I have the great good fortune of teaching an online class in Applied Public Relations and Public Affairs Research at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C. Because I teach online, I am able to do so from my office east of Oakland. And because my students take the course online, they are spread across the country and around the world. It's very cool!
One of the tasks of teaching online is to hold a "chat" with students at a specific time each week. Because this was my first experience with online teaching, I dreaded my first chat. But when it happened, it was great. Getting provocative questions from bright people is exhilarating!
I'm sure many of you have seen recent media and online discussions regarding the value of advertising value equvalencies (AVE)s and how those of us in the communications research community think them a poor form of measurement. Recently, one of my students asked what the alternatives to AVEs are.
The alternatives to AVEs are virtually everything else.
The most frequently used evaluation technique in our field is media analysis. The critical point with making this useful is going beyond the number of articles that mention your organization and getting some kind of assessment of the quality of coverage. For example, how much of the coverage includes your message? How much of the coverage is positive for your organization? How much is negative?
You can make this more meaningful in a campaign sense and across time if you get the same kinds of numbers for the members of your competitive set. Then you can compare your organization's coverage to that of your competitors. You can talk about share of voice, share of positive voice, share of negative voice, etc. You can also combine these last two into some kind of ratio or index.
You can take media analysis even further if you begin to examine share of voice on specific topics that are important to your organization. Are there specific product or service areas through which your organization is trying to differentiate itself against the competition? If so, you could look at competitive coverage on that specific topic to see if you are getting more positive coverage on that topic than your competitors are.
Beyond media analysis, you can do pre-program and post-program surveys of target audiences to determine changes in awareness, attitudes or intent to act (vote, purchase a product, service or stock, etc.)
LINK COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTLY TO BEHAVIOR
Finally, you may be able to link your communications efforts directly to sales. If your organization does no communication activities other than PR, then you may be able to take some credit for changes in sales or other stakeholder behaviors. However, usually, organizations use additional forms of communication, such as media advertising, couponing, etc. So it is almost never as simple as taking credit for good news.
However, with the power of computers and statistical analysis, some marketers have begun to build models that help to understand the relative and combined contributions of different marketing communications tools. Following is the link to a paper about such a tool on the IPR website.
IT'S MORE THAN COMMUNICATIONS
In the last paragraph, I noted a number of communications activities that can contribute to a change in behavioral activity. It actually is more complex than that. In addition to changes in communication, an organization might have a new sales force, new forms of distribution, new product or packaging design and so on. While these are all consumer-packaged-goods terms, they also might refer to changes in a candidate's position leading to an increase (or decrease) in votes or a corporate strategy leading to an increase or decrease in share price.
So, to summarize, there are numerous alternatives to AVEs that are far more meaningful and useful to PR.
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