Blogs  / April 3, 2013

PR, the psychologist meet Advertising, the dentist

by Rebekah Iliff

I’m a big, big fan of personification. Huge. So much so that sometimes I mistake my mother for an actual hen or my friend Tom, as alluded to here, as the discipline of public relations. This habitual form of self-entertainment and creative process is rivaled only by my fanship of satire, as can be seen, oh say, here.

My belief is that the personification bit happens often for one of two reasons:

A. I’m cray. #highlylikely

B. It’s the easiest way for my brain to understand extremely abstract concepts. #alsohighlylikely

After having spent an entire day reviewing and thinking about PR Measurement followed by getting mouth-maimed by an exceedingly chatty dentist, I had a light bulb moment: PR can be thought of as an engagement with a psychologist, and Advertising can be thought of as a visit to the dentist.

The former is a two-way conversational process that can often take months and years to finally take effect. The outcomes in behavioral change vary from “marginally functioning adult still caught up in narcissistic tendencies” to “highly functioning adult able to get through the day without feeling like a loser.”

The latter is a one-way ticket to conversational hell whose goal is clear (as painful as the getting there may be): clean teeth and healthy gums. The sale is direct, and you know what you’re getting. They may serve it up to you differently, but the tools are all relatively the same, the process is the same, and the outcome is “measurable.”

Why is this an interesting personification topic of discussion?

Well, for starters, the past several years have been spent attempting to dislodge the use of AVE’s (Advertising Value Equivalency) as a valid PR measurement tool. In fact, the recently released Nasdaq/Ragan survey of 1,467 PR pros reported that (with regard to “problems with measurement”): “32% believe PR pros measure the wrong things,” while 22% liked the answer, “Are we still talking about AVEs?!”

Another respondent was decidedly candid: “AVE is total BS, like comparing baseball to the Kentucky Derby.”

Or a psychologist to a dentist.

In terms of measurement, the PR industry has been rife with controversy nearly since inception; but with the advent of search, digital communications and the like, frustrations have heightened as clients often expect hard numbers while PR pros are left with a varying degree of tools that range from mediocre to terrible.

This reality leaves 62% of pros believing no one standard would suffice, as “not all PR goals are created equal.”

Although a minority (39%), some PR pros long for a widely accepted standard (note: other than the Barcelona Principles – which declares measurement standards but gives no actual standard metric) and one even suggested: “A baseline standard should be set, with college students receiving a specialization in PR, leaving school with knowledge in the data analytics arena, no exceptions.”

So as we continue to think about PR Measurement – because it is likely the most important discussion in terms of the industry’s ability to modernize – it’s also important to build a primary framework not dependent on arbitrary or disparate standards.

To compare PR and Advertising in terms of measurement is moot.

You need a psychologist and you need a dentist. Sometimes you go from one right to the other if you’re lucky enough to get an afternoon off. They are both effective for different reasons. But both require different frameworks, baselines, and benchmarks by which to understand desired outcomes.

Rebekah IliffAbout Rebekah Iliff

Rebekah Iliff is currently the Director of Product for AirPR. Previously, she was the CEO of talkTECH Communications, one of the fastest growing, launch-only PR firms in the US. As co-founder of talkTECH, she created an industry-first methodology for emerging technology companies, which led to top tier client coverage in outlets such as Forbes, CNN, The Today Show, USA Today, WIRED, Inc, FastCompany, TechCrunch, Mashable, and VentureBeat.

She is currently a technology blogger for The Huffington Post focusing on trends related to startup culture and job creation and a featured columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Young Entrepreneur”. She has authored articles in technology publications such as Mashable and VentureBeat, and PR industry focused blogs such as PR Daily and PR Sunrise. Rebekah is a mentor for Startup Weekend Bay Area, an instructor for General Assembly San Francisco, and an advisor for startups at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and StartX. Rebekah holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, and an M.A. in Organizational Management and Applied Community Psychology from Antioch University at Los Angeles (AULA).