Monday, 1 June 2009

A Necessary Evil?

According to a recent survey by the PRCA, AVE is still the evaluative method of choice for most PRs – funny that, since anecdotal evidence suggests that most of us aren’t big fans.

The reality, of course, is that the majority of PRs only use it (albeit in tandem with other more qualitative methods) for want of a truly viable alternative. And while the debate over AVE’s credibility as a method continues to rage on, we seem to be no closer to finding our evaluative holy grail.

AVE is an inexact science which reduces all the many subleties and nuances of a great PR campaign to the most basic level. It ignores all manner of vital campaign elements – not least the individual PR needs of the client – and encourages a culture of going after the big hit titles with sky high ad rates instead of working out what will really benefit your client in the long run.

From a footfall-driving perspective, it’s far more valuable for a small independent retailer in Birmingham to get half a page splash in the Birmingham Mail than a double page spread in The Times – but the AVE ruling will always find in favour of the paper with the highest circulation.

What’s more, the entire concept of AVE is fundamentally flawed. Equating editorial with advertising is like comparing oranges with apples – hence the popularity of the ‘PR value’ school of thought, which multiplies the AVE by three on the basis that you’re three times more likely to read, recall and retain a piece of editorial than an advert. And don’t even get me started on online PR measurement, for which there appears to be no consistent methods at all.

Regardless of what approach you take, there’s no escaping the fact that measuring the success of PR just isn’t that cut and dried. But in today’s economic climate, the pressure to justify the value of what we do and prove to clients that PR is making a difference to their bottom lines is greater than ever.

Monitoring key messages and developing complex KPIs can certainly appear impressive, but in essence it’s pretty simple: clients like numbers. Better than that, they like big numbers (except when we’re talking fees, of course). And if you can’t provide those all-important number-crunching stats, it’s very difficult for clients to argue your case to the big boss when budget review time comes around.

Love them or hate them, AVEs are still a part of the PR system for many of us. And, until the industry comes up with something better, they’ll continue to be – as long as we are ruled by market forces which demand we prove our worth in a lingo that everyone understands: the language of money.

Fortunately for those of us who work in the retail & leisure sector, there’s another, far more telling indicator of a PR campaign’s success: footfall. Because if you tell them, they will come. (Well, if you tell them in a way that’s engaging, relevant and using the right media channels.) With footfall figures, there’s nothing to hide behind, no numerical wizardry involved – just cold, hard, indisputable facts. Now there’s a thought.


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