For five years those of us on the IPR Measurement Commission, the Conclave on Social Media Measurement Standards, PRSA, AMEC, CIPR, and countless other professional bodies have been lecturing audiences, clients, and anyone who will listen about the importance of the Barcelona Principles and the evils of using Advertising Value Equivalency as a measure of success for public relations and/or social media. I personally have deflected hundreds (if not thousands) of questions and comments by purveyors of AVE on why they are a silly, inaccurate, and misleading metric. After awhile, it’s hardly surprising that I empathize with Don Quixote tilting at windmills and fighting unbeatable foes.
One might wonder why AVEs are still so prevalent? The answer that every vendor will give you is that “clients want them.” But when you look at clients like GE, GM, Southwest Airlines, Procter & Gamble, McDonald’s, and many others that have eschewed the practice and kicked AVEs off their measurement programs, you have to wonder: Who are these clients and what drugs are they on? I would argue that the fault is not with the clients, but rather that there isn’t enough virtue among vendors to say “no” to ridiculous requests.
AMEC member and AMEC Summit sponsor Accesso, is one of those vendors. They recently produced a report for the City of Madrid on the “value” of the news coverage of the possible discovery of the remains of Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. The study “revealed” that the media coverage was worth an astonishing €78 million, calculated, of course, by multiplying the number of column inches of coverage times the incredibly inaccurate and unreliable cost of advertising in 68 countries. Better yet, the study reported that nearly 6 billion people, or 83% of the population of Earth, saw the news. Which was interesting, since I managed to miss it entirely.
Considering the core tenets of the Barcelona Principles, I had to wonder what were the goals for this PR effort? Did the city hope to generate tourists? In which case one might wonder where they might house 6 billion people in a city of 3 million? Did they hope to get an influx of new businesses? In which case they should probably subtract the 16% of the planet that can’t read and the 26% under the age of 14.
Okay, so they didn’t have goals, and it was all about producing large, silly numbers. But am I being hopelessly quixotic in wondering why a member of AMEC, the organization that has been a driving force for the Barcelona Principles, can’t stand up for the cause and push back against ridiculous requests? Or better yet, why AMEC allows membership and sponsorship from an organization that so blatantly violates the very principles it signed up in support of five years ago?
I could don my cynical Sancho Panza hat of realism and admit that the reason is of course money. Prostituting oneself by producing whatever misguided, inaccurate, worthless, and misleading metrics anyone pays you for helps your bottom line. Never mind that members pay dues and sponsors make conferences possible.
Sancho Panza would urge Don Quixote to give up, let PR continue to see its worth in terms that no CEO or CFO will ever take seriously. Who cares? Why not let social and digital marketers grab the budgets and the attention? Let PR be relegated to irrelevant shanty towns of corporate budgets. But, after fighting this battle for nigh on 30 years, and with apologies to Cervantes, Joe Dario, and Mitch Leigh, I will continue to dream the impossible dream of a time when AVEs are defeated and truth, honesty, integrity and good metrics rule the day. This is my quest, to right the unrightable wrong, to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far. And I trust the PR world will be better for this. ∞