Originally published in Atlanta Business Chronicle.


“This campaign delivered a total of 687M earned impressions and more than $75B in media value.”

Marketing and PR professionals have all read these kinds of statements in case studies, award write-ups and presentations, but how many have actually considered how these numbers were developed? If you did care to dive into the estimation, false equivalencies, and voodoo that’s required to arrive at these numbers, you’d see metrics like Earned Media Value (EMV) and Ad Value Equivalency (AVE) sit somewhere between highly misleading and flat out made-up. When businesses look for these kinds of KPIs, it’s critical to make sure everyone understands what they’re asking for and how to redirect them toward more accurate ways to measure earned media.

AVE and EMV have always been a bit of a snake oil that compares apples to oranges. Lacking the expertise, resources, or effort to do the work in tracking and reporting real KPIs, marketers and PR pros would measure AVE and EMV by measuring the column inches (in the case of print), seconds (in the case of broadcast media), impressions (in the case of digital media), potential reach/followers (for social media) and multiplying these figures by the platform’s advertising rates. The resulting number is what it would have cost to place an advertisement of that size/length/format.

These rudimentary methods are easy and result in massive numbers…but they’re also wrong. The fact of the matter is these overly simplistic numbers don’t account for things like sentiment or how many of those impressions were driven by bots or other digital crawlers. They don’t account for stories written and consumed by humans. They don’t differentiate between stories featuring your brand throughout vs. ones that simply mention it once. They rely on the outlets’ inflated estimates of their circulation, readership and/or traffic. These methods create huge numbers clients really like, even if they’re not accurate.

In fact, the PR industry has broadly and loudly rejected their use. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has highly discouraged their use and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, one of the largest European trade groups, banned their use last year, and is discussing fining practitioners who do use it. That’s why we never recommend (or use) these metrics and instead work with our clients to develop measurement that adheres to the globally agreed-upon Barcelona Principles. These principles recommend answering the following questions:

  • Outputs – Did we reach or engage our target audience with the messages or content we intended?
  • Outcomes – As a result of reaching or engaging that audience, did they change in the sense of their awareness, comprehension, attitude, behavior and/or advocacy?
  • Organizational Results – What were the effects on the organizations as a result of the changes in the audience, often measured in sales, market share, employee engagement, advocacy, donations, etc.?

The value of PR can’t be determined in a vacuum. PR can have a wide-ranging impact on everything a brand does from increasing organic search rankings to driving web traffic and leads, to increasing brand awareness. Unfortunately, there’s no one single metric that can demonstrate the value of PR. It all depends on what your brand’s objective is and the role PR is playing. Whatever KPIs we use to measure the value of earned media, we should be integrating them into the overall client and campaign objectives wherever possible.