Measurement replaces digital as PR professionals’ greatest training need

PR Academy’s annual trends survey has revealed that 47% of its past and present students think measurement is the skill where they have the biggest gap. In separate research Professor Tom Watson at Bournemouth University discovered that 43% of companies are still using AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalents).

Last year PR Academy’s survey showed that digital communications was the biggest skills gap and this year it is still significant as it is fourth cited by 40% of respondents.

However, most respondents still cited digital communications and social media as the one skills gap they would like to address over the next 12 months, followed by measurement and strategic planning

PR Academy also found that 63% of respondents said their employer provided access to qualifications, but depressingly 37% said their training budgets had been cut or frozen by their employer over the past four years.

Professor Watson’s research was a survey amongst PR students at Bournemouth University who had recently completed a sandwich year (2012-13) placement at a PR consultancy or in-house PR department. The students spent nine months or more on placement so can be considered to be valid observers of what was happening.

The research found that AVE was used in 43.2% of placement organisations. Perhaps the most worrying finding was in the verbatim replies which revealed that AVEs were sometimes being calculated by external measurement and evaluation companies that are members of AMEC (the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication). It was AMEC that published the Barcelona Principles in 2010 so you might expect its members to be at the forefront of not using them.

However, I don’t think its that simple and we should be careful before we condemn companies such as Gorkana, Metrica Cision and Precise as it is one thing to provide AVEs and quite another to endorse them. If clients (or more senior management) are demanding AVEs it is sometimes difficult, if not impossible, to refuse. However, what it is always possible to do is to provide them plastered with a health warning about how idiotic they are and to ensure they are provided alongside measurement and evaluation that actually means something. Hopefully that is what the AMEC members mentioned are doing.

That is exactly what I recommend when I’m providing PR measurement and evaluation training. In my experience even the most difficult boss or client can be won round from using AVEs if you consistently explain why they are wrong and provide a better alternative alongside them in the same report. It is even more effective if you consistently remind the client or boss how much it is costing to to calculate the pointless and inaccurate AVEs. They usually come round to just wanting the more effective report and not wasting money on the AVE one that’s not right.

The findings reflect my personal experience as the topics that are most popular when I’m providing in-house PR training and open courses via a wide variety of third party training companies are:

  • Innovative public relations strategy – PR strategy and management and how to embed and integrate digital and social into it, rather than simply treating it as a bolt-on
  • Online PR practice – practical digital public relations and social media skills and tactics that should be incorporated into PR strategy
  • Monitoring, measurement and evaluation for PR – How every organisation is unique so it’s impossible to have ‘one size fits all’ measurement and evaluation, but there are numerous more effective alternatives to AVEs

The other popular PR training courses that I do that aren’t mentioned in the PR Academy research is online crisis communications which is always in demand and digital public affairs which is becoming increasingly popular.

UPDATE: Richard Bagnall, chair of AMEC’s social media measurement group (and who founded Metrica before selling it to Gorkana) has commented on Tom Watson’s blog and confirmed what I speculated:

“When clients requested an AVE we would always explain why it was an invalid metric and put the case to the prospect/ client for them to use other metrics shaped around their objectives. Where they insisted on having an AVE (often as the only metric they demanded), we would provide it in a report but the report would also contain basic audience reach and frequency metrics for no additional charge.  We would explain in writing in the report that the AVE number was meaningless and how it could easily be criticised. “