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Time for PR measurement to take a new AVEnue

It’s the end of the month, and for many PR pros, that means reflecting on the press coverage results you’ve achieved over the past four weeks and compiling them into a report for your client. This often entails measuring the value of each piece of press coverage, and for many, this has traditionally meant deciphering the advertising value equivalent (AVE) of each clipping.

AVE measures the column inches of a piece of coverage and establishes how much the same amount of space would be worth if it was an advert, rather than editorial. The crux of what makes press content PR and not advertising is that it’s earnt media, rather than paid media. It has been covered due to the news story or article being of genuine interest to the publication, and not there thanks to a financial arrangement with the publication’s ad sales team. Depending on the size of the client and the number of press clippings achieved on a regular basis, PR pros would have to either work out the AVE value of the coverage themselves or pay for an expensive service to do it on their client’s behalf.

As a B2B PR agency, we’ve long been cynical of the value of AVE and we’re not alone. PRCA director general Francis Ingham recently claimed that it is “not fit to be called measurement.” In a PR Week and PRCA survey of 132 PR pros, both from agency and in-house, no respondents said that AVE was their preferred method of evaluation, and out of those agency PROs, none claim that this way of reporting is expected by senior management. The PR industry has spent long enough measuring AVE and comparing it to advertising costs to know its inadequacies. PR simply isn’t advertising, and so you can’t accurately compare them. PR is about building a brand and generating awareness, something AVE can’t measure.

While AVE appreciates that some publications are more expensive to advertise in than others, it doesn’t take into account the quality of the coverage and the impact it has on a reader. A thought leadership piece, a client’s opinion or an interview with a client is far more likely to be read and digested, than a glossy full page advert. Yet despite all this, more than a third of UK PR firms still use AVEs to measure coverage, and almost a quarter of in-house teams still do it. But why are they still applying an approach to measurement that they know is outdated, inaccurate and which doesn’t fully showcase the value of their hard earned piece of press coverage? The sad truth is because their clients demand it. Around a half of agencies surveyed said that clients expect to see AVE measurement, and so they do it. The PR industry is suffering from the classic ‘…because we’ve always done it this way’ when it comes to measurement, and surely the time has come to challenge clients on the best way to showcase coverage results. But to do that, you need to show the range of approaches to PR measurement that you have at your disposal, so that clients appreciate the value of a piece of coverage from different perspectives. There are a number of different ways to measure your coverage. Take a look at some of the ways we measure client coverage at Skout, and consider if any of these methods could work for your organisation:

1. Quantity: Let’s say you pitched out a news story on the launch of a new product and it scored low in AVE terms, but hit the news pages of every trade publication in your organisation’s industry sector. By quantifying how many publications you gained coverage in, you’re more likely to show how successful your media relations activity is. If you tier publications into two lists, you can score it according to how important a publication is in your sector. Never underestimate how excited a business gets when it sees a long list of positive coverage, or the importance of coverage in all your top trade titles!

2. Coverage views: The ultimate goal for the PR pro is to get an organisation’s name and branding known to as many people as possible. Measuring how many people have viewed the coverage shows how well you’ve done this. It’s often a difficult measurement to establish, given that a magazine’s circulation isn’t the same as its views. That’s where media monitoring agencies such as Kantar Media can help you. They can take into account a magazine’s readership, both online and in print, and give you statistics such as the domain authority of links in the coverage.

3. Digital: Up until a few years ago, digital marketing was mostly treated as a separate function to PR. But now, we’re increasingly seeing our clients want them to integrate them. Link building is a key way you can increase an organisation’s SEO, and by gaining links in online publications that you gain coverage in, you can build an organisation’s online presence. The more well-regarded the publication, the higher its domain authority is, and the higher it will rank on the search engine. It’s important that you log the domain authority with each link you generate to show how you’re helping the organisation creep higher and higher on the likes of Google.

4. Sales leads: Building brand authority and awareness is a powerful output of PR, but its benefits don’t end there. PR can often help generate sales leads, but it can be notoriously difficult to track them. This is why it’s important at the start of any new PR campaign to ask the sales team to track where leads come from. Typically businesses will see a spike in leads during a PR campaign, and it’s essential to capture these where you can. Don’t be afraid to ask your clients or different departments of the business to fill in that section of your PR report so that there’s concrete evidence that PR is bringing in new business.

5. Content use: In creating content like press releases and articles, you aren’t just delivering PR services, you’re creating content marketing materials too. Businesses can use this content across a range of channels, from social media to events, enabling communication with key audiences in a variety of ways. As the engine room behind this, the PR team or agency should keep a record of the amount of content they create and what channels it’s used across to show how much exposure they’re giving the business.

“Let’s be honest, clients want it,” says one PR pro in the PR Week/PRCA study, referring to AVE. Clients or the board might have their own idea of what makes a good piece of press coverage, but remember that you’re the media and content expert and know the changing ways that news and information is now consumed. It’s up to you to show the business the best way to measure your outputs. There’s no universal approach to PR measurement, and PR pros should look at different ways of doing it, like those above, and build a tailored report outline for each client. Media relations hasn’t got any easier, and logging all the different factors that contribute to a successful PR campaign helps ensure that you’re celebrating your successes and demonstrating the true value of PR.

Alex Brown enjoys being one of the Skout blog’s most regular contributors.

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