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Can marketing attribution models save PR measurement?

Posted by Ian McKee on 15th April 2015

The reason the old standard models of PR measurement no longer cut it can be summarised thusly: the internet.

It’s pretty obvious to anyone familiar with these old standards that they’re just not going to work in a world of blog posts, tweets, viral content and multiple screens.

If you break it down further, however, the problem is even more fundamental. Pre-digital era, the basic measurement methods were circulation, and AVE; advertising value equivalency.

PR has always been measured against the ‘known value’ of its big brother advertising (for anyone not familiar with AVE, it basically involves saying a half page of advertising is £X, therefore our coverage is £X). The irony of this being that, of course, no one really knew the true value of advertising either.

So how on earth PR’s worth was determined as an equivalent of what was already of unknown value is anyone’s guess. The metrics were clearly faulty before the internet came along and ruined everything.

Half of every dollar spent

I know. No blog post on measurement is complete without a nod to this old line. It may be hackneyed, but like most clichés the quote ‘half of every dollar I spend on advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half’ contains a truism.

Or at least, it did. We’re seeing a resurgence in the use of this quote because marketing attribution vendors left right and centre are making claim to be finally tackling the problem.

You can, they say, now see which half of your advertising spend is wasted. And then you stop spending it there, investing it instead where you know it is working, therefore making your money work a lot harder for you.

The last click model is even less relevant in PR

One of the biggest issues marketing attribution attempts to resolve is that of last click model. We know that there are multiple touch points for a customer in the journey between discovery and purchase.

The number and variety of those touch points is going to vary almost infinitely, depending on the customer, the market, the product value and type, the platforms involved and so many other variables.

What we all know though, is that there is almost never just one, so attributing all value to whatever the customer last clicked through from is always absurd.

My colleague Debby Penton has rightly argued that last click attribution is especially absurd in PR. Bizarrely, as the rest of marketing is moving away from last click, PR seems to be moving towards it.

As PR is adopting content marketing practices, we can finally be seen to be contributing to the sales funnel.

Which is great. But the problem with that is us PRs, and our clients, are now getting too preoccupied with measuring this contribution, to the detriment of all the other benefits of PR.

Could_or_should

An excellent post in October from tech industry VC Mark Suster explained the many silent benefits of PR covers this topic well.

The fact is that despite its newfound capabilities for lead generation and user acquisition, the benefit of PR has always been, and remains, predominantly about brand and not direct sales.

Trade versus brand

I attended a seminar at the Festival of Marketing back in November about marketing attribution success at O2. Dan Michelson, O2’s Head of Digital Capability – Direct Marketing, said something that inspired hope in me.

Apparently, O2’s marketing attribution strategy has not only helped the business make better decisions about which channels it is using, it’s also helped them better appreciate the value of brand messaging.

Prior to adopting this strategy, O2 had been moving further and further towards what it calls trade messaging; deals, offers, messaging designed to instigate a direct sale. What its use of sophisticated marketing attribution had allowed O2 to see was the value of brand messaging and campaigns that focus more on added value and brand benefits.

You can see where I’m going here, can’t you? If a sophisticated marketing attribution model can help a huge brand like O2 see the value of brand communications, could it help PR?

There are complications here that I appreciate. O2 may have been able to see the value of brand messaging but it was still in online advertising, where all the clicks can be seen and tracked.

As someone who is regularly asked by clients to give media custom URLs for the purposes of measurement, to see media (understandably, as is their editorial prerogative) either use a simplified version or not use a link at all, I know that level of tracking is going to be tricky to say the least.

But still I can’t help asking, is there some way we can at least move closer to seeing PR measurement fixed in the marketing attribution model? In a way that values like its brand impact and the weight of authoritative editorial are appreciated?

This post originally appeared on Econsultancy

Ian McKee

Ian started out his career working in travel PR, working for tourist boards, airlines and hotel groups. Whilst there he carved out a position as a digital communications expert, managing social media, SEO and email marketing campaigns for clients.

  • Andy Gothard

    Interesting thoughts, Ian, although AVE is, and always has been, a red herring – PR and advertising are just different, so AVE is exactly like measuring how many apples you’ve got…. in terms of oranges.

    We have always been able to measure the value of PR, if we’d cared to… if we believe it’s about awareness and brand equity (remember that?), then all we have to do is some basic audience research on who knows about us and what they think of us. Now we have the Internet, that’s easier to do than ever. The absolutely baffling thing is that almost nobody does this. If I worked in advertising, and said to a client “I’m going to spend 10% of the budget on some really well-thought-out research that will put our campaign on a firm footing”, no-one would bat an eyelid…. but if I say “I’m going to spend 10% of the PR budget on research”, clients go blue in the face.