Katie Paine is somewhat of a measurement guru in our industry. This post (Assessing the Assessors at AMEC's Summit) from her is well written and a must read for those interested in the latest PR measurement trends. Unfortunately, it also clearly shows that our industry still doesn't "get it."
I wasn't at this conference (thankfully). But, these informal survey findings are appalling. When the question is raised to 150 public relations executives: Do you still measure the value of your media relations programs by comparing results to that of advertising value equivalencies? Amazingly, 150 people raised their hand to say yes. Ugh.
For those reading this post who aren't in the industry, it means that these executives still use an ancient, worthless means to gauge the return on this part of their public relations programs. An example would be comparing a full page positive feature article that a company obtained in Business Week, to the cost of a full page ad in that same publication. If the ad costs $75,000. Then, the article ROI is deemed to be worth that as well.
Unfortunately, I liken this to comparing apples to broccoli. Yes, they both are in the greater fruit and vegetable category. But, take that away, and there is nothing else relevant between the two. An advertisement tells the world "we are great," and is also viewed through that same commercial lens by anyone who reads it. A full page article supporting that same company, infers that a third party, high end national media publication (such as Business Week) believes the organization is doing something very right. I'm not biased against advertising. But, it's just a simple fact that the article is more credible, believable and typically provides immensely more value in building a reputation, enhancing investor opportunities or generating leads than the ad.
My real question here is: Why is this still happening?
Over the last 10 years, I've heard from no fewer than 100 clients that they hate this antiquated measurement approach. And, they want something that is more verifiable to support important programs. Yet, according to the responses at this summit, many of these same folks say that their clients continue to push them or mandate this atrocious means of measurement.
So, one of two causes is having this effect (in my mind). Either the corporate world still doesn't understand just how wrong this is (possibly because we haven't educated them enough,) or they simply don't care. It's hard to create general stereotypes for an entire segment of the industry (and I'm glad to say that most of our clients actually want real metrics), but I'll offer up my two cents.
In this bad economy, I think many just don't care about measuring accurately to understand real ROI. They might claim the opposite, but the reality is they just need some end numbers or stats that can be pushed up to the senior powers at large which show major benefits for the costs of the program. And, one thing is almost always true. When comparing PR apples to advertising broccoli, the apples almost always win. That's because all an agency has to do is churn out a large quantity of media hits to typically drive the supposed $$$ value well above what the actual cost of the program is to the company.
With jobs on the line and so much fear out there, it's hard to blame some for doing this. That said, our industry is always fighting for greater respect among the C-suite. It's hard to argue for that, when a large chunk of the industry is still stuck in the 20th Century measurement world.