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With so many different elements to quantify, PR professionals are continually struggling to prove their return on investment. Professional athletics leagues have developed all- encompassing performance metrics – is it a realistic ambition for PR as well?

The end of July marked the resumption of the 2020 NBA season in Orlando, Florida. After months of inactivity, basketball fans had something to be excited about again. One thing that stood out immediately was the performance of certain players and teams. Some played great basketball, others simply failed to get back to their pre-lockdown level of play.

In basketball, as well as many other sports, performance can be summarized by different metrics that take certain statistics into account, such as the amount of points that a player scores or the number of rebounds they grab. There are traditional metrics like PER and Gamescore, as well as advanced, modern metrics such as Box Plus/Minus (BPM).

In my opinion, the great thing about these metrics is that they make performance easy to understand, as they encapsulate the most important statistics into one single number. Of course it is necessary (and fun) to watch the games, but the metrics add an extra dimension and are an accurate representation of who is performing well and who is dropping the (basket)ball. 

This made me think: how does this relate to PR? Are there metrics that accurately measure PR performance or PR value?

As it turns out, this can be much more complex than one would assume. When reading into the subject, one metric I encountered numerous times is the Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE), one of the oldest and most renowned metrics in PR, which calculates the value of an earned piece of coverage, if it were to be purchased in the form of an advertisement; it calculates a figure using the average placement price and the reach of the outlet at that time. AVE provides good insight in the monetary value of a media placement, but in my opinion, that is also one of its disadvantages. It only provides insight into one dimension of PR and should therefore not be considered a holistic PR value.

Many professionals advocate the use of substitutes for AVE, such as Share of Voice (SOV) and article quality scores. However, just like AVE, they only measure one aspect of PR, and would give a misleading idea if presented as the overall PR value.

Using such a variety of different metrics is convoluted and emphasizes the need for an encapsulating metric like those that exist in basketball (PER or Gamescore). Until such a metric is created, the Barcelona Principles – a set of guidelines for measuring PR value – give great suggestions on how qualitative and quantitative data can be used to evaluate performance.

The future of PR metrics, in my opinion, lies with customized indices. A great example is the Kick Butt Index developed by Katie Paine, which allocates a certain weight to every element of media coverage. It would be ideal to have a customized metric that builds on the Barcelona Principles and considers and weighs all forms of coverage and media in combination with the goals set by the client in question.

In sum, there are many metrics that measure elements of PR performance or value, but there is no metric that combines all elements into one score or measure. With the help of the Barcelona Principles, I am convinced that in the future we will be able to make more use of metrics to make more PR understandable for our clients, our peers and ourselves.

Written by Martijn van Dorp