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Need for Evaluation Standards

August 4, 2011

We were recently approached by a prospective client who had been using one of the largest organizations in the country which distributes PSAs (public service advertising) campaigns. When they told us the dollar value that the other organization had supposedly generated, I was astounded. It was ten times more than the most successful campaign we had ever distributed. The prospective client was quite concerned because their board had bought into this astronomical value and to use another distributor which may not be able to match previous results would have been a significant problem.

This background establishes the need for standard standards to measure the value of public service advertising. No one knows how many organizations use PSAs as a way to communicate with their stakeholders, but it is a large number. Nearly every federal agency uses them along with states, public interest groups, associations, and non-profits, so the aggregate amount being spent on these campaigns is huge. Thus, having objective methods of measurement is key to continued credibility for the entire field of public service advertising.

For example, when we questioned one distributor’s methodology, we were told that their advertising equivalency values came from the National Association of Broadcasters. Being quite familiar with NAB, it sounded very suspicious so I called them to see if they indeed provided such data. “We do not have that kind of data and if we did, we would not give it to external parties,” the staff person at NAB told me. So much for objective data. And it is this data that distributors use to impress their clients with the success of any given campaign. Perhaps more importantly, it makes it very difficult to compare results from one distributor to another in an objective manner.

At our firm, we post our methodology statement on each client’s reporting portal, spelling out in specific detail how we calculate values, where the data comes from and what it means. We believe that the time has come for all distributors to provide similar methodology statements for the benefit of their clients as well as a way to determine how one campaign has performed against others. Being even more bold, perhaps the time has come for all companies which distribute public service materials to the media to form some type of professional organization where we could share common interests and lobby the media to provide more public service time and space for public benefit.

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