Since the inception of the profession, public relations practitioners have wrestled with one vexing challenge above all others: How do we measure the value of our work?
The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) threw down the latest challenge in this time-honored debate at its annual summit in Bangkok in May 2017. AMEC announced the launch of a global campaign to "eradicate" the use of Advertising Equivalency Value (AVE) as an acceptable metric in the PR industry and its international board issued a clarion call to communications professionals worldwide to join them in this effort against one of the industry's oldest measurement tools.
The reactions to AMEC's bold initiative have been mixed. The UK-based Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) not only welcomed the attempt to eliminate AVE, but also announced its own plan for a "ban on the use of AVEs by CIPR members." Meanwhile, a June 2017 survey by Crescendo Consulting found a major split within the industry about bans on AVE use, with 44 percent of PR professionals supporting the ban and 43 percent opposing it (13 percent had no preference).
This latest dust-up is just the most recent chapter in perhaps the most consequential debate at the center of the PR profession. The need to is a serious one the industry has been tackling for decades. The good news is that the emergence of new measurement tools—some of which have been made possible by technological breakthroughs in recent years—may well lead us down a path that finally gives us those elusive answers for how to measure ROI in PR.
Some researchers suggest that the earliest signs of the PR measurement challenge date back to the late-18th century, when the first examples of systematic media monitoring can be found. As PR became more widely recognized as a unique profession, the challenge of assessing the value of such work continued to grow. Professor Tom Watson, from The Media School at Bournemouth University in the UK, provides a comprehensive history of the evolution of PR measurement that starts in the early-1900s and traces the various research efforts to evaluate the impact of PR over the next 100 years. In the early-1990s, the Institute for Public Relations (IPR)—under the leadership of the legendary Jack Felton — formed the IPR Measurement Commission to address the chronic challenge of measuring the value of PR services. Since that time, the Commission has conducted research, convened symposia and studied a wide range of measurement issues to help educate members of the profession. The IPR Measurement Commission continues its important work today, under the leadership of Chair Mark Weiner, CEO of PRIME Research and a leading voice in the AVEs debate, and Co-Chair Thomas Stoeckle, head of strategic business development for LexisNexis.
"Over the last decade, the ROI conversation has been ratcheted up to new heights in the PR profession," said Stoeckle. "The explosion of new technologies has made it possible for the creation of new statistical models for measuring value in all areas of marketing, including PR. This is an important challenge for PR professionals today because traditional borders between the roles of Advertising, Marketing and PR continue to blur in the digital age — and unfortunately, PR has lagged behind the other disciplines with respect to how we track ROI."
For example, does media coverage result in increased sales? Does an online story drive traffic to the website? Does social media buzz enhance brand recognition? These kinds of questions were obviously never contemplated in the early days of media monitoring, but they are now front and center in executive dashboard reports and marketing presentations worldwide. As a result, the PR measurement debate has been ignited in the last decade with an energy level the profession has never seen before.
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