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Behind the curtain of vanity metrics

Ups and downs of the market

Data has been the new buzzword for a few years now, which makes sense because there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day at our current pace, according to an article in Forbes.

What data are you using to measure your performance, and how do you know this data isn’t a vanity metric and is actually valuable to your business?

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that no specific value is always a vanity metric; rather, the “vanity” term applies when numbers are provided out of context or do not serve a direct measurement purpose. A good way to sniff out vanity metrics is to ask: Is this number just something that sounds cool to pass up to management? Or does it provide insight that helps make day-to-day decisions?

Let’s take a look at some basic examples before diving into ways you can avoid these mistakes.

Both vanity metrics above are standalone numbers that somebody has shown their boss, guaranteed. Once we pull back the curtain it gives the vanity metric context and provides clear next steps on how to act to improve the results.

In PR, the vanity label is typically slapped onto values such as UVPM or AVE. If those are the only metrics your PR team is using, then that description makes sense. This isn’t the 1960s, where PR and marketing are restricted to newspapers and billboards and a rough guess at views is acceptable. Everything is digital – everything. Even refrigerators and toothbrushes are tracking consumer data. So why is PR allowed to run blind and pretend that real metrics don’t exist?

Consider UVPM (Unique Visitors Per Month). UVPM is measured at the outlet level and provides the number of visitors that outlet, as a whole, receives per month. PR historically adds up UVPM numbers from any outlet they were mentioned in and calls this their audience.

Let’s say your brand was mentioned in Ad Age, the Pittsburgh Business Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Ad Age:                                    3.17M UVPM

Pittsburgh Business Times:   3.37M UVPM

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:       4.77M UVPM

Total UVPM:               11.31M 

Let’s put those number in perspective. Pittsburgh’s entire metro population is only 2.36 million. New York City’s population is 8.62 million. More people read that one article than live in Western Pa. and New York City combined? Not likely.

Two obvious factors need to be considered with UVPM

1. Just because your article appeared in an outlet doesn’t mean every unique visitor per month has read it. Ad Age may have over 3 million people visit their site per month, but that doesn’t translate into a number of how many read the article about your brand.  

2. These numbers are not deduplicated across outlets when combined. The odds that someone living in Pittsburgh has visited both the Pittsburgh Business Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a full month’s time frame are relatively high. Adding these two statistics without the ability to identify individuals and determine overlap is highly inflating the numbers.

While your brand may have been mentioned in all three publications above, you cannot genuinely claim that over 11 million people saw your brand’s name. However, that number could be at the very top of funnel metric and function as your brand’s “potential reach,” which you can append with many more metrics down the funnel.

Now consider AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent). AVE is an attempt to quantify PR as if it got the spend of a paid advertisement, typically incorporating coverage, placement and even credibility. I appreciate the attempt – PR and comms teams should absolutely be able to quantify their coverage and justify the dollar value it aligns with. However, AVE is not a hard statistic by any means and is a very poor standalone metric.

There is no concrete way to measure AVE. In fact, as of 2017, many organizations including AMEC and CIPR have banned the use of AVE as a valid metric. Most calculations utilize ratios that compare paid media spend/size/reach to earned media spend/size/reach, with random multipliers thrown in there.

Two factors need to be considered with AVE

1. The content itself is not comparable. A small paid ad, let’s say two square inches on a screen, is jam-packed with value statements, logos, etc. to promote your brand. However, an article spans an average of 12 square inches on a screen, and how often is your brand mentioned throughout? Also, what if it’s mentioned in a negative tone or amongst competitors?

2. Earned media is much more credible than paid media. If it is indeed a positive article about your brand, it comes across to consumers very differently than a paid banner advertisement would, for example.

AVE as it exists today should be avoided. When determining which metrics to use, ask yourself: Does this give me insight into the individuals I’ve truly reached with my PR? Am I confident it represents the value in my efforts? Are there actually insights I’ve gained from these metrics that will drive tomorrow’s decision making?

How can PR and comms teams move beyond vanity metrics? Look for part two of this series in the coming weeks.

This is part one of a three-part series.

 

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