Put away your rulers

By Nikki Wright

Article's containing mentions would be measured - yes, sometimes with an actual ruler (remember those?)  That measurement would be put through a mathematical process to give the agency an 'equivalent advertising value' (EAV, or AVE if you are American). It would then be offered up to the client as proof that its PR agency was on the ball, 'getting the gets', or schmoozing the right journalists with the good oil.

These days PR agencies still measure column space in print publications for the clients that demand it - and some still do. Many clients still want the lead story in the Herald or lead item in the 6 o'clock news - even though mentions in this context are far more likely to be negative than positive. Then again, is any publicity good publicity? Does getting a major item in the first few pages of the Herald take into account readership on the day, the angle/tone of the piece measured, the timeliness/appropriateness of the information?

Most importantly, how can such a measurement assess how engaged the reader/viewer is with the news he or she is reading - the holy grail of brand awareness?

These are tricky questions, and ones that, to be frank, the PR industry does not do a good enough job of coming up with answers to, sometimes. Some have developed new models, new calculations, new theories about how to measure the effectiveness of mainstream media coverage - coming up with new jargon like how much 'sway' an article holds, or 'stickiness' a radio item delivers.

It's all beside the point. Because readers and viewers are turning off 'hard' mainstream media and moving online - and we contend that online mentions of your company, product or service may in fact deliver you a far larger audience - and often a far more engaged audience - than a print, television or radio audience ever could.

A mention on the Yahoo!NZ homepage, for example, can give you more eyeballs than a mention in the NZHerald and MSN combined. Moreover, readers can 'click through' to the client's website - a direct route to sales for companies with an e-commerce offering. But it's something that some clients still find hard to believe - let alone be satisfied with when they are totting up their return on investment in PR.

Putting aside the issue of digital media, for a moment, we'd like to say that at Wright Communications, we come down firmly in the camp of those who do believe the effectiveness of a PR spend can be measured. But we take a slightly different view of how this measurement is arrived at. We follow the established, best-practice Barcelona Principles for doing this, which are the following:

  1. Goal setting and measurement is important
  2. Measuring the effects on outcomes is better than measuring outputs
  3. The effect of business results can, and should be measured
  4. Media measurements require both quantity AND quality
  5. AVEs/EVAs are NOT the value of public relations
  6. Social media can, and should, be measured
  7. Transparency and replicability underpin sound measurement.

Back to digital: it is a crucial platform for brands to meet eyeballs, and also allows for total accountability and measurability, so yes, we are now factoring online media into the mix.

Let us count the ways in which online mentions deliver real value to customers. Start from the basis of volume. We know that more and more people are heading online for their news and information fixes. To use the Yahoo! network once more, we know that some 2.3 million Kiwis use that network (including many overseas) for their news. Stuff.co.nz and Herald.co.nz are also within the top news sites, attracting the attention of millions of viewers each day, and spiking when big events break.

The content on these sites is constantly being updated by people specially employed to run these sites. That means that content is not always a cut and paste job from the 'hard' medium, but evolving, fluid and able to be much more detail oriented. Certainly there is a lot of nonsense on the internet as a whole, but the online sites of the major news organisations still need to be credible and authoratative. But they need a larger volume of news, and can highlight stories in unique and compelling ways that are hard to replicate in hard media.

Another major plus of online coverage is that sometimes hyperlinks can direct readers back to a website or campaign, to other media coverage, and all at the click of a mouse. Geographical barriers don't exist.

And in fact online mentions and campaigns have the advantage (or disadvantage, depending on what happens) of providing data about where viewers go before and after clicking on articles with brand mentions; services like Google analytics can paint a picture of just how engaged readers actually are. It goes without saying that not only is online media coverage valuable, but it can also be substantially boosted by a company's own social media efforts.

It doesn't of course mean that all online mentions are equal - blogs can spew out all sorts of nasty, negative stuff about your brand or company, and so this side of the online media equation still needs to be managed and handled.

But the case we are making here is that online media coverage should be factored into the overall assessment of a PR campaign, because increasingly that's precisely where the audience is. Naturally, to do this successfully you need a PR agency that understands the Web and incorporates its idiosyncrasies into any PR plan you formulate. You still need to have a compelling story to put to the journalists involved with the dissemination of online news. You will still need, along with your PR advisers, to assess the impact of what you've put out there to judge what kind of return you have generated on your spend.

The only thing you may not still need is your trusty ruler.

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