Archive | April, 2006

Update on MRPs

27 Apr

I wanted to acknowledge a factual error in my post of April 24 (Oh Canada – Is MRP the Answer?) regarding the use of a multiplier in the new MRP system championed by the CPRS.  The system does not currently use a multiplier as Rachel Douglas, a member of the CPRS Measurement Committee, points out in her comment to the post.  Thank you Rachel.  Good news and a good decision by the Committee.

In my defense, the presentation from the CPRS on the MRP I saw dated March 2, 2006 clearly called for the use of the multiplier.  I'm glad this was changed prior to the official launch on April 20.

I stand by the rest of my comments including the misuse of "ROI" in describing the MRP metric. 

– Don B 

Oh, Canada – Is MRP the Answer?

24 Apr

On April 20, the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), unveiled the media relations rating points (MRP) system, an attempt to come up with a single metric for media relations measurement.  (Learn more here).  Here are a few initial impressions. 

Use of PR Multiplier Hurts Credibility

The MRP uses a multiplier of 2.5 on circulation figures to arrive at Impressions.  Advocates for the use of multipliers argue one of two positions – either PR impressions are “worth more” than other (i.e. advertising) impressions due to editorial credibility, or they are accounting for pass-along readership in addition to base circulation.  Neither position is defensible or advisable.  The only credible, consistent way to report impressions is by using audited circulation or audience figures.  I know of no industry association or governing body (e.g. IPR, PRSA) that supports the use of a multiplier.  It is bad business for the PR industry.



Guess the CPRS Measurement Committee could not resist using the magic measurement acronym – ROI – to describe the MRP.  This is spin.  The MRP uses a cost per Impression metric, which is preferable to just Impressions and does allow comparison to advertising, but it does not give ROI.  ROI has become one of the most misused terms in public relations.  In order to calculate a true ROI, you compare the dollar value of what is created (sales, perception changes, etc.) to the cost of doing it.  Cost per impression is just that, a cost-oriented metric, not value-oriented.  It does not give ROI.


Are All MRPs the Same?

The fact that one selects five qualitative factors from a longer list to include in the MRP for a given campaign  seems to mean that for five different campaigns all reporting MRPs, you could have five slightly different ways of scoring articles for the index.  Not sure how meaningful this is, but it does seem to raise possible issues around consistency of application of the metric.  I also found it a little odd that no attempt was made to weight the various factors according to their ability to impact the readers as determined by primary research. 


Where’s the Proof?

For any single metric to be compelling, you would like to know how it correlates to desired business outcomes.  Does the metric show statistical correlation to some desired ‘downstream’ behavior – sales, likelihood to buy or recommend the stock, brand preference or prescription volume, for example?  Hard to tell if any of this sort of research has been undertaken by the MRP sponsors.  I did not find any evidence of it.  



It’s always easier to criticize than create, so I applaud the efforts of the CPRS and the MRP Committee.  This was a massive undertaking and they accomplished a lot to get to this point.  The MRP is not a magic bullet, and may be fatally flawed.  But who knows – it may take off in Canada and prove to be a valuable tool.  Should be fun to watch!


– Don B            

ROI is to PR as PER is to the NBA?

19 Apr

This is a guest post from my research & measurement colleague at GCI, Wilson Tan

Public Relations is not the only industry in search of the holy grail of ROI. This past Saturday’s Weekend Journal (The Story That Stats Don’t Tell, – subscription required) profiled the NBA’s search for their breakthrough statistic.Statistics happy MLB has fallen in love with VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). It measures how much a hitter or pitcher contributes compared with a fictitious replacement player with average skills. Here are two metrics in play with the NBA:

Plus-minus Rating: How many more or fewer points than the opponent a team scores when that player is in the game

Player Efficiency Rating: Measures a player's per-minute productivity using both positive contributions (like assists) and negative ones (like missed shots)

The NBA also has some of the same challenges as Public Relations in understanding intangible value. Sonics CEO Wally Walker says the team's fortunes this year (poor compared to last year) show that statistics are hardly a panacea. "Our chemistry isn't nearly as good this year as it was last year," he says. "It's hard to hang a number on that."

If the NBA, in an enclosed arena of 94” by 50”, has a struggle defining a breakthrough statistic, no wonder we in PR struggle with the much bigger arena of the real world.

