PR: Most Bang for the Marketing Buck

    March 28, 2006

Back in late December, I wrote a post for my blog about the disagreement between Katie Paine and John Wagner over the value of measuring communication.

For some unknown reason, the Ragan Report just covered this in its latest issue. Go figure. But Delahaye President Mark Weiner thought it was interesting enough to comment on, and his comment was inspiring enough that I thought it was worth spotlighting (given that a comment to a post from December 05 might never get seen by most readers). Here goes:

First: The IPR’s position on AVEs is actually relatively moderate as compared to what this discussion suggests. Read the white paper (PDF file) written by Bruce Jeffries-Fox. While I believe that AVEs are an incomplete and inadequate measure most of the time, I’ve seen them correlate to sales when no other PR measure could. Even if they are not the preferred measure and even if I believe that AVEs should be highly qualifed in their use if they are used at all, I’d rather be partially right than totally in the dark. AVEs do provide some gauge to the amount of coverage (minutes/column inches) and the reach/prestige of the medium. Even an incomplete measure can be abused and I think this is what so many of us find offensive.

Second, the irony is that AVEs greatly undervalue PR’s unique role within the marketing mix. As the research provider who worked with P&G and helped to create PRevaluate, and after having done similar marketing mix analysis in dozens of categories for scores of companies over the years, we’ve discovered that PR consistantly delivers the best ROI of any marketing agent. On average, mass marketing advertising delivers about $1.25 on a dollar; price promotions only $.75 on the dollar and PR between $3.00 and $8.00 on the dollar. The trouble is that most companies don’t use marketing mix modeling, and even those who do prefer to track only those marketing elements on which they spend the most money (TV and promotions) rather on those elements which deliver the best ROI (PR). When viewed within the context of the complete marketing mix, PR is the only marketing option that provides a lift to all other forms of marketing (meaning that when the PR is good, the advertising is more effective, the direct marketing more efficient, etc). It’s what every PR person hopes is true, and maybe in their gut believes is true…now the truth is being revealed time and time again.

The question to ask is not “what will marketers do with this information,” but rather “what will the PR profession do with this information?” Will this be another lost opportunity for PR or will the leaders of our profession and the professional associations which represent us break free from conventional wisdom? Will they take the lead in promoting PR not because it “generates buzz” or “delivers a high equivelant ad value” but because PR delivers on meaningful business objectives? The story of P&G, Wachovia and Miller Brewing broke in the advertising and marketing trades rather than the PR trades. The evidence of PR’s unique power to drive businesses forward should be our call to action: Instead of squabbling among ourselves and finger-pointing, we should unite to promote PR simply because it works in meaningful and measurable ways.

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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.