Some would say measuring the value of PR is like knitting fog - it can't be done: it's certainly a topic that has exercised the mind of marketers and brand owners for aeons.
But in a world that now demands a metric for just about everything, marketers and their agencies can't get away with saying 'trust me on this one' any more. The dashboard has to be completed and the board satisified that its budgets are being appropriately directed.
In fairness, the PR industry has had a go. For many years, Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) was the accepted standard - basically the number of column inches multiplied by the equivalent advertising cost in that publication with a factor added in (often arbitrarily) to reflect editorial content being worth more than advertising.
For its arbitrary nature alone, AVE is now largely discredited and seen as someting manufactured by the PR industry to justify its outputs (well, that's what was asked for, right?). Of course it has its flaws, and while we perhaps shouldn't knock a valiant attempt to provide a measure, it is clearly not the whole story or a particularly accurate one at that.
This though still leaves us scratching around to provide realistic measures of the value and outcomes of PR. The reason it is difficult is because ROI cannot be measured in terms of direct financial impact alone. We live in a world where we are all driven to put a number on everything, but in reality hard metrics are short term and backward looking. We really need to be evaluating PR in terms of its future impact.
At The Marketing Eye, we recommend taking a more rounded view of the evaluation, aligning PR to business goals rather than PR goals in isolation. This means agreeing with our client what they are trying to achieve overall - short term and long term.
Of course, we all understand that leads and sales are often today's objective, but the business is also likely to want to improve awareness, knowledge and understanding amongst the public and the media for the future. This is fundamentally about reputation management - to encourage support and preference for when the business might need to call upon it - for good reasons or bad.
Rather than wrapping all this up in an excuse to duck the issue of evaluation, we recommend a Balanced Business Scorecard approach in which the objectives are clear, but some of the individual lines are accepted as less driven by hard metrics than others. For example:
More or different objectives can be agreed through discussion, but in essence, we say that an holistic view should be taken and rather than jump to quick findings based on quantitative data, there should be regular qualitative reviews of the objectives of the business and the extent to which it is felt the PR activity is pulling its weight towards delivering them.
On that we are happy to be judged.