Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The death of AVE can't come soon enough

I was talking to a friend recently who asked me what I do. It's the sort of conversation that makes a PRO shudder as it inevitably leads to a blank face and a 'what does that mean again' supplementary. Eventually I explained how I look after organisations' reputations and their conversations with key audiences. It almost made me feel proud! Then, of course, my friend asked 'how do you measure success?' Simple, we just work out what they would have paid for another marketing discipline and gloat about how cheap we are...

It's the sort of conversation that lurks in the room every time a PR agency pitches to a new client. We all talk a good game on evaluation but ultimately the industry lacks the conviction to stand up for itself.

So here's the truth - AVE/PRVE are inconsequential numbers which bear no impact on reputation or the emotional connection an audience has with an organisation. 

And industry bodies continue to let us down. The seven key principles recently agreed at Barcelona's European Summit on Measurement may have pledged to remove AVE but did they come up with a better solution? No, it was yet more hot air and procrastination.

AVE is unreliable as it concerns one discipline and uses it to evaluate another. Advertisers don't compare their work to PR, so why do we evaluate ours on theirs?

Public relations is one of the most criticised and misunderstood of all marketing disciplines. It is seen as a cheap win, a dark art, all fluff and no substance. This does the thousands of intelligent and creative practitioners in this country a huge disservice; yet until we can show the effectiveness of our work and how it can impact on an organisation, we will always have one foot in the mud.

My own view is that no PR campaign should commence without some prior research into reputation. There are many important models to make this evaluation, I won't go into it here.

Then, once you have this starting point you need to clearly define a set of goals. How do you want your audience to see your brand or organisation? What behaviour do you wish to change and over what period of time do you wish to do this?

Evaluating the impact of the campaign must then be measured against this test group of results, to derive impact. The impact on bottom line will of course always play a part but PR shouldn't be isolated from claiming the credit for this, as so often happens.

I know many people will argue that most organisations won't want to pay for this level of research but I think that if you are going to pay for expertise, pay for it to be used properly.

Until the industry moves more quickly to educate clients and boards on the true value of PR then we can continue to deceive ourselves and ensure awkward conversations on what the profession stands for will continue for a long time. 

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