On marketers and measurement
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

On marketers and measurement

Paul Holmes

I know that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas at the same time, so maybe the fact that I come away reeling from so many discussions about public relations measurement tells you more about the quality of my mind than it does about the subject at hand. I spent some time a couple of weeks ago with a senior agency professional and longtime advocate on behalf of better measurement, who assured me that his firm (and others) were getting better on the evaluation front because “our marketing clients are demanding hard evidence of return-on-investment.” Excellent. Except that less than 20 minutes later, when I asked him about the number of awards entries I see from his firm (or others) that continue to rely on some variation of advertising value equivalency (AVE) to demonstrate their success, his answer was that “our clients continue to ask for it.” Which clients? “Marketing clients, mostly. They want some way to compare the results they get for their PR spend with what they get for their advertising dollars.” In other words, marketing clients are sophisticated consumers of public relations services who are encouraging PR agencies to develop real, bottom-line measures of effectiveness. Except when they’re bumbling bumpkins who think that calculating how much earned media coverage would have cost if they had to pay for it tells them something meaningful about its value. I’d like to believe that over time, natural selection will take care of the problem: marketers who focus on business results and relationship-building with customers and other stakeholders will outperform those who feel that the simplicity and low cost of AVEs somehow compensate for their utter irrelevance. Except I started believing that about 25 years ago, and it clearly hasn’t happened yet.
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