People that know me know that I have a passion for PR measurement. I firmly believe public relations activities should be quantifiable and measureable. The ability to “fudge” that some want to cling to hurts PR pros more than it could ever help. But I also recognize that if anyone tells you they have determined the “perfect way” for measuring PR, they are being disingenuous.
Different circumstances (and budgets) require different levels of measurement. Whatever measurement metric is used should be defensible, transparent and repeatable. Even if there are flaws in the measurement process, if the flaws are known, disclosed, and carried over from year to year, I can live with them.
But a recent tweet from Ed Nicholson at Tyson Foods (@ederdn) refocused my attention (and outrage) on a measurement folly that I hope to see dead and buried over the next few years (although I occasionally despair it will ever happen). I am talking about the “PR multiple” The multiple has been reported to range anywhere from 3x to 10x.
The general premise is that “studies have shown” that public relations/editorial coverage is 3-10 times more trusted than advertising. Therefore it should be valued three times as much. Some folks even drop the “studies have shown” and present it as a simple universal fact. I tend to hear it applied most when it comes to AVE (another evil measurement tool) and it is usually applied blindly to the whole article, even if the company is mentioned for just a sentence.
Additionally, the multiple measures the wrong thing. It doesn’t measure outcomes or results. It measures the communication channel at best.
A few years ago, Katie Paine (@kdpaine) and I talked about this over cocktails at the PRSA International Convention. She pointed out the biggest flaw with the multiple is one most professionals do not know. The multiple is a conventional wisdom myth that has never been proven. People just use the stat and accept it. Like the 17.65% markup on many services. Why? Because others do it. But to quote my mother “If all your friends stuck their hand in the fire, would you?”
Because other PR firms and services groups may use the mythical multiple is not a good enough reason for my teams. I challenge anyone to show me a valid study that shows the multiple exists. It doesn’t.
Earlier this month, Katie brought to my attention a study published by the Institute of PR in 2006 to my attention. David Michaelson and Don Stacks did a study to see if the “PR multiple” exists. They used real world test subjects (not college students who are measuring things in a vacuum). They found that the multiple is a myth. You should all check out the study here.
Public relations is powerful and can be wonderful. It’s my career. Public relations professionals and the organizations for which they work can exercise amazing influence and can benefit both companies and the public good. But as professionals we should let our work (and the results) speak for themselves. We don’t need to artificially inflate our own worth.
So please. Research and measure everything. But please, don’t use the monster that is the PR multiple.