WSJ Asks “How Much Is Free Publicity Worth?”

Trying to assign a value to publicity is a little bit like trying to nail jell-o to a wall. Still, clients want to have some idea of the return they’re getting for money spent to generate publicity, so over the years there have been a number of attempts to rate an article or broadcast interview on various factors and come up with a dollar value.

Carl Bialik, “The Numbers Guy” for The Wall Street Journal, raises this long-debated question again in his column, citing news media coverage of various events and asking what this coverage is really worth.

It’s a fair question, but one that’s very difficult to answer.

Max Markson, a publicist in Australia, gave it shot. According to Mr. Bialik, when a reporter asked him the value of a particular photo that received worldwide coverage, Mr. Markson replied it was worth $10.5 million.

He later admitted that he “pulled the figure out of the air” because the reporter was on deadline. And we wonder why people sometimes question PR’s credibility . . .

Rather than pulling numbers out of the air that have no apparent basis in reality, Ketchum Public Relations has a one-page “scorecard” to help simplify the media measurement process. As I previously mentioned awhile back in my blog, the Ketchum scorecard is a grid that rates coverage on a point scale based on the following:

  • Prominence of client mentioned
  • Prominence of position
  • Source of item (i.e. did it come from the company’s PR efforts or elsewhere)
  • Quality of primary messages
  • Quality of secondary messages
  • Format of presentation (a feature story with photos vs. a mention of the company)
  • Exposure index (how much exposure a story gets in a given media vehicle)
  • Favorability index
  • Audience reach

Of course, the Ketchum scorecard isn’t the only method of measuring publicity, nor is it a perfect system. But you can be sure it’s a whole lot better than Mr. Markson’s method.

I don’t know how much the photo Mr. Markson valued at $10.5 million is really worth, but I do know the value of credibility and integrity: priceless.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.


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