The PR industry ‘has not gotten around to explaining what return on investment is’

How do you measure publicity? A Wall Street Journal column debunks ad value equivalency, but says ‘no simple alternative has emerged.’

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According to a veteran Australian PR pro quoted in The Wall Street Journal, the photo was worth $10.5 million in publicity. How’d he arrive at that number?

I “pulled the figure out of thin air,” because a reporter asking about it was on deadline, says Max Markson.

That anecdote kicks off a column in WSJ about PR measurement—specifically the value of publicity—that debunks ad value equivalency (AVE), the practice of calculating PR value by the cost of an ad. After blasting AVEs, the column notes that the PR industry lacks a definitive method of measuring publicity.

“Part of the reason this method [AVE] retains its allure is that no simple alternative has emerged for putting a monetary value on the effectiveness of public-relations work,” writes Carl Bialik for WSJ. He adds that “other recent instances [of free publicity] have calculated with no more rigor than Markson’s ‘thin air’ method.”

Dr. David Michaelson, principal of the New York measurement firm David Michaelson & Co., told Bialik: “We as an industry have not gotten around to explaining what return on investment is.”

Not so fast.

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