I still see some clients asking for the antiquated AVE and a stack of media clips. It does take a lot of persuasion and education to empower clients to understand that a stack of media clips and a huge AVE do not mean any measure of public relations or communication success. And the landscape is fast evolving.
In 2010, AMEC (International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) defined the Barcelona Principles, which were refreshing, empowering, and of course... paradigm-shifting for those who stood firm in the old measurement paradigms. And in 2015, AMEC expanded the principles, making them more inclusive for the entire field of communications (where PR is a subset of).
1. Goal Setting and Measurement are fundamental to all communications. While 1.0 stressed the importance of setting goals and measuring them, 2.0 now stresses that these are critical to all fields of communications, including PR. Before we jump out of our chairs and launch into tactical events and launches, or pitch to journalists, we need to clearly define what we hope to achieve, and how they can be measured. These should be clearly negotiated and codified so that every stakeholder knows what they are without ambiguity.
2. Measure Outcomes, not Outputs. When we launch campaigns and programs, don't measure outputs such as media clips or number of interviews. That's outmoded. Measure outcomes instead. For example, was an interview a positive outcome, and how was the interview received by all stakeholders? The whole field of communication used to be sitting alone in its corner. But today, communication is tightly woven into the fabric of the entire organization. You cannot have disjointed communication at different levels of the organization, and have people communicating differently to the stakeholders. There should be a unified voice so that everyone is congruent with the goals of the organization.
3. Measure the Effect on Organizational Performance. Every communication campaign has an effect on the performance of an organization, whether it be financial or emotive. A campaign can endear the organization to the public, or cause anger. A campaign can bring in revenue, or result in losses. A campaign can find droves of people knocking at an organization for careers, or have people within leaving in droves. Therefore, a communication campaign is not sealed in a vacuum, but is an active participant to effect change in an organization's performance. Therefore, we need to quantify just how communication affects an organization and its performance.
4. Use Qualitative and Quantitative Methods. Before the Barcelona Principles came about, communication (including PR) used basic quantitative measurements, such as number of clips, AVE (advertising value equivalence), number of interviews, etc. However, with social media and the stakeholders becoming very complex, much more nuanced qualitative measurements are also needed to discern the successes (or failures) of communication. For example, what is the tone of an interview? What are the feelings of the public at a tactical event?
5. AVE does not measure Communication. This has to be emphasized again and again until clients and practitioners understand. AVE is dead as far as I am concerned. AVE is a sloppy and over-simplistic way to imagine the "value" of communication. The reality is that communication should be measured in qualitative methods such as the tone of an interview, and if goodwill is enhanced. Communication has to be measured in outcomes, where a successful campaign may see increased goodwill, expanded education, more viral communication between all stakeholders and the public, etc.
6. Measure Social Media with other Communications. Social media is exiting to some practitioners but the media is not the panacea to all things. Social media is part of a holistic communication program. So measurements of social media, already deemed necessary, should be tightly integrated with the measurements of all other communications, including PR, events, direct marketing, and so on. Social media and online media are increasingly converging and so measurements can converge.
7. Transparent, Consistent and Valid Measurement. Keep it simple. The more complex the measurement, the more likely errors will creep in. For qualitative measurements, keep it simple so that anyone without prior knowledge can understand what you just measured, rather than indulge in incredulous jargon that confound our clients, senior executives, and other stakeholders. An outcome can be "positive", "neutral", or "negative". It can be that simple. Once we keep things simple, it is easy to make communication measurements transparent, consistent (even with staff turnover), and valid.
While not every organization will embrace all 7 tenets of these principles, the basic takeaway is that we have to:
A. Set measurable communication goals.
B. Do away with AVE and counting clips, and look at outcomes.
C. Integrate social media into all other communications.
The jump from an antiquated output-driven, AVE-centric paradigm to communication centered solidly on Barcelona Principles 2.0 takes work, but the outcome will be much more intelligent, useful, and sustainable for the long haul, and especially important for decision makers at an organization entrusted for its growth and survival. The time is now, if an organization has not already started on re-engineering its communications.