Bad Metrics Are the Invasive Species of PR Measurement & Marketing


From the Desk of Katie Paine

National Public Radio, my incredibly intelligent constant companion, ran a segment last week on the destructive nature of invasive plants. I have  copious amounts of most of them here on Shankhassick Farm. I seem to spend most of the summer pulling up, cutting down, smothering, or poisoning Japanese Knotweed,  Bishop’s Weed, and multiflora roses. It’s not just that they’re annoying, they actually cost you money by growing into structures, undermining foundations, and lowering the value of your property.

To me, Ad Value Equivalency (AVE), Klout scores, and multiplers are the marketing equivalent of knotweed and other pernicious plants.

Each of these unwelcome pests, both plants and metrics, were originally seen as valuable additions to what was already there. Fallopia japonica was thought to be a hardy attractive addition to home gardens. AVE purported to show the monetary value of your media coverage. Klout was supposed to be an easy way to evaluate the “influence” someone could wield.  Multipliers were a way to make your results look bigger and prettier to senior management.

All of them lower the value of the things they invade. Realtors know that anyone who knows what to look for probably won’t even get out of the car if they see a yard full of knotweed. AVE devalues the work of PR because it assumes that all PR does is accumulate column inches. It ignores the relationship building  and the risk mitigation that is such an enormous part of PR’s contribution to your corporate reputation. Klout scores measure activity, not quality. Which encourages people to send out higher quantities of content-for-content’s-sake, which in turn devalues the rare instances of good content. Multipliers devalue your credibility because you just sound silly when you claim that a gazillion people saw every tweet or Facebook post you put out there.

And, like Japanese Knotweed, these bad metrics will take years to eradicate. Experts estimate that it takes five years of constant chemical blitzing to get knotweed off your property. It’s been four years since the Barcelona Principles declared AVE an unacceptable form of measurement for PR. It’s been three years since the Conclave declared that Klout was not a measure of influence. And it’s been eight years since the Institute for PR came out against using multipliers.

All these nasty thing have one more thing in common — they all invade when there’s no alternative. Invasive plants thrive in bare ground and can be eliminated by covering the ground with mulch or desirable plants. AVE’s tend to proliferate in organizations where there’s no other measurement system in place. Therefore the key to getting them gone is to start with good, standard’s compliant measurement.

Are we making progress? Absolutely. Many organizations are finally eschewing AVEs and using more relevant meaningful metrics. Platforms like Traackr and Little Bird are gaining traction while Klout slowly fades from fashion. And slowly but surely more and more senior leaders are questioning the veracity of the silly numbers being presented to them.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is a very long way to go. It takes strong will and a lot of determination to kill off these things.  Now if you’ll excuse me,  I have to go get my Roundup and a machete. ∞

Thanks to House Price for the image.

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.