Death knell finally tolls for EAVs

By Melanie McKay

The time has come for all of us in public relations and communications to bury Equivalent Advertising Values (EAVs) as a way of measuring our performance once and for all. No doubt we would like to think we don’t use them, but I’m sure we still get asked to. Especially in the changing media landscape where tight, tailored content across an ever-increasing range of (especially digital channels) is king, the idea that a good story is worth a calculated amount more than the advertising rate you would otherwise pay is absurd.

We all need to be bold moving into this new era. We have a responsibility to explain this to and educate our clients, as well as politely decline to 'measure' our worth using EAVs. They are simply not a true measure of what we do and siphoning off a tiny portion of an overall campaign and putting a fabricated dollar amount against it does us all a disservice.

Maybe back in the day the public relations remit was propaganda and publicity, so EAVs were legitimate? But that's simply not the case now and EAVs are only measuring a slither of what we actually do. Strategies now not only employ media relations but increasingly stakeholder engagement, sponsorship management, internal communications and community outreach.

No question though, we all still need to clearly demonstrate how the dial is being moved as a result of our initiatives, but there are other, better, more professional ways to deliver and demonstrate tangible value.

So, it's time to take the lead from our counterparts across the ditch - the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) - who last year produced a framework for measurement and evaluation that takes in the whole picture and provides a feedback mechanism no matter what the activity. It focuses on reporting the impacts of a programme or campaign beyond outcomes.

Its guidelines advocate aligning the communications and organisations objectives at the start and making sure they are SMART, something we should all be doing anyway. However, it emphasises developing CSR communications objectives at this stage also to ensure a holistic approach.

That means identifying stakeholders not just as targets for information, but during the 'inputs' stage of a campaign to understand their needs, interests and the channels they prefer to be reached through.

The need to develop positive and lasting relationships with stakeholders is more important than ever, and there is more opportunity to do this directly through different, particularly digital, channels than there has ever been.

The benefits of these relationships can be clearly linked to the bottom line, and it's a key part of our job to help forge them. They lower the cost of doing business - from fewer objections in regulatory processes, to less time spent converting customers, and even a reduction in staff turnover as a result of satisfaction and success.

It will come as no surprise that a key part of PRIA's framework is having baseline data from qualitative and quantitative research to help understand these relationships and people's perception so you've got a benchmark. Otherwise it's very difficult to set the strategy let alone how much you increased awareness, for example.

This makes complete sense though as evaluation needs to be conducted progressively - gone are the days in this media landscape where you produce a campaign roundup or report and pronounce a campaign a success or not. Learnings need to be taken along the way - especially in the digital realm - so that strategy and potentially tactics can be tweaked if need be to achieve the objectives and show the impacts.

It's a tricky conversation to have with clients though. One leading New Zealand academic believes that at least 10 per cent of every budget should be allocated to cover measurement and evaluation of a campaign, and this might not include gathering up-front baseline data.

This can seem like and additional cost that used to be built in to a PR or communications budget, but it's not. The connection between robust data gathered up front and the ability to show impacts that link to the bottom line is unarguable.

We're not necessarily talking about investing in full scale market research here either. There are now more tools than ever to gather baseline data, such as free online surveys for key stakeholders, media audits to test the knowledge of a client's business in advance of a campaign, or focus groups that bring different stakeholders together.

So, even if we don't quite have a standardised approach or framework for measurement and evaluation as an industry here yet, let's all agree to ditch EAVs and commit to showing our true value - you know you're worth it.

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