PR measurement has been the elephant in the room for as long as I’ve been in the PR industry (and yes before you snigger, that IS a long time – I blinked and I became an old school pro, but I’d like to think I’m pretty current too).

Measuring what we do (an instinctive, psychological and persuasive process which we know has more power than any paid-for device) is inherently difficult. It is especially deemed intangible by many accountants who like to see return on investment (ROI) in black and white and don’t do shades of grey.

The recession was a challenging moment for the PR world. I heard the words “need to see ROI” in every meeting and as a result spent time with academics and professionals to try and uncover a route where PR and ROI could more happily co-exist. It always defaulted back to the age-old methodology of the Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) – a process of measurement which has existed as long as I can remember.

AVEs calculate the monetary value of coverage in column inches based on how much it would cost to book advertising in that same publication. They’re not scientific, but they appease the accountants on some level, as the pound sign provides comfort.

The PR industry, including the UK’s main industry body, the Chartered Institute for PR, now disregards the AVE as a dated PR measurement and of no value. Advertising costs have changed dramatically with the advent of the internet, and some would argue ads are simply not comparable to news. However, the main industry bodies have been unable to come up with a clear, fixed and tangible alternative.

At Liz Lean PR, we work with the client to provide bespoke measurement that works for them. This could be using the traditional AVE route (with an explanation of its benefits and limitations), measuring against an agreed set of KPIs, or a hybrid of both.

In each case, we want to measure intelligently – looking at each client’s business aims and how we can show PR is supporting them.

For example:

  • If they want to raise brand awareness among a specific target audience, how much coverage are they getting in the media that audience consumes? Is that coverage positive or negative? Are their key messages being communicated effectively.
  • If they want to sell a product or a service, can we use specific codes or phone numbers to link enquiries back to PR? We work with one client to directly track calls generated by media stories –they’ve found PR is generating markedly more enquiries for them than advertising or any of the other marketing they do, so they’re confident it’s working for them.

It’s not always a numbers game; for example, it’s easy to measure social media in terms of followers or likes, but this might not tell a client whether people are actually interested in the content they are posting. For some brands, it may be better to have an exclusive following that is highly engaged than to have high numbers of followers who just pressed like for a competition and no longer have an interest in what’s been posted. The four R’s come into play: reach, response, resonance, return…

Ultimately, we adopt the attitude at LLPR that we HAVE to be accountable. There is no excuse or option – we are privileged to be entrusted with clients’ hard-earned cash and it is therefore a responsibility that we undertake any processes necessary to reassure them.

We invest in people who spend significant time measuring, calculating, researching, monitoring and reporting. That is important to us and we continue to source new and more tangible ways to evaluate our work all the time.

I suspect PR measurement will continue to be the elephant in the room to some degree.

But nothing beats that warm feeling when your client hears the dulcet tones of ‘Oh you’re doing great things… I saw your article recently, congratulations!’ Whether that’s acknowledgement from the bank manager, the potential client, the new recruit or their best mate in the pub, sometimes good, old-fashioned, gut feel has the most powerful impact of all.