Saturday, January 29, 2011

A bird in the hand is not worth two in the bush: Ethically measuring value in PR

Since I decided I wanted to be a public relations practitioner, I’ve had many friends and family tell me that is was about lies and spin.  Unfortunately, there are still people who operate agencies who seem to have no code of ethics whatsoever and consequently perpetuate this inaccurate stereotype.  I went into this field because it is not a push medium.  Public relations involves interaction with people and reacting to what they have to say.  The two-way communication aspect of the work we do is what interests me the most.
The need for ethics in public relations is so crucial not only to combat the present stereotype of the profession, but also to help the profession grow.  Public relations practitioners will never be able to successfully roll out a campaign if their audience has zero trust in them.  Currently, you can find codes of ethics for the profession as well as a code of ethics unique to a particular agency.  Out of all the things we do in public relations, the one thing I have always had an issue with is measuring our value.
The advertising equivalency measurement is a measure of how much the value of an advertisement relates to the value of a public relations effort.  For instance, if a public relations practitioner secures a full page story to be placed on the cover of the Dallas Morning News, the value of this effort will be based off the value of a full page advertisement buried in the newspaper.  Advertisers can’t buy full page advertisements on the front page.  The value of having your client featured on the front page of a newspaper is insurmountable but using the advertising equivalency rate will never show that.
This measurement is extremely inaccurate and companies are slowly finding other ways to measure their value.  I imagine in my lifetime I will see a solution to this problem, but for companies that do not have the proper resources to manage tracking their public relations value in a realistic way, it’s all they have to work with.  This issue is not tackled in any code of ethics I have ever come across.  I think for out profession to grow as a trustworthy two-way communication medium, we must find alternatives to the advertising equivalency measurement.  When we are expressing our value to our clients, quarterly or yearly, I believe it is unethical to express it in this manner.  
What do you think?

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