• Last week’s PR Week carried a report that the COI is demanding much more qualitative evaluation of PR from its agencies, which is music to our ears, because we’ve been banging this particular drum for nearly 15 years.

      Back in the mid ’90s, when we were a pure PR business, we knew that the whole AVE/ PEV calculation was deeply flawed. In a previous role I was involved in research by magazine publishers to  track the relative ‘eye-traffic’ levels of different parts of publications to try and justify position premiums.

      The research didn’t prove its aims as well as had been hoped, so got buried, but did find that the least-read editorial page enjoyed over 10 times the traffic of the best-read ad pages.

      Coming into PR and finding people  quoting the value of a clipping as 3x the paper’s ad rate for equivalent space was something of an eye-opener, so we set up our own research into how people actually consume media, and how it leaves an effect upon them.

      We printed a series of 24 page magazines digitally, substituting different pieces of editorial on four different subjects that varied the length, design and content,  then invited a panel of 110 readers, half male and half female, to read the magazines and answer a set of questions to identify their recall levels, and their impressions from the editorial.

      The first, and most disruptive, finding of the research, was that the size of the editorial mention was of far less importance to the overall recall and impact than had been previously believed, and certainly not directly proportional.

      This flew in the face of the established, and widely used, metrics of advertising equivalent value ( AEV / AVE), and threatened to derail the whole project’s validity. Indeed the majority of clients when approached with this finding chose to dismiss it at first!

      However, the full results were too compelling to be ignored, especially as we were able to demonstrate the different levels of impact created by the relevance of the publication, the position, tone, content and illustration, and quantify their effect on the value of a piece.

      Having worked out a very quick and easy way of carrying out this evaluation, using some database software we built in-house,  we used it in business pitches and clients  loved it.

      Its a very powerful way of gaining a true insight into the value of coverage, which is wholly independent of ad rates. It works just as well for web and broadcast.

      The daft thing is that you’d think that the rest of the PR world would be biting our arms off to get hold of this ‘silver bullet’. Certainly we did, enough to set up a separate company to commercialise the technology, but we found that 99% 0f PR agencies see detailed evaluation as a chore to be avoided if at all possible,  rather than something they should do as a matter of course.

      Even those that did agree, would rather work their staff to 9.00 pm each night, than invest a couple of hundred a month in software that would make their lives easier and drive up client satisfaction.

      As Maggie Thatcher famously said leaving 10 Downing St. -“It’s a funny old world.”