid-for advertising. The COI described this method of measuring PR as a ‘flawed metric’ in a report in 2010, and PR Week’s Ruth Wyatt labels it ‘as robust as a chocolate teapot’.
So what’s next?
The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) got the best minds in PR together in June for a summit. But hold your hotdogs, after the bashing of brains and the musing of minds a conclusion was made: that there is no single definitive measure of PR. But there were seven principles which can be seen here if you are keen to understand the machinations of the industry.
Self-defined ‘pollster’, Elmo Roper, whose company was bought by GFK in 2005 said that ‘measuring public relations effectiveness is only slightly easier than measuring a gaseous body with a rubber band’. Whilst this may be true, as an agency who market market research, we thought it was vital to develop our own nifty system (even if we say so ourselves).
We do still see some value in AVE’s – if only because client finance departments really get it when we put up the £ or $ signs as equivalents for the coverage we have won. But we like to combine it with our approach, which is based on outcomes, rather than outputs. So we measure the outcomes (coverage) from our outputs (press releases, synopses and pitches to publications or journalists). We look at a series of factors such as the value of the publication in how much it reaches the desired target audience and what are the ‘opportunities to see’, the prominence of article within the publication or site, the positive or negative tone of the coverage and the extent to which it communicates the right messages. Putting all these into the Mustard cooking pot, we come up with numerical scores for each piece of coverage. This means we can generate and set numeric targets for each client. Our system is essential for proving the impact of any campaign in achieving its goals.
At AEMC’s summit, Richard Houghton, the Chairman of ICCO, estimated that 50 to 60 per cent of PR campaigns use no method of evaluation. The summit concluded that there is no one answer to this dilemma; so if you are looking at the contribution PR can make to your business, get in touch to find out more about the Mustard measurement system.
 Burns W. Roper, cited in Marston, 1963, p. 289