Hunt goes on for a fine set of measurements
ADVERTISERS continue to be sold a line by the public relations industry, which equates column inches and air time to advertising as a way to measure the worth of PR. The industry's peak body discouraged the practice years ago.
PR does not have a credible and widely accepted measurement tool. The out-of-home sector began measuring audiences earlier this year, and recently the online media market announced a single method of measurement will be in place in the second half of next year.
The moves by other marketing sectors only serves to highlight the shortcomings of the PR sector, say industry figures. The proliferation of social media has further complicated the measurement debate because so many practitioners are driving social media messaging for brands. Success in this area is difficult to measure.
Advertising value equivalents (AVEs) calculate PR worth by comparing editorial to the worth of advertising space; the figure is then multiplied by a factor of up to 10, depending on the perceived worth of the publication.
AVEs remain the industry standard and are widely used by PR practitioners despite the Public Relations Institute of Australia criticising their use.
The managing director of the Sydney PR firm Pulse Communications, Matt Buchanan, uses AVEs, but said clients are ready for something different. "We use AVEs when necessary, which is when clients don't have any alternative measure to use."
Sharon Zeev Poole, of the Sydney agency Agent99, also uses AVEs. "Ad values are a necessary evil. It isn't a perfect system, but it puts some kind of dollar system in place for clients."
But Rochelle Burbury, managing partner of Access PR, does not use AVEs. She wants the institute to find a better measure. "It's becoming more of an issue as advertisers demand we prove our worth," she said.
But the institute threw its hands up in defeat this week. It said its search for an acceptable measurement tool had been fruitless. The head of the institute, Jon Bisset, said it continues to hunt overseas for an alternative.
"I agree that the institute has a significant role to play in creating a new standard, but we're not the only ones who should be doing something about this. It's up to the wider industry as well," Mr Bisset said.
The situation has prompted some PR professionals to create their own method of measuring PR.
Ms Burbury said Access PR created a system dubbed Media Impressions, which assesses placement, the credibility of the publication, key messages and other criteria to put a dollar value on editorial. But she would prefer a uniform industry measure. "A lot of boards want to see the value of PR and what it's achieving. It's a conundrum because it's so hard to measure PR, but it's all about measurement these days."
A professor of communication at the University of Technology Sydney, Jim Macnamara, who has researched PR measurement for years, said anyone using AVEs is making false claims about the worth of PR. "A professional accountant that was asked to dodgy up the books would stand up and refuse to, and it should be the same in the PR industry," he said.