Breaking Bad Measurement: 2 Ways to Kick the AVE Habit

Walter White of Breaking Bad seatedUntil recently, a good part of the PR world was using Ad Value Equivalency (AVE) — also referred to as Earned Media Value (EMV) — as its only measure of success. This was partly because their monitoring companies provided AVE/EMV at little or no cost. It was also because AVEs make it so easy to come up with big numbers, like: “Our campaign got $3 million in coverage!”

Everything changed in 2010 when the Barcelona Principles condemned AVE/EMV as “NOT the value of public relations.”  This declaration began a slow‐moving tsunami of change in public relations measurement.

AVE/EMV involves valuing earned media placements by the cost of purchasing equivalent advertising space. The problems with this approach to measurement are many, and have been covered in depth elsewhere. One major drawback is that AVE/EMV assumes that getting column inches in traditional media is the goal of every program or campaign. But, ask yourself, if you got all the placements you wanted, yet no one showed up at your campaign, would the coverage still be worth that $3 million? Or conversely, if you got little coverage but a great many people attended the campaign, would your efforts be worth very little?

More recently irresponsible practitioners have adopted AVE for social media, somehow equating the value of posts with the cost of banner ads. (If anyone has ever seen any reliable peer-reviewed research that shows that a post has the same impact as a banner ad, please email me.)

Upgrade your measurement by dropping AVEs

Leaving AVEs behind is an opportunity to develop more effective measurement techniques. We offer two of those techniques here. Their objective is to tie your social media to some business goal. So what if the PR department does something and then social media posts or traditional media placements ensue? What is the business reason for the posts or placements? Answering that question is the key to kicking the AVE habit.

Technique #1: Track the level of interest and/or incoming leads

Let’s assume that you want to measure the success of a social media campaign relative to a product launch. The goal is to generate awareness of, interest in, and, ultimately, sales leads for that product.

Your measurement techniques must connect your PR efforts to those leads. If PR is the only marketing effort you are undertaking, it will be very easy. In fact, Campbell’s Soup used to do exactly that with at least one or two products a year. They’d hold back on advertising, just to judge the impact of the publicity program.

In this day and age, however, no one launches anything with only one tactic.  So you need a way to tease out your efforts from all the other tactics. The simplest way to do that is to create a unique URL and attach it to all the content you produce for the launch. That will tell your analytics gurus that an inquiry or visit or a lead actually came from your efforts.

Another way to attribute your efforts to success is to manage the timing of all the activities. Say, for instance, that you start to leak information on the product, with an appropriate unique URL and hashtag, the month before launch. If nothing else is happening at this time, it’s pretty logical to assume that all visits, inquiries, or leads that come in were generated by your social media activities. When you then do a traditional media release, the incremental visits, inquiries and leads can be attributable to that incremental effort.

Work out with your business development team what they assume a lead is worth and you can put a potential value on your efforts.

Technique #2: If the goal is persuasion not purchase

If the goal of your effort is to persuade or educate people, rather than to buy stuff, you need to measure the increase in awareness or change in beliefs relative to the cost of  not doing anything at all. So, for example, if your goal is to get people to consider visiting your destination, you would do a survey before hand to see how likely people were planning to visit before your campaign, and then repeat the survey a month after the campaign. Your best approach is to purchase a list of people matching your target audience and survey random samples from that group.

Less expensive, but probably not as accurate because of the self-selecting nature of the sample, would be to do pre- and post- email surveys of potential visitors who left their addresses on your destination’s website.

An alternative approach is possible if you have existing survey data that tells you the level of awareness prior to a campaign. You can use that as your benchmark. For the after survey, repeat the awareness survey being as careful as possible to use comparable questions and audience.

Note: Survey questions are deceptively difficult to construct, and without careful planning it is easy to end up with useless data. It is always wise to employ a survey professional to help design the questionnaire and process.

One you have completed your second survey, determine the percentage increase in likelihood to visit and multiply it times the target population to get the potential number of new visits. Your sales or marketing departments should know what an average visitor spends, so you can now calculate the potential revenue your campaign produced. ◊

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