DCI’s Stance on Ad Equivalency—It’s Complicated, but Clear

April 19, 2024
Women reading a news article on ad equivalency on an iPad

DCI’s stance on ad equivalency is a clear one. For our economic development and talent attraction work, ad equivalency is no longer an industry best practice that we espouse.

It’s flawed. It does not accurately reflect the impact of earned media. Moreover, it ignores so many other signs of success that one number cannot encapsulate.

Media placements, however, are still important goals for any EDO, and so understanding how to best evaluate their impact and success beyond ad equivalency is vital. These features and stories continue to be one of the top sources that influence corporate executives, according to the most recent edition of DCI’s Winning Strategies in Economic Development Marketing.

As we move away from a quantitative approach to measurement, it remains a challenge to ascertain the return on investment of earned media across the industry.

The Barcelona Principles

At DCI, we subscribe enthusiastically to the Barcelona Principles, a foundational framework created by industry experts that helps organizations guide and evaluate public relations efforts. These seven principles underscore the need for marketing organizations to tailor KPIs to specific goals that extend to evaluating public relations programs beyond myopic metrics.

The Barcelona Principles are all about qualitative measurements in reporting on the value and impact of PR and communication campaigns. They go beyond traditional metrics used to report on the value and impact of a story placement by providing a more holistic approach to measuring the impact of a communications campaign and evaluating progress toward organizational goals. 

Measure Success Your Way

For earned media, this includes evaluating things like the type of publication where a placement is secured. Imagine landing a placement in a publication with a low ad equivalency read by target audiences. Now imagine the same placement in a publication with a higher ad equivalency but not read by target audiences at all. Traditional metrics report better ROI on the higher ad equivalency, but, of course, reaching target audiences is far more valuable.

Understanding the true value of a placement must go beyond simple metrics.

It must also look at the content of the placement, and whether or not the journalist or media professional included your key messaging adequately. Is a passing mention in a well-read publication worth more than a deeper dive in a niche one?

Again, traditional metrics alone can’t make that clear.

Every EDO’s goals will be different, and success won’t always look the same from one organization to another. That’s the beauty of taking a more holistic approach to PR measurements and leaving ad equivalency behind.

Beyond the Initial Media Hit

The value of coverage extends beyond the initial placement of a positive story in a targeted publication. For this reason, DCI strongly recommends playing back results to maximize the impact and exposure of the placement. By sharing the story with partners and stakeholders and encouraging them to share with their networks, the return on investment grows like a snowball.

Externally, consider sharing it with local news when appropriate as well as promoting across social networks. Media hits are also beneficial to leverage in collateral materials and digital ads, as well as in public or private meetings. The more visibility and attention to the story, the better. The success doesn’t end once it’s published. 

Ad equivalency, however, can’t put a surefire number on all of this secondary pick-up by other outlets and social sharing. Nor does it encompass the beneficial SEO and organic search rankings that extra traffic to an EDO’s site may garner from sharing a successful placement.

If your organization is still devoted to ad equivalencies, it’s time to move away from using it as the sole indication of success. It provides an incomplete portrait of your organization’s success, and may even leave you with a false sense of security that your marketing efforts are paying off when, in fact, they’re not.

Start setting your own goals and measuring success that matters to you. Contact Caitlin Teare, Vice President, Economic Development Public Relations, at [email protected] to learn more about working with DCI to go beyond the metrics and embrace qualitative measurements in your marketing.

Written by

Caitlin Teare

Vice President, Public Relations