PR industry still can't work out how to measure results

Calculating the value of PR has always been a vexed issue for PR agencies, and much more so for the clients that foot the bills.

Now the world PR industry has issued the grandiloquent Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles, created at the European Summit on Measurement, which has just been held in the Catalan capital.

The seven principles are fairly self-evident and focus on getting away from relying on media clippings and the Advertising Value Equivalent that’s generally used to measure PR activity. Quality is as important as quantity, they say, outcomes should be measured rather than results and transparency and replicability are also important.

As far as bringing in practical ideas for making all this happen, the Summit seems to be resoundingly silent. Rather they will tweak the principles once more before publishing a final version next month.

With the impact of social media and other online channels muddying the waters, there’s obviously a long way to go before the industry can develop more rigorous evaluation methods.

Not that display advertising is in a much better position, with many media campaigns still relying on the crude OTS scale, summed up in that devastating press ad 20 years ago which showed a couple snogging furiously on the sofa with a TV running in the background.

The copy ran: “According to current TV research, this couple are watching your ad. Who’s really getting screwed?” Produced as a house ad by the hotshot startup agency of the time Howell Henry Chaldicott Lury, it caused a sensation in the industry and also lost them one of their first clients, which happened to be Thames TV.

In both disciplines, however many cutting edge evaluation systems the boffins can come up with, there’ll still be no substitute for bright ideas and judgement. Plus ca change, as they say…..

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About David O'Reilly

David is a former deputy editor of Campaign and writer for a number of leading titles including Management Today and the Sunday Times. He is a partner in The Editorial Partnership.