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Advertising Equivalency’s Hangin’ Around Like a Bad Smell

Much has been written in recent years of the perils of advertising equivalency so, while one might think that it’s not something we need to revisit, it is. It’s frightening how many folks find their way to my blog—and I suspect any other measurement blogger out there—on a daily basis because they’ve searched for a way to calculate ad value.

For those that don’t know what advertising equivalency is…essentially it’s the practice of calculating what the editorial space you’ve earned, placed, or secured, with what that space would have cost you had you bought it as ad space. More problematic is that folks in the ‘C-suite’ get to hear things like: “our campaign was a resounding success because we generated $10-million in ad equivalency.

A former boss once noted that use of advertising equivalency is a bit like smoking. Those who’ve quit, are glad they have. Those that haven’t know they should. Smokers can replace their fix with candy or the patch. What do we do in world without ad-eq?

Having worked for a top media content analysis firm, and a leading agency, and now on the research supplier side, I find one of the challenges is having the right language to make a case (to a client or a boss) against using it, helping to counter the “OK, what else do we use?” question.

So, try one, some, or all of these:

  • The industry has moved away from it use as a meaningful or even responsible metric.
  • Its use is not endorsed by CPRS, IABC, PRSA, the Canadian Council for PR Firms and the leading measurement think tank in the U.S.: the Institute for Public Relations’ measurement commission, nor the CPRS measurement committee.
  • It, alone, is a poor measure of media coverage or a campaign’s success.
  • It assumes that advertising and PR can and should be equated.
  • It assumes that the effect of the size of an article is equal to the effect of the same sized ad. There is no empirical evidence to support this
  • We know editorial and advertising are very different in what they provide, how they provide it and how people perceive and respond to both.
  • Levels of credibility, believability are different, medium-to-medium, product-to-product, issue-to-issue, topic-to-topic, outlet-to-outlet., and even reporter to reporter
  • Ads are commonly repeated whereas stories generally aren’t so the effect is vastly different.
  • Front page stories, stories of high placement and prominence, can’t be equated as newspapers don’t generally sell ads on the front page
  • Published ad rates aren’t what media buyers negotiate anyway. So, methodological concerns aside, it’s not even accurate.
  • It’s use trivializes / marginalizes the PR function to being associated exclusively with driving sales and we know it’s about so much more than that
  • It can’t account for issues; how would you account for an issue that you kept out of the paper? PR is about many things including issues, reputation and relationship management.

OK, so what else do we use?

  1. More meaningful objectives: x% of our coverage include a spokesperson, brand mention, key message, etc.
  2. Cost pers: cost-per-impression, cost-per-article garnered, per key message delivered, etc.
  3. Ideally, try to find an organizational tangible with which to correlate the quality and quantity of coverage.
  4. Track the changes in all of the above over time. What’s more important than a singular snapshot in time is a trend over time. Track the relatives not the absolutes.

Alan Chumley, Director of Communications Research, Leger Marketing, is an instructor of communications research in the PR programs at Ryerson and McMaster Universities, an associate member of the CPRS measurement committee, as well as an industry speaker, conference chair, and blogger: http://alanchumley.wordpress.com
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