During various client meetings and industry peer interactions, I have come across them saying, “I have to somehow manage to touch this figure (Rs 5 crore, Rs 7 crore…irrespective). I got this target from the marketing team for this year. My PR agency and I will have to manage it somehow.”
Some refer to it as EAVs (Equivalent Advertising Value); some reorganize it as AEVs. But this three-letter acronym holds a large story, which only signals gloom and the point of no return for the PR industry.
It is amazing that every single organization, marketing/media savvy or not, continues to believe that the only metrics to prove the effectiveness of PR is to: look at the space occupied in each of the mediums — TV (secondages), print (cubic cm or sq cm) — and then put an ad rate card monetary multiplier to it. Voila. What you get is Equivalent Advertising Value.
Agreed, there are a few who have started attempting to move away from this, but you don’t need all your fingers to count them across each sector. To make things worse, far from questioning this, I see communication consultancies and their clients discussing and arguing about applying the right ad rate.
The dynamics behind this seem more of a cultural issue than anything deliberate. Especially when, most of the “cultures” that surround our lives are something that has just been there and followed for ages, unquestioned. So, why should there be an exception in the case of marketing culture or PR?
Needless to explain, PR as a function of (corporate and marketing) communication is, in turn, linked to the larger desk called marketing. Second, even today, for nine out of ten people, marketing (communications) generally equals advertising.
Talks and live, real-life examples from global and our own domestic markets, sometimes under our very nose, are not powerful enough to make a person stop and introspect on the current scheme of things in corporate and marketing communications.
However, to be fair, the finger should not be pointed at that man designing and implementing marketing ideas. Guess he is too indifferent; or probably does not even have the energy or perspective to realize that this long-standing way of looking at marketing can be changed. Or, that this years-old tradition can be challenged for the brand’s benefit.
Even today, not more than 2 per cent of a company’s overall marketing communications (advertising) budget gets allocated for PR. Why should it be such a meagre figure? Why has this approach not changed over the last several years?
One of the core reasons is that PR is still not looked at as an integral part of integrated marketing communications. It continues to be a cosmetic vanity kit.
It is time marketing clients and their PR agencies understand that Ad Value Equivalent computations carry no meaning. It does not bring any value towards their set marketing objectives. It is simply a wrong way of calculating the ROI of your 2 per cent PR budget outlay. If that is the case, the marketing company may have been better off not spending that money at all.
Is it really justified to evaluate/appraise PR agencies’ and client’s internal PR/corporate communications head basis the EAVs they have delivered? What is the rationale behind setting new EAV targets for the PR Agencies and PR heads of companies, basis the amount of marketing/advertising budget that the company has decided to expend?
No wonder then, the corporate communications team and the appointed PR consultancy have hardly ever been interested in looking at messaging, which is, in reality, the first ingredient that builds brands or differentiation thereof.
Week on week, PR executives will be on the run. “Let brand building, perceptions, brand positioning, brand differentiation, brand recall building… take a walk. I don’t need to bother myself with this. My boss is going to appraise me basis the space occupied and the EAV I have been able to generate for my client. So, I might as well spend time catching more journalists from publications and TV news channels and get them to cough up something editorial. Why should it matter what the content is?”
All this originates because the traditional culture of marketing still believes that only advertising can create and sustain brands. PR/editorial analysis is a “feel good” factor. PR has always been tactical and ad hoc, never strategic. That is probably why brand custodians think of throttling the success story of content-led marketing or PR marketing, with EAV calculation and self-gratification meetings.
If advertising communications can use matrices such as circulation, readership, or viewership, why should PR not do the same? Why have this differentiation, when we all know the consumer is consuming the same medium — content/editorial (that is, unpaid) or advertising (paid). Why can’t marketing clients set PR deliverables for their corporate communications/PR agencies that ride on the science of consumer numbers; and not on the monetary value of space occupied?
Because this is not being done, corporate communication teams and their PR agencies are still chasing space, nothing else.
Before and during every review meeting, agencies live a lifetime of palpitations; so does the corporate communications head. Justifiably so, because the marketing machinery is not going to question them on the basis of aspects such as change in image/perception within consumers, recall, consideration, reduction in consumer complaints, quality and quantity of talent querying for jobs, talent retention, scrip price changes or many more such variables. Instead, they will be questioned and appraised on the basis of EAV they have been able to generate.
It is time that we stop looking at PR as a self-gratification tool. Irrespective of what the context is — corporate & marketing communications, corporate affairs, investor relations, et al — it is all about image and perceptions. It further extends to considerations and recall of the product or the corporate brand.
Marketing companies and their internal brand custodians — brand managers, marketing heads, sales and distribution teams, et al — can turn this around into an advantage. This will happen when they start acknowledging that the power of content/editorial led marketing push is slowly taking precedence over traditional marketing communications.
Second, there are endless research and measurement opportunities that can be customized and implemented to bring scientific evaluation matrices for each corporate communications team member, the marketing head and the team of brand managers, HR, or even the CEO and the top management.
The question is: who should move the cheese? PR agencies by far, have been default set to deliver what clients ask them to deliver. If that is the case, shouldn’t clients (marketing companies) review, starting now, the deliverables they expect from their PR agencies?
Should marketing clients look beyond EAVs? Should they involve the corporate communications team that is more aligned with scientific marketing objectives and not EAV? Can annual targets be set basis objectives of each of the functional requirements across corporate, marketing and HR corridors?
Make a wish. The PR Industry is full of Aladins
(The writer is business head, Eikona PR Measurement, and senior vice-president — communications, TAM Media Research)