It seems to be a point of discussion at the moment about whether PROs should pitch newspapers who lock their content behind a paywall? I had thinking about this and some other related issues, for instance what is the optimium size of article for PR effectiveness.
Part of what got me thinking about this was that the conversations regarding the Times Online failed to talk about the client outcome in terms of a cost-benefit analysis. Secondly, you have the ‘content farms’; (a name that conjures up a vision of journalistic dark Satanic Mills) who specify content subject and size to maximise the cost of creation versus the likely rate of return from advertising revenue.
This got me thinking that PR needs a return on coverage measure to answer a number of questions:
- Is money better spent running a shotgun programme getting lots of small mentions of coverage or a sniper programme working for months in partnership with a journalist to place the right story in the right publication?
- Can a PR campaign move from experience-based tiering of titles for relevance, impact etc to come up with an optimally balanced list based on value of coverage versus cost of creation? (By creation, I mean the press material generated, an event or experience, the journalist hand-holding and priming of third parties to provide a complete story for the press to run. I use press or media in this article in the loosest possible definition)
- A tool to help measure the efficiency and effectiveness of different agencies and aid in decision-making where a roster system is used
- How do you sidestep arguments about reach versus engagement?
So what would return on coverage look like?
I think that it would need to be some from of balanced scorecard, but it also need to take account of the cost of production involved in PR. It needs to be more nuanced than advertising value equivalent (AVE) which holds PR hostage to how poorly the media industry manages itself rather than providing a total value of the the coverage: instead is a point at which the conversation should start rather than finish.
Total value of the coverage would reflect elements such as:
- Equvalent cost of reaching the same audience
- The lifetime value of any links (from a search perspective)
- The lifetime value of any citations (again important from a search perspective)
- Lifetime value from a propagation planning point of view (is the coverage likely to be cited in further pieces of coverage by press, bloggers or other influencers?)
- Weightings on elements such as relative sentiment versus competition, position on page, share-of-voice versus competition, message delivery
I realise that there is a certain risk involved in this system turning PR into a Tayloresque ‘time-and-motion’ study of the industry and its practices. Stripping away skills, relationships and nuances to the bare bone in the pursuit of better returns for a lower budget. But on the other hand it could free up cash to do more direct-to-consumer engagement work to drive earned media, which is where the future of PR is in the first place.
Secondly with the line increasingly blurring between editorial and bought content it may make sense for PRs to blur the lines with media planning and purchase; where the data says it makes sense.
It would facilitate a much more nuanced approach to areas such as analyst relations and probably most importantly: prioritise and dictate the amount of resources spent on different journalists and publications.