By Michelle Hinson—As newly elected chair for the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission, I am honored and thrilled to lead this thoughtful group of public relations measurement, evaluation, analytics and research experts who represent all pillars of the profession: Academics, practitioners, vendors, and assorted hybrids.
At our recent meeting, we agreed to spend this year doing a bunch of super cool projects including validating communications frameworks, testing social media standards, digging into big data and analytics and what it means for the industry, looking at earned influence, and a bunch of other totally not wonky issues (read: totally wonky but much needed).
We left that meeting feeling energized and awfully good about ourselves and the path we mapped out to help set industry standards. After all, this is the group that gave us the Dictionary of Public Relations Measurement and Research, and helped forge the Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles.
Then we all went back home and reality slapped us in the face. Nearly five years after the introduction of the Barcelona Principles, which declare Ad Value Equivalency (AVE) is not a valid metric, we’ve been assaulted by the g-AVE (Google AVE). How does the g-AVE work? Damned if I can figure out but whatever it is multiply it by 4. I think g-AVEs must be a magic bullet because they are ethical and trustworthy and will help us justify our budgets “using metrics the finance people understand.” At least if the slides are to be believed.
The author claims we don’t like AVEs because, well, something to do with quantity versus quality and quality is subjective and can never be the basis of an industry standard… and then I get distracted by the green plastic toy soldier guys on the slides. My brother had those when we were kids and they really hurt when you step on them with bare feet!
To be clear, we don’t like AVEs because they have no meaning. They are not a valid metric for what we do. Strategic public relations is not merely transactional, although a lot of us practice it that way. It is more than the cost of, or value generated from, a press release, tweet or blog post. The tactics must be tied back to the objective. And the objective must be meaningful.
But we can’t set standards from an ivory tower (though Rapunzel instilled in me a love of ivory towers). IPR CEO, Frank Ovaitt said it best:
Practitioners aren’t looking for an academic debate; they’re looking for tools they can use immediately. These tools must work better than what they already have. What qualified as “better” is what is easily explainable, usable, and helps them be demonstrably more effective and/or profitable.
We need to take the complex research that the academics produce, add the theoretical standards that we know are correct, and put them together into language that the clients will understand and adopt. All the while remembering that every organization has a unique path to purchase.
One example that does this to some degree is Katie Paine’s Kick Butt Index (KBI), also called Optimum Content Score. The KBI is a custom index that is created from conversations that get consensus on what role PR plays in the path to purchase or the business or mission of the organization.
Most of us want an easy way to connect our PR activities to dollars. Outputs are easier to measure than outcomes, so we happily embrace AVEs and g-AVEs. Quantifying and measuring the value of a relationship does not fit into the traditional business framework. It is not for the faint of heart. As a profession, how are going to reconcile this issue? I’d love to hear your ideas. ∞