Sarah-Jane Freni: How long is a piece of string?

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You could be forgiven for thinking that whether to put cream or jam first on your scones or milk or hot water first in your cup of tea are the most hotly debated subjects out there. But in reality, few topics are as contentious as the measurement of communication.

There is no question that measuring the success of your communications is essential. Otherwise, what is the point of doing any PR at all? But it’s the way you go about it that is the subject of fierce debate.

Advertising Value Equivalence (AVE), whereby one measures how much money would have been spent on advertising to garner the same amount of coverage as PR, has long been used as a way of calculating return on investment.

But many communication professionals, including the Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) and the Chartered Institute for PR (CIPR), claim that AVE is inadequate and does not reflect the true value of PR. Others will argue that AVE is a valid metric as editorial content has, in the same way as advertising, a direct impact on awareness, recall and attitude changes.

Clients tend to like AVE because it gives them a simple answer to a complex problem. It is necessary, now more than ever, to prove ROI on everything you do, but the fact is, AVE is an outdated metric.

We live in a digital age. PR has long moved beyond the traditional media relations and analytics are readily available online. We can and must measure much more than the value of press coverage.

“So how do you measure the effectiveness of your communications campaign?” I hear you ask. To which I’ll reply: “How long is a piece of string?”

I recently chaired a discussion panel on this very topic. And the consensus was that there is no one way of measuring PR because everyone uses it for different reasons.

What it boils down to is that to determine whether your campaign is working, you first have to decide what it is you are trying to achieve. Attracting new staff, increasing your sales revenue, raising awareness for your work are all valid organisational needs and objectives but you would probably devise a very different strategy to achieve each one of those.

This is where AMEC’s new Integrated Evaluation Framework, launched last month to great acclaim, comes in handy. As an interactive tool, anyone can access it online and use it to define their communications strategy. At its very onset site your objectives. Not just your campaign objectives but also, and most importantly, your overall business objectives. As for evaluating success, the framework also looks beyond outputs to outcomes and the impact the campaign will have had on your organisation as a whole.

AVE is probably here to stay a while longer but it is good to see our industry move towards a more integrated measurement approach.

Sarah-Jane Freni is Account Director at Shooting Star’s Bristol office. Half-Belgian, half-Dutch, Sarah-Jane studied PR and Journalism in Brussels, Belgium. Her early career was spent touring across Europe with obscure and famous bands. She moved to the UK in 2003 and has since worked her way back to her PR roots. She has a wealth of experience acquired in sectors as wide and varied as renewable energy, international trade and automotive.