In this blog, Rob Ashwell, from Fourteen Comms, sets the context as to why we shouldn’t be using advertising value equivalent (AVE) as a measurement of public relations value and campaign success. AVE is a controversial topic in the PR world. Find out why he thinks social shares may be a better way to analyze, measure and evaluate the success of your campaigns.
What to use Instead of Advertising Value equivalent (AVE)
Read most PR blogs and you’ll see that evaluation is a significant buzz word in PR circles. As an industry, we (mostly) know that we shouldn’t be using advertising value equivalents as a tool for evaluation. But that isn’t stopping us.
A study by PR Week / the PRCA showed 35% of agencies were still using the AVE metric. As were 23% of in-house teams. But other data suggests these figures are likely to be far too low and PR evaluation is, in fact, rarer than many, such as the PRCA and Amec, would hope.
In 2016, research found 83,000 people worked in the UK’s, and 226,000 in the US’ public relations industry’. So, according to Google AdWords, how many searches for “PR evaluation” are made in all English speaking nations each month? 210.
Google Trends (which gives relative Google search volumes) backs this figure up with a highly erratic graph of weekly searches – and if your marketing and PR teams ask the tool to break this down by region it simply says “Hmm, your search doesn’t have enough data to show here.”
Fig 1: Given there are more than 300,000 PRs in the US and UK and two-thirds of these (in the UK at least) have ditched AVE as a reliable metric, why are so few searching for new analytics and ways to evaluate public relations value?
So if advertising value equivalents aren't right for PR measurement, what is?
How can your PR and marketing teams use Meltwater’s media intelligence tool to start to evaluate results and plan what has the greatest likelihood of working?
Meltwater alerts PR and marketing pros to new coverage as well as allows them to search retrospectively. This makes it a great starting point when analysing a campaign, or planning for your next one.
Now, it should be said up front, coverage is not an end goal. Editorial volume is just a step towards creating awareness. AVE has been widely discredited as an evaluation metric. In my work for clients, I often see more traffic come from a niche title such as EE Times (Engineering) or Bicycling than from a national paper or from TV. Rather than just looking at quantity or reach, we should bring in a range of data points for example website traffic, social media shares or sentiment.
For example – wire services can guarantee PR coverage on huge publications like WSJ and Bloomberg, but is this coverage worth the fee?
This question can be answered nicely using PR measurement insights from a simple Meltwater search. In the graph below you can see the number of shares of wire coverage vs the number of shares on editorial coverage. This lack of reaction to paid for wire coverage indicates that in many cases, other activities will deliver a great return on investment.
Fig 2: If a wire distributes a press release and nobody cares enough to share it, does it justify its fee or does it depend on the context of the the example?
Data is from a Meltwater search on the term “Semiconductor” over a three month period. Share analysis was performed via Shared Count (Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Stumble)
How to measure the value of social shares
Social share is not always perfect as a metric (see below), but then again neither is AVE. Social shares are a way to quantify how many people have reacted to coverage (and therefore a campaign).
Most social networks’ APIs let public relations and marketing teams analyze and measure the number of likes and comments. For example, most news sites such as the Guardian show how many times a story has been shared.
There are several free tools that track shares from a URL. Meltwater’s free Impact tool helps you both measure PR coverage over time and gives a total share count for any given press release, just by pasting in its URL.
Alternatively, if you’re working off a Meltwater coverage list for an entire year’s coverage you can use services such as SharedCount. You can measure more than one URL at a time – however it only tracks Facebook, Pinterest and StumbleUpon shares. You can then cross-reference the shares in Excel or Google Sheets (tip the v-lookup function allows you to do this – see image below for example).
Being in a spreadsheet you can then easily manipulate the data to pull out key time periods, key influencers or other key trends graphically. Note: if you’re a Meltwater client, you can view key trends, key time periods and key influencers within the tool.
One project we did last year helped an agency client to understand how to best prepare for a major product launch using PR measurement insights. Their client was one of the product’s two distributors. We used Meltwater to identify all PR coverage from a previous product launch. By analysing editorial coverage and shares, we were able to discover potential media targets, and when to time our promotion.
We broke it down in several ways to identify media targets and activity to prioritise. But, one of the key elements showed that the type of PR coverage and the publication it appeared in was less important than timing, with distributor 2 getting more (but later) coverage, but distributor 1 getting the shares (and as we’ll see in part 2, Google searches too).
Similarly to advertising value equivalents, it should be noted that using shares alone as an evaluation tool has weaknesses.
Firstly, people are less likely to share something if it doesn’t put them in a good light. In the same way photos on Instagram never represent real life, nor do shares. This limitation can be seen in the circulation and share figures of the National Enquirer tabloid and Atlantic magazine.
Both publications have roughly the same readership figures and the same number of monthly Google searches, yet the highbrow Atlantic gets 27 times the article shares of the lowbrow tabloid. Whether the reason is fear of being ridiculed by friends, or desire to make yourself look ‘better’, the limitation can cause a title to appear more/less influential than it actually is.
Its second weakness is that share count alone doesn’t give a sentiment. Too many replies (rather than likes) and it’s likely a sign that people are speaking negatively. This rule of thumb is called The Ratio and is based on the fact it takes more effort to write something than click a button. As Luke O’Neil more succinctly wrote in Esquire “The lengthier the conversation [from the post] the surer it is that someone royally messed up,”. This is particularly worth bearing in mind for crisis comms.
Blend a range of data points to build up a full picture of your media coverage. For example, share counts, sentiment and reach.
Rob Ashwell has worked in PR since 2002 and through Fourteen Comms helps agencies and companies evaluate what has worked and how to make their budget go further.
There's no denying that PR evaluation has come along way in the past 10 years, much to the joy of communication professionals who previously felt that researching whether their PR efforts moved the needle was an uphill batter. Communication pros now have a variety of analytic tools to add to their kit to help them prove PR ROI.
Hopefully by now you have a better understanding of alternative methods you can use to analyze and measure the value of your PR, asides for advertising value equivalent. By measuring the metrics that matter, it's a lot easier to tie PR strategy success back to overall business goals.