To multiply, or not to multiply. That is the question.

No, wait, it’s two questions. Is there evidence to support the existence of PR multipliers? And if not, are we hurting our own credibility by claiming such?

This week’s Conversations column introduces a new paper (free on the Institute website) by Mark Weiner, president of Delahaye, and Don Bartholomew, senior vice president of MWW Group. In “Dispelling the Myth of PR Multipliers and Other Inflationary Audience Measures,” the authors describe the ways in which multipliers are used by public relations professionals to report total impressions and value.

Multipliers are sometimes rationalized based on assumptions about pass-along circulation or the higher credibility of PR impressions compared to advertising. The authors argue that the facts behind these assumptions are weak (at best).

In particular, there is the widely repeated claim (you’ve all heard it) that a news or feature placement is worth two to three times as much as the same ad space (or time). No matter how many times you’ve heard that claim, the authors say there is no known objective research to support it.

And the risks of PR multipliers? The authors offer real-life situations where multipliers have proven hazardous -for example, when a client employing multiple agencies called them all on the carpet to justify the different multipliers they were using.

Weiner and Bartholomew recommend the most straightforward approach. For print, impressions equal circulation. For broadcast, impressions equal audience. And for online audiences, impressions equal visitors.

But what do you think about the use of multipliers?

Download the Weiner/Bartholomew paper here.

Frank Ovaitt

President and CEO

Institute for Public Relations

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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7 thoughts on “To Multiply or Not To Multiply

  1. In today’s disintermediated world – where studies seem to show that individuals trust “people like them” more than they trust the media, government leaders, employers and certainly advertising – why do we care about multipliers and why would we want to lump what we do anywhere near the category of advertising?  What’s more, the next generation is zipping right through traditional advertising and most aren’t even reading newspapers, so we may be multiplying in a void.

    PR needs to redefine itself beyond media relations and get back to its roots of PUBLIC relations and shaping dialogue (“crystalizing public opinion” if you will).  If we do our jobs well there is no need for a multiplier.  Of course if too many PR people keep counting clips and mutliplying their effectiveness against ads it won’t be long before ad agencies start doing the things PR people should be doing and we lose our seat at the table forever.

  2. PRTrak (prtrak.com), a division of VMS, has done some interesting research on PR measurement that looks at impressions, story counts (or volume of coverage) and media value to determine which of these most closely correlates to outcomes(http://www.vmsinfo.com/pdf/Measuring_Effectively.pdf).

    The conclusion: While impressions do a pretty good job, there are better ways to measure PR’s impact.

    I encourage you to check it out.

    Full Disclosure: I work for Porter Novelli doing measurement for HP and we have a business relationship with PRTrak.

  3. Please tell me, what is the multiplier concept in the first place. Though a PR dabbler in an Indian MNC for many years, i haven’t heard this term before. Pardon my ignorance. please educate me on this.

  4. To use a multiplier in measurement seems counterproductive. It’s pretty obviously an effort to artificially and arbitrarily inflate the value of PR, and, let’s face it, tends to imply that someone is otherwise insecure about the value of PR or their work.

    But that’s not to say that there is no such thing as a multiplier. There might be, there is just not enough research yet to demonstrate it one way or another. Consider, as one not-too-farfetched possiblity, that what we call a multiplier could just be the result of peoples’ reading strategies. Perhaps when people read newspapers, they train themselves to ignore advertisements and pay attention to articles. Maybe they pay attention only to ads for certain products, or only to articles on certain subjects. There might be different multipliers for different people at different times. Without the research we don’t know.

  5. Nice work.  There are several research citations showing that the role of traditional media—both paid advertising and editorial—are declining in their influence on decision-making.  This is not a blip, but a long-term trend.  Thus, the multiplier concept may have even less value than many people think.  I also don’t advocate use of the term, “impressions.” They are really “opportunities to see.” Just because a message appears in print or airs in a broadcast message, does not mean that members of the intended audience actually saw it, read it or heard it.  They merely had the opportunity.  That is one of the reasons I lump media results into the “output” measurements category.

  6. I agree that multipliers are not useful to a PR professional or client.  I have had measurements of this kind backfire more than once because of inflated numbers by firms and/or unreasonable client expectations.  If the PR firm/professional is doing a proper job, the client shouldn’t need a number of impressions to judge results.

  7. We don’t use them.  No valid research to support their use.  And, like advertising equivalency, I think they understate the value of what we do, tying PR’s impact to a big, meaningless number.

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