Monday, July 26, 2010

Weber Shandwick Says PR is Worthless

One of those big PR companies, Weber-Shandwick (no, not "Sandwich," but their name is making me hungry) has surprised absolutely no one by announcing that there is still no way to determine the value of PR. Measuring PR is hard, so it must be worthless, right? Or, maybe it's priceless? Who the f--k knows!

For years, the agencies have sent out these retardtastic reports, usually accompanied by a stack of clips or whatnot, that struggle to determine an "ad equivalency value" for all the media placements. Of course, everyone and their mother on both sides of the client wall has ALWAYS known that these claims were garbage ("This two-line mention in USA Today would be worth $450,000 if it were an ad. But it is EVEN MORE valuable because it is not paid media, so it has CREDIBILITY." Please disregard the fact that only the homeless, people waiting for their test results in VD clinics and dead-end mid-level business travelers read USA Today. Surely this placement is spot-on target for your desired stakeholder audience. [Sorry, I digress]).

We've all known FOREVER that there is no good way to measure PR "value." They even alluded to this on last night's season 4 premiere of "Mad Men" (Pete Campbell says, “It’s a PR stunt. We don’t do that?” When asked why not, he replies,”Because we can’t charge for it.”)

Media Bistro's PR Newser, a site that covers some PR stuff, had this report of people saying what the rest of us already know about these "ad equivalency" reports:

Today, Weber Shandwick endorsed the "Barcelona Principles" for PR measurement, which include a rejection of the reports.
The seven fundamental principles were published last week after being adopted in mid-June by 200 delegates from 33 countries at the 2nd annual European Summit on Measurement. We've listed all seven principles after the jump.

Some are vague, but the rejection of ad equivalency reports is included:
1. Importance of Goal Setting and Measurement
2. Measuring the Effect on Outcomes is Preferred to Measuring Outputs
3. The Effect on Business Results Can and Should Be Measured Where Possible
4. Media Measurement Requires Quantity and Quality
5. Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) is not the Value of Public Relations
6. Social Media Can and Should be Measured
7. Transparency and Replicability are Paramount to Sound Measurement.

And THAT, sum total, is it. There is ZERO mention of any suggestions for something to replace these meaningless exercises in lying to the client. So, brilliant job, WeberSandwich, you've just repeated the same complaint we've all been making for years: the reports are worthless, we need something better. So, WHERE IS IT? 200 FRICKING "delegates" (VPs and "account supervisors" in "social media and measurement" or some wankworthy title, I would guess) from 33 FLIPPING countries couldn't come up with ANY ideas? And we go round and round. Don't even get me started on this "Barcelona Principles" b.s. REALLY? You're gonna be so grandiose to give this a title that sounds like a disarmament treaty or something?

So, you wanna know the true value of PR, kiddies? I think maybe you're having so much trouble measuring it because it truly is WORTHLESS. Or maybe just all those delegates are, I'm not sure.

Thanks for reading!
Jonathan Gardner


  1. Hey Jonathan, I'm sure your title will draw some traffic, so here's more detail on what the Barcelona Principles outlined -- it's much more than just the seven sentences:

    There's plenty more to address, which is what we're doing together with our clients every day as well as the Institute PR, AMEC and other associations. This includes:

    1) Shifting the focus to business outcomes that can be quantified and correlated with PR, including awareness, understanding, attitudes, behaviors, engagement, sales, market share, etc.
    2) Always evaluating media quality, audience and message, not just quantity -- and combining that with the performance indicators above to demonstrate impact.
    3) Deploying more valid options for comparative "cost" evaluation: CPM, targeted reach, engagement/CPE, market mix analysis, etc.

    In short, there are plenty of ways to measure PR -- whether Pete Campbell knows them or not. Now I’m hungry, too…

  2. Thanks for the comment, Tim.

    I really hope that someone makes a real effort (read:investment) towards building a REAL measurement model for PR someday soon.

    There needs to be a strong and serious industry and non-industry coalition built behind this. Whatever model is chosen and tested as the best needs to get promoted like crazy in the business world outside the PR echo chamber. THIS in itself is a real PR challenge.

    If you and your colleagues are serious, it is going to take a lot more than what's been bandied about up to now. It seems PR's biggest issue is how to PR itself.

    There are people out there who run independent "measurement shops" which are good and all but a few small consultancies are not the answer. What's needed is a quantifiable, standardized measurement model that is UNIVERSAL across the industry. You should be aiming for something to get as much traction as say Neilsen did back in the day for TV. Aim high!

  3. I couldn't agree more about the need for investment in measurement. The good news is that there are several large agencies and large companies with significant investment and commitment behind measurement. We also need in-depth education and evangelism to move people from bad practice to best practice (which is what drove the Barcelona Principles).

    The trick here is the "universal" part. In many ways, that's unlikely to happen because the objectives for public relations inherently vary by company, industry, organization model, business situation, etc. We *might* be able to have a Nielsen-like approach for consistent media metrics, but that wouldn't cover all of what PR covers anyway. (Just like Nielsen only addressed audience metrics for advertising.)

    In the meantime, here's what we've currently laid out as an industry to address the "quantifiable" and "standardized" bit:

  4. Those are good thoughts, Tim but I think it's really small beer and sorry to say, an industry cop-out. There need to be real universal standards and you, me and anyone who's studied this knows that is fact. I agree that objectives and even the definition of PR is subjective and no one is agreeing on what to measure. THAT is a lot of the problem. The funny business needs to end now. Even if PR was relegated to only being able to measure one small component (such as Nielsen and audience metrics), that's a real start and real progress. There is undoubtedly some metric that could be seen as "representative enough" to help try to quantify what PR does (something like "share of voice" maybe, but with real quant against it, not just fuzzy qual stuff, et al)

    Anyway, just like the industry itself, it seems we can just go around and around on this as well.

    However, it is agreed:

    1. There needs to be real investment
    2. There needs to be real commitment (i.e. the "real world" outside PR needs to take this measurement metric seriously)
    3. There is a possibility for a Nielsen-like real metric
    4. PR should be taking this seriously if PR wants to be taken seriously (can't we all just get along)
    5. We really are going to stop referring to anything called the "Barcelona Principles" that doesn't involved tariffs or nuclear disarmament