Can the effectiveness of PR be measured?

6 December 2021 | 4 min read | News
Johanna Davies

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Traditionally PR has been measured by PR Value or Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) and is based on column inches in printed press and publications. In essence, you have saved £X in advertising costs because that is what that space would have cost if you had paid for the space. But PR Value is not really a measure of PR effectiveness.

There are a few problems with the AVE metric…

It’s dated

Print has gone online and there are different rate cards across online and printed media. There are other forms of media through which to seed content, not just press, and indeed different forms of content, not just words in columns. That said, the simple, one size fits all AVE metric is not relevant in today’s world and the PR industry has largely ditched this as a way of demonstrating value for clients.

It’s skewed

When you pay for advertising, you have complete control of what is printed. Once in the hands of a journalist or writer can change the narrative to better suit the purpose of the wider piece, so control is lost. The metric therefore does not translate across the two marketing disciplines.

Barcelona Principles

Back in 2010, a group of industry experts got together in Barcelona to talk about the dismissal of AVE as a useful measurement of PR. Instead, they came up with the Barcelona Principles, now largely considered the universal standard. Updated in 2020, the principles effectively standardise the way in which PR firms and clients measure the success of their communications across all channels, from the traditional print and broadcast media to online publications and of course social media whose power to amplify communications and the way in which we consume media has become increasingly evident in recent years. .

PR measurement should relate to PR objectives

In short, the Barcelona Principles state that AVE is NOT the measure of communication and suggest that in measuring the effectiveness of PR the following should be considered.

1. Setting a specific, strategic goal for your PR activity and measuring and evaluating that appropriately.

2. Measurement should consider both outputs, outcomes and potential impact, not just output. Churning out content is a pointless exercise if you have little understanding of its effectiveness regards a return on investment.

3. Communication measurement and evaluation should include a mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis – quantity alone is not enough, behaviour changes, sentiment and feeling are equally important measures.

4. A more holistic approach to measurement and evaluation across all relevant online and offline channels is more appropriate – the value of social media should be widely considered and an understanding of how earned, owned and shared media work alongside paid channels.

The coming together of PR and digital marketing

The lines between digital marketing and PR are becoming increasing blurred. Words on paper are being replaced with type on a screen, eyeballs are drawn to more easily digestible infographics and insights tell us that video content gets more engagement than headlines, words or long captions. The PR toolkit is increasing.

The PR toolkit is increasing and PR campaign goals should be set and metrics determined at the outset of a campaign.

So yes, the effectiveness of PR can be measured, just differently to the way it has been measured in the past. And before the adoption of a PR strategy or initiation of any PR campaign goals should be set, key performance metrics determined, and appropriate measurement agreed.