– Wilson Tan

Objective Failure

17 Apr

A baseline requirement for any successful public relations measurement program is to begin with measurable objectives.  If the program objectives are not measurable, any effort to determine program success becomes subjective.  The most common problem I have observed in all types of strategic plans during my career is poorly written objectives.  So why is this so difficult?  Two errors are common:


·         Writing objectives that are not specific enough with respect to metrics and timeframe to be measurable


·         Confusing Objectives with Strategies


An Objective is What you want to accomplish.  It should have two essential elements – the specific target you hope to achieve and the timeframe in which you plan to achieve it.  Here are a couple of examples:


Poorly Constructed Objectives

·         Increase awareness of product XYZ


·         Increase brand consideration for ABC


Properly Written Objectives

·         Increase awareness of Product XYZ from 15 to 25% in the next twelve months


·         Increase brand consideration for ABC from 45 to 75% by year-end 2007



Generally, most people’s Objectives are actually Strategies.  They are How you hope to accomplish the goal, not What you ultimately wish to accomplish with the program.  Sentences like:


Position product XYZ as the technology leader in the segment   or  

Enhance visibility of brand ABC amongst 24 – 35 audience  

would most likely be presented erroneously as Objectives, not Strategies.


Here’s an easy way to remember the difference:


Objective What you want to accomplish
Strategy How you intend to achieve the Objective
Tactic Using or with what tools and techniques



It’s free, easy and absolutely necessary…so why don’t we do a better job of writing Objectives we can actually measure?    


Thanks for reading, Don B

Accountability No Longer Optional

11 Apr


In my last post, we discussed that one aspect of having a ‘seat at the table’ is that the public relations function needs to be more accountable for results.  While accountability may take several forms, at the most basic level it is about being responsible for ones actions and outcomes, i.e. did you/your organization do what you said you would do?  So how can we operationalize this concept in public relations?

We believe there are three fundamental opportunities for accountability across the public relations programming lifecycle: 


  1. Quantify Opportunity/Problem – At the time of assignment, the PR team applies a little Left Brain thinking and quantifies the magnitude of the problem or opportunity that PR will address.  This was discussed in a previous post.
  2. Solution Quantification – Once the programming is developed, but before it is approved and implemented, we should quantify the anticipated results for the program.  This step answers the question, “If we accept this proposal/plan, what results or value might we reasonably expect?”  It also sets up the third step… 
  3. Quantify Results – The third stage of the framework occurs post-implementation and is the traditional measurement and evaluation phase. 

The essence of accountability occurs when we compare the results we “promised” in stage 2 to the actual results measured in stage 3.  The real kicker here is stage 2, which we may call ‘Solution Quantification’.  PR professionals have long been reluctant to predict in any specific way how much coverage, for example, will occur as a result of a given program or campaign.  You may have heard this reluctance expressed as ‘PR is an art, not a science’.  Regardless of the merits of this argument, we cannot use it as an excuse not to be accountable.  Accountability is not easy.  It is essential however if the PR function is to maximize its potential impact on the organization.  –Don B   

Left Brain Right For The Times

6 Apr

For years, the public relations profession has bemoaned the fact that it did not have a seat at the executive table.  But in the post-Enron era, there is ample evidence – anecdotal and quantitative – that the communications function has finally climbed the hill.  Here’s just one data point – in a study of executives conducted by the American Advertising Federation (, respondents were asked which departments were ‘Most Important’ to their companies.  Public Relations finished third, behind only Product Development and Strategic Planning, and ahead of powerful corporate functions such as R&D, Financial Strategies, Advertising and Legal.  Go ahead and gloat a little that an AAF study found PR more important than Advertising.

