Measuring PR success in the digital age

2016 will doubtless see the closure of more local newspapers and a decline in the number of people who read those that remain. As somebody who began his career as a journalist on my hometown paper, I am saddened by the trend. But, as I now make my living in public relations, it is a reality I have to adapt to.

When I started working in PR in 2008, success was still measured in newspaper and magazine column inches – or to be more precise – Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE). As it suggests, this calculated the cost to a client of placing an advert of similar size to the editorial coverage achieved through a press release and photograph. Clearly, big circulation newspapers could charge high advertising costs and this was reflected in the AVE reported to clients.

AVE had many flaws but it did provide a mechanism to gauge the effectiveness of a PR campaign or piece of work. Of course newspaper, magazine and broadcast coverage is still important but it no longer reflects the whole picture. Social media has changed the game and in particular the role of public relations. Coverage – through traditional or new media – is just a stepping stone. Our task – through a story, photograph, interview, video, vine or Tweet – is to generate sufficient interest and curiosity in a client’s brand or product to encourage a visit to its website. Our job is then done. It is now up to the client and his or her team to translate that lead into a sale.