Why your PR job will not be replaced by artificial intelligence tomorrow

6 key takeaways from this year’s AMEC Summit, from our Head of Digital at CFF Communications in Amsterdam

This year’s AMEC summit in Barcelona showed just how much the PR measurement sector has evolved. When the Barcelona Principles were presented eight years ago, advertising value estimates (AVEs) were commonly used to measure the performance of PR strategies. Now, the industry has embraced a whole range of technological and methodological innovations, from new metrics and measurement frameworks to big data and artificial intelligence.

I was the delegate for CFF Communications in Amsterdam. We have a team of around 15 analysts, who work at the intersection of media monitoring, analysis, editorial content and market intelligence. We are the human intelligence behind the big data and AI tools that we use on behalf of our clients, for whom we often work in business critical situations, converting media data into strategic insights.

What are the latest innovations in the field of media measurement? Are AVEs still being used at all? And will human PR pros be replaced by AI technology at some point?

With a roller case packed with questions, I flew from Schiphol Airport to Aeroport de Barcelona-el Prat.

1. AVEs are not dead yet, apparently

On my way to Barcelona, I had the pleasure of speaking with a sports marketer, responsible for sponsorships at a leading Dutch football club. He explained that AVEs are still commonly used in sports marketing. We discussed a case in which a Dutch athlete successfully filed a damage claim after the publication of a parody video – damages of this portrait right infringement were calculated with the help of AVEs.

On the first day of the summit, during a panel discussion about the state of the measurement industry, someone in the audience pointed out that there remains some beauty in the fact that AVEs are “cheap and simple”. Despite this, the use this metric by AMEC members has dropped to 16 percent in 2018. The panellists believed that AVEs, though not dead yet, were “dying”. And I think it’s fair to say that they are swiftly becoming one of the least-interesting metrics available in the industry.

2. One metric = no metric

But simply removing the euro or pound sign and replacing AVEs with reach data, or reducing value to another single marketing metric, does not cut it either.

Alexander Aiken, Executive Director of the Government Communication Service (GCS) in the United Kingdom, presented a very insightful keynote about evaluating government PR campaigns. His Evaluation Framework 2.0 builds on the foundations created by the AMEC but has been tailored to reflect the public service role of the GCS and the principles developed by their Engage program.

Like many other speakers, he underlined the importance of aligning comms strategies with organisational goals and the importance of an evaluation culture.

In line with the AMEC framework, he defined different stages of the comms process as well as the metrics of choice for these stages. From the input stage with its costs and FTE metrics, to the output stage with coverage and partnerships metrics, the outtakes stage in which stakeholder experience is measured in terms of, for example, engagement, and the outcomes phase, in which the behavioural change is evaluated.

Campaign effectiveness can then be measured when a number of conditions are met, for example: a baseline measurement and standardised metrics.

In these situations, the valuation of PR goes beyond measuring the output of AVEs, but measures the campaign outcome: the costs saved for the taxpayer.

3. Evaluation should not be used for vanity purposes

This illustrates another point that was often made during the conference: stats should not be used for vanity purposes; evaluation should be used to improve strategies.

Comms can even become a business case in itself. Professor Jim Macnamara and Madelon Engels from Achmea used NPS and Customer Journey Mapping to improve business processes to make their point that comms can become a profit centre rather than a cost centre.

4. Measurement needs are not always in synch with data opportunities

With the rise of big data, a lot of dashboards with pre-defined metrics and artificial intelligence emerge. Some even claim their place in the boardroom, as digital advisors that disrupt the PR business.

The metrics available don’t always correspond with the measurement needs. In that sense, it’s good to realise that technological disruptors approach the PR measurement problem from data opportunities, whereas PR pros come from the opposite directions – they need to solve real-world problems with measurable real-world outcomes. Sometimes surveys and focus groups provide the answers that dashboards cannot provide, for example.

5. Quick, fixed, single metrics alone yield shallow insights

Contrasting the demand for direct and real-time insights, was the great presentation from Microsoft’s Jamin Spitzer. “PR attribution – it’s the enriched uranium of measurement,” he said, calling for a contemplative approach when it comes to evaluating comms strategies. Take three months, he said; then you have just put yourself up to the task to deliver real insights.

But perhaps these views are not that contrasting after all. The framework developed by Alexander Aiken on the one hand calls for ongoing insights to inform future planning during a campaign, and on the other hand calls for a broader evaluation of the campaign itself. Quick, real-time or daily updates would be more appropriate for ongoing campaign insights, whereas a broader horizon would be more appropriate for the evaluation of the campaign and how it is aligned with organisational objectives.

6. Humans will not be replaced by AI tomorrow

Yes, Google’s AI can make you an appointment for a haircut. Yes, big data tools can automatically analyse media data to create an output of metrics. But in the end, the comms measurement challenge remains truly human.

Technology may provide us with the data and some of the categories to measure success, but the very definition of success differs over time and depends on human needs.

To account for this multidimensional nature of human communication, we need to be able to choose from an endless number of metrics rather than just 1 or 10.

We need to bring back quality into the equation.

Because for all that data to be meaningful, actionable or relevant, human intelligence will need to make sense of AI, today and tomorrow.


Pim te Bokkel is the Head of Digital at CFF Communications in Amsterdam. CFF helps companies and organisations boost, build and protect their reputation. They are one of the leading comms agencies in the Netherlands for financial and corporate communications. CFF also has a team of media analysts who are dedicated to media monitoring, media analyses and editorial news content, providing Dutch and international boards with C-level news insights every day.


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