Why are sports teams perennial Measurement Menaces?

At Thanksgiving we give thanks. At Christmas we give gifts. February and March appear to be the time to give out awards.  So, we figured we jump on the award-season  bandwagon by brining back our Measurement Menace of the Month awards.

The Measurement Menace award began in 2010 after the PR industry came together and established the Barcelona Principles which set out standards for best practices in measuring the effectiveness of PR and communications. As impressive as that agreement was, there was obviously no enforcement mechanism that might ensure that those principles were followed. Nonetheless,  many organizations have adopted many of those principles. With one glaring exception: principle #5, Ad Value Equivalents (AVEs) are not the value of communications.

In the absence of industry enforcement, we at Paine Publishing. decided to try naming and shaming organizations into compliance. We chose to draw attention to those in the industry who violated the standards and continued to use AVEs by creating a Measurement Menace of the Month award. Whether it worked is still under debate.

To be fair, the number of PR people who admit to using AVEs has declined substantially since 2010. However, they continue to show up in highly publicized places, now frequently disguised as “Earned Media Value” – which is the equivalent of putting lipstick on the proverbial pig.

There’s plenty of evidence that PR has never been the “equivalent” of advertising. And while PR value can certainly be calculated using a variety of tools, AVEs aren’t one of them. It does nothing but deliver meaningless numbers preceded by a dollar sign.

Which is why so many of our 150+ Measurement Menaces are in industries that just can’t seem quit the AVE habit. And the worst offender seems to be sports-related PR people. They went from hugely visible fake numbers like  Bose’s bogus calculation of Super Bowl value, to tiny teams that probably didn’t know better.

Lately, the sports world has been particularly egregious in its use of equivalency, and to be fair, the teams themselves aren’t necessarily doing all these bogus calculations. Many were done by vendors and clueless PR people looking to get quoted in local media.

After Fairleigh Dickinson University somehow managed to capitalize on the fact that its basketball team got stuck in an elevator,  perennial Measurement Menace, media monitoring firm Meltwater along with TVEyes calculated the “value” of the publicity around the plight of 13 basketball players stuck in an elevator to be $12 million. It’s a big number and I’m sure someone in development found it very satisfying. But is putting the fates of 13 athletes in a potentially dangerous situation really worth $12 million? Bet their parents wouldn’t agree.

Another example is the bazaar example of Apex Marketing Group that calculated the “value” of having a humanoid Pop Tart be eaten by team members at the Pop Tarts Bowl.  Apex calculated the “publicity value” of the stunt at $12.1 million, which of course made me wonder how much you have to pay someone to be lowered into a toaster above a stadium.  By the way, no one ever deducts the cost of the investment from these calculations. Given that your average Pop Tart costs about a quarter, that stunt was the equivalent of giving away 50 million pop tarts. Think about how many hungry mouths that could have fed, if of course the dollars were actual dollars.

Another horrible example of thinking that the media you “earned’ is free, is the University of Colorado’s calculation that the media coverage of their controversial attention-loving coach Deion Sanders, was worth $90.5 million. I’m not arguing that favorable publicity of your football team isn’t good for your college brand but let’s get the math right.

If it costs Colorado $29.4 million to hire Sanders, never mind the other costs involved in running your average collegiate football team (typically anywhere from $30 million to well over $100 million) that $90.5 million might actually be break-even. I wonder what will happen when Colorado tries to pay its employees with that “$90.5 million?

Many of these silly calculations are of course driven by social media, whose numbers are always wildly inflated. And of course, most are generated by the very people trying to justify the expense of whatever stunt is getting publicity. But when will corporate leaders realize that they can’t pay the bills with publicity value, and instead start demanding actual value for their PR efforts. Which is why we are naming those people our Menaces of the Month.

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