A Qualified Approach to Publicity Metrics
by Dennis Collins, COO
In the world of marketing research, there are two established types of information – qualitative and quantitative. Each one has its specific value, since they provide different types of data as listed below.
Quantitative research uses fixed numerical values like a 1-5 scale to determine andquantify information that is desired. These are most notorious as the polls that drive so much policy in the US these days – as our elected officials revert to sheer numerical guidance as the rationale for their decisions and actions.
Qualitative research includes surveys, focus groups and other means of dialog that provide insight rather than mathematic certainty, and are ideal fordetermining ‘softer’ attributes like brand positioning, reasons for actions, and other intrinsic values that can’t be easily measured.
Marketers realize the need for both types of information, and are comfortable working with experts to determine the best methodology to get the necessary information. If you want to know what people think about your company or issue, you’re better off using open-endedquestions and qualitative research. But if you want to know specifically how you rank compared to competitors, that should be quantified through a short close-ended survey.
So you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with PR metrics? My answer is that all marketing activities can be measured, but not all of them can be quantified. Some have to be qualified because of their nature. Butin the zealousness to justify an expense to a number-crunching, non-marketing executive (read CFO, Senior VP or CEO), numerous marketers and their agencies have attempted marketing alchemy. They are trying to quantify the unquantifiable in order to apply an ROI to the measurement of activity. Rather than realizing that PR and most other marketing is a qualitative expense, they fabricate all sortsof novel ways to ‘measure’ the added value of their activity. But in reality, the added value is not something that can be quantified as a calculated ROI, any more than other business expenses which traditionally are immune to this sort of calculation.
For example, I’ve never heard of anyone calculating ROI on their corporate rent. Think about it a second – if $/square foot was used todetermine ROI, then would increasing the best salesperson’s office by 3x generate a 3x growth in sales? How do you determine the value of a square foot in accounting versus marketing or engineering? Instead, I believe that rent has a qualitative ROI. As COO for Tech Image, I determine the percentage of revenue I’m willing to allocate to rent, and then I find the best space for that amount. Thefactors I value are location, view, flexibility, etc. which can’t be readily quantified, but certainly effect quality. In 20+ years of leasing space, I’ve never had a broker suggest such an ROI line of reasoning for justifying his or her recommendation.
It’s About Quality, not Quantity
So why do we continually try to quantify what we can’t? It’s not like this is a new phenomenon – people have beenattempting this since the second advertisement was produced. I believe it’s because people are unwilling to put in the effort to think through and qualify the value. It’s easier to attempt to quantify with numbers like ad equivalency, gross impressions or column inches. However, these contrived attempts to place a numeric value on publicity or advertising are doomed from the start, primarilybecause they cannot truly measure what they are tracking. A fully integrated marketing plan creates a whole greater than the sum of the parts, and that interlocking is what makes the program succeed. If you live in a brick house, which brick is the most valuable? Can you quantify the ROI of any one brick against? Again, why would you even try is the better question.
Now this does not mean that...