Now that we have a seat at the table, we need to change our games to flourish in this environment.  We believe there are three fundamental requirements:

1.      Need to put PR in the context of the business – demonstrate how PR is helping to achieve corporate objectives

2.      Need to speak the language of the executive suite – and to some large degree that means quantification and metrics

3.      Need to be more accountable for results.

Let’s pick up on the second point.  The majority of public relations professionals are words people, not numbers guys.   For most of us, the Right Brain rules.  In the new environment, it will be increasingly important to get in touch with our Left Brains and enhance our comfort level with numbers, logic and analysis.  This is true in how we talk about PR problems and opportunities and well as in the reporting of results.  Consider this one simplified example.  The CEO calls you in to ask your department to address an employee attitude issue that she believes is causing high levels of turnover.  The traditional response may be to do a survey of employees to confirm the attitude issue, and then develop an employee communications program to improve attitudes.  You then attempt to sell the program to the CEO based on past successes you have had in similar situations.  In the new environment, you might still do the survey, but also supplement it with data about employee retention rates, costs to acquire new employees and costs to train them properly.  When you go back to the CEO, you are able to confirm the problem by saying, “Yes, we do have a problem, in fact, we estimate it is costing the company $3.1 million dollars per year.  We believe this PR program will impact about a third of this total, saving the company a little over one million dollars.  This represents a ROI of over 300%.”  Just think how much more powerful our position becomes (and how much greater our chances of getting budget approval) when we are able to quantify the problem in language that is comfortable to the CEO.  Get in touch with your Left Brain. 

The Evils of AVEs

5 Apr

 Like a bad penny, the subject of using advertising value or advertising value equivalents (AVEs) to measure public relations just keeps coming back.  My most recent discussion of the issue occurred yesterday.  While frustrating to the majority of public relations professionals, it is easy to see why the topic keeps being raised.  As an industry we are desperate to be able to quickly and inexpensively assign a dollar value to our media relations efforts.  Assigning a value to the real estate as AVEs do is a path of least resistance.  But that doesn't make it right – it just makes it easy.


Here are nine reasons why AVEs are a poor metric for public relations.  It is a bit uncomfortable to have a list of nine – makes it look like we were too lazy to come up with a tenth.!  So, please post your reasons why AVEs are evil!   I know we missed a few… 


1. Advertisements and editorial articles are perceived differently by receivers/readers.  Editorial material benefits from the credibility of a third-party (the publication) by earning, not paying, its way into the magazine, newspaper or broadcast

2. AVEs equate an article with the appearance cost of an advertisement.  It does not speak at all to the results or impact that the article may have on a reader.  Advertisers do not judge the success of advertising on how much the insertions cost.  The true value of an ad or article is in what it does – the outcome or impact, not the cost of appearance.

3. AVEs do not address the value of several important aspects of public relations including strategic counsel, crisis communications, grassroots, viral campaigns or public affairs.  In other words, AVEs reduce PR to just the media dimension by only assigning a value in this area.  If only AVEs are used to assess PR value, the results may be much understated when considering the totality of value delivered by PR.

4. AVEs cannot measure the value of keeping a client with potentially negative news (e.g. layoff, scandal) out of the media, yet that may be the primary objective of the PR practitioner.  How much is it worth for a troubled company to not appear in the Wall Street Journal?  AVEs cannot address this.

5. Impression information for public relations is somewhat inconsistent.  Online impressions figures are not as reliable as print or broadcast, and are generally believed to be overstated  The fact that they are inflated skews AVE calculations to overstate the value of online media, often assigning unbelievable values to online articles compared to their print counterparts.  This hurts credibility and believability.  

6. AVEs do not properly distinguish between hits/articles that appear in ‘high value’ columns or publications and articles in more general or generic publications.  The calculation is based on ad cost only.  The value of appearing in a Walt Mossberg column in the WSJ or on Oprah with your new book far exceeds the cost of an advertisement in the WSJ or on Oprah due to the implied or explicit endorsement with earned media.

7. Advertising and PR actually work together synergistically, yet AVEs treat them essentially as equals or alternatives.  Ads that run in a climate of positive publicity actually receive lift from the PR.  Conversely, ads run in an environment of negative publicity will likely not be successful and/or may be perceived negatively by consumers/customers. 

8. AVEs are generally calculated by mainly, or only, taking into account the physical size of the article, and then equating that to the cost/value of an advertisement of the same size.  Often, article valence is not even considered, so a predominantly negative article would add positively to the overall AVE calculation.    

9. Some groups have devised their own ways to calculate AVEs.  PR articles are generally rated or scored as part of an algorithm used to calculate AVEs.  Factors considered might include brand prominence within the article, competitive mentions, overall article tonality and finally size/length of the article.

The problem here is there is no standard way to ‘score’ PR articles to implement an AVE system. 

For more information on AVEs please see: