PR measurement – Barcelona style…

May 23rd, 2011 by Jon Clements

The Barcelona Principles of PR measurement – launched nearly a year ago – made a bonfire of a long-cherished method of proving the value of PR activity: Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE).

That the principles sanctioned other (seven, in fact) approaches to measurement was overshadowed by the curt dismissal of AVE and the collective shudder that (I assume) rippled across many parts of the PR industry:

Principle Five states: “They (AVEs) measure the cost of media space and are rejected as a concept to value public relations”. And as for the mystical “multiplier” – used to demonstrate how much more valuable editorial was against advertising – the “butchers of Barcelona” said: “Multipliers intended to reflect a greater media cost for earned versus paid media should never be applied unless proven to exist in the specific case.” Well, good luck with that one.

Fronted by AMEC (The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication), the Barcelona Principles led to the more practical Valid Metrics guidelines and a useful matrix outlining the plethora of measurement metrics. Naturally, AVE was not welcome at the new metrics party.

But, it wasn’t long before the topic was raised: “AVE is dead. But what will replace it.” It even became the title of a CIPR seminar, at which Dr Jon White – FCIPR and CIPR approved trainer –  questioned whether the Barcelona Principles had taken the debate on AVE forward at all.

Ahead of the 3rd European Summit on Measurement, that kicks off in Lisbon in a fortnight, PR Media Blog asked David Rockland, a Director of AMEC and partner at Ketchum and CEO of Ketchum Pleon Change:

1. Following the Barcelona Principles and the valid metrics guidelines, what more needs to be done to make PR measurement and evaluation completely robust in the eyes of the industry and its clients?

At this point it is about further adoption, such as inculcation in all industry awards programs and academic curricula, as well as getting much more specific about a number of areas, many of which will be covered in Lisbon.

2. Has AMEC tried to measure or evaluate the response by the industry to both the above (in other words, practicing what it preaches)?

To a degree we have in terms tracking changes in awards programs, adoption by various PR professional organizations around the world, as well as the extent that the Barcelona Principles have become ingrained in the lexicon of our industry.

3. Dr Jon White recently said at a CIPR seminar on the death of AVE that the Barcelona Principles hadn’t really progressed the debate on measurement. Is that fair to say?

As for Jon’s comments, I think you can view them in two ways. First, that the Principles codified what had never been really stated and broadly adopted before. So, you could say it wasn’t about the debate on measurement, but about setting baseline standards and approaches that no one in academia, professional organizations, etc. had done in such a broad fashion. When it comes to AVEs, I would fundamentally disagree – nowhere had the industry collectively said “no, AVEs are not the value of public relations.” However, where Barcelona alone fell short is the answer the question – “if no AVEs, then what?” That answer came out in the valid metrics work after Barcelona and presented at an AMEC/CIPR/PRCA conference in November, 2010 where those better approaches were demonstrated. But in truth, AVEs are and were broadly used because they are simple and cheap, even if they are wrong. Replacing them with a single silver bullet to demonstrate the value of PR, no matter what the program, is unrealistic. The challenge now is to create a mindset shift in terms of really doing thorough analysis and measurement, as most other marketing disciplines have been doing for decades.

One of the laudable – and long overdue – goals on the agenda for Lisbon is to “prove the value of communications to CEO’s and Finance Directors and help them put a proper value on their PR spend”.

While we await the conclusion, some of Dr Jon White’s hypotheses make sense now, namely:

– There needs to be greater clarity between communicators and clients about what a campaign needs to achieve.

– Challenge the brief: the actual problems facing the client are not always those that end up in the communications brief.

– Setting precise objectives mean the issues of measurement and evaluation tend to fade away.

– Methods for measuring the outcome of PR campaigns already exist and doing some post-campaign research is better than doing none at all.

A campaign launched 12 years ago by what was then the IPR, the PRCA and PR Week produced a handy tool kit and a set of principles. It even spoke of “weaning both practitioners and clients away from AVEs”. But – as suggested by this blog post from UK PR firm, Hopwood – AVEs are not going to go quietly.

UPDATE: As well as including a link to an excellent PR Week piece on the AVE debate, I’ve just recalled a phrase that -once upon a time – I’d heard used with clients when explaining the likely success of PR activity, which went something like: “With advertising, you pay; with PR, you pray.”

Not sure how convinced a marketing director or CEO would be when the PR consultant blamed a lacklustre campaign on the “absence of divine intervention”.

UPDATE #2: You can make your views on measurement heard at the Lisbon summit next month – complete the survey here.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

10 Responses to “PR measurement – Barcelona style…”

  1. Nigel Sarbutts Says:

    Good post Jon, but the replies from Mr Rockland need further elaboration.

    What steps are being taken to eradicate AVEs from client briefs? That is the surest and fastest way to make them history. Without offering buyers of PR services some better alternatives though, this process must take longer.

    Please provide the evidence for your answer to Q2.

    Can you provide a link to the part of the November 2010 conference where the alternatives to AVEs were demonstrated? If they have been demonstrated to be better tools what is there to discuss in Lisbon?

    Everyone knows AVEs are useless and the fact that Jon has unearthed the statement to this effect from 12 years ago demonstrates how little Barcelona moved the debate forward.

    Against this background, you’d have to be real optimist to think that Lisbon is going to be anything more.

    Here’s what I wrote on the subject just after Barcelona.

  2. Chris Norton Says:

    Interesting post Jon. I haven’t used AVEs for years as they don’t stack up. I think the alternative is still being identified but I feel it is best to get a steer from the client on what success should look like.

    In terms on online PR the target is often visitors to a particular site or buzz. It completely depends but I feel AVEs should be gone and stay gone there are so many new tools in terms of analytics we (PROs) can use to sensibly analyse a PR campaign.

  3. Jon Clements Says:

    Thanks for your comment.
    I think you’re right and particularly in terms of the way online measurement has created additional and valid evaluation methods for PR.

  4. Paul Rayment Says:

    I have to agree with Chris but also say that this is a lot easier with digital/online. I think the death of AVE mostly causes problems for agencies that sell PR like you would sell advertising or commodities. I favour basing results on understanding what the client wants, what PR can achieve and coming to an understanding. Maybe they just want to be in a specific publication, improve site visitors, etc.

    As someone who used to sell advertising I found the AVE method was very disrespectful to those who worked in advertising. It seemed to see a full page advert as just media space and ignore the creativity in what goes on in that space.

  5. Jon Clements Says:

    Thanks for your comment. You’ve touched on a key issue – understanding what the client wants; once there is clear, mutual understanding, then the way of measuring results should present itself. I believe there is an innate fear among some PR professionals, when faced with clients who are not sure themselves what they want or need to achieve, to fudge the measurement process and hope for the best. How, therefore, when it comes to reviewing the campaign can anyone be sure whether it was a success or not?

  6. Hamish Thompson Says:

    I’m glad that AVE comes in for a near-constant kicking. It’s the kind of stupid measurement system that at best continuously undermines the credibility of our profession. It’s a bit like double or triple counting the number of cans in a warehouse without stopping to check how full they are or even what’s in them.

    Having dismissed AVE, I must admit that I’m no fan of a prescriptive alternative. I think that responsibility for measurement rests with both the client and the agency – and that could mean a multitude of potential measurement techniques. The best measure is a directly attributable outcome and I am struggling to think of a PR campaign or retained relationship that we have or have had in the the last 3 or 4 years that doesn’t have a clear and measurable commercial or reputational objective written into it. Otherwise what’s the point?

    With new clients we offer a (….buzzword alert….) dashboard that shows how we might structure programme measurement. Sometimes there are three or four indicators, sometimes one, but there will always be something that is directly linked to our client’s financial or operational performance with a clear and demonstrable link back to what we’ve done.

  7. Jon Clements Says:

    Thanks for an extremely useful and instructive comment.
    Interestingly, a comment that came up during last week’s #b2bchat suggested that PR was about “impressions”, rarely “revenue”.
    Yet, if the organisation’s overall objectives are financially motivated, how can their ROI for PR not be connected in some way to the bottom line?

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