10 Reasons We Must Leave AVE Behind NOW
Over the years I’ve spoken and written about, and generally bemoaned the fact public relations (PR) is becoming a two tier industry with those in tier-one pedaling tactical publicity and the latter being strategic, data-driven and digital.
I genuinely believe the contrast is as stark as that, and while there will always be a need for ‘hits’ of publicity as part of a campaign, overly focussing on activity such as this encourages emphasis on the least valuable behaviours and relegates the role of PR to that of publicity generation.
As the title of this post suggests, I’ve decided it’s time to aim fire at tier-one’s favourite measurement metric: Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE). Although I’ve listed 10 reasons why our industry must leave AVE behind and move towards something more valuable, in reality I could have listed dozens of compelling arguments for dropping this lazy, unusual and unhelpful meric that is nothing more than a relic from PR’s past.
Measuring the true value of communications is difficult, but that doesn’t mean it should not be attempted or merely an afterthought. For those unfamiliar with AVE, it’s where PRs look at press coverage, see how much those column inches would have cost had it been an advert and then apply a fantasy multiplier (as earned media is perceived to have greater monetary value than paid) to come up with the AVE.
It needs to be consigned to the history books once and for all and here’s why:
1. AVE measures the cost of advertising, not the value of PR
For me, this simple fact should be enough to persuade PRs from using AVE. Cost has little to do with value. PR activity can deliver outcomes that are greater and more valuable than the cost of advertising. When you consider that advertising budgets are shrinking and the cost of advertising is in many cases getting cheaper, this comparison looks even more absurd.
2. AVE encourage bad practice
By taking an outputs based view to PR measurement, you risk getting fixated on column inches and fall into the trap of adopting a carpet bomb approach to activity that is unfortunately all too common. When the focus on quality is sacrificed in place of quantity, you’ll no longer deliver targeted, focused and strategic communication.
3. The AVE multiplier is dishonest
Perhaps the biggest fallacy of AVE is that the multiplier is based on nothing more than guesswork. It’s both dishonest and a fantasy. I’ve heard of multipliers of three, upwards to seven (yes, really) liberally being applied to AVE, yet there’s no research to support this lazy calculation.
4. AVE cannot be applied to online
AVEs are from a pre-internet era and cannot be applied effectively to online activity. Not only that, AVE comes nowhere close in comparison to online tracking and measurement that is currently available which enables us to easily apportion traffic, leads and sales.
5. Professional organisations are moving away from AVE
The CIPR and PRCA expressly forbid use of AVEs as measurement metrics and automatically prohibit award entries that use them. While AMEC (the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) the IPR (the USA’s Institute for Public Relations) and the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) have all denounced AVE as an evaluation metric. This is a great move by the various professional bodies, but many organisations are yet to get the hint and change how they measure activity.
6. AVE reduces PR to media relations
This point brings me back to two-tier thinking within the PR industry. Although, media relations is an important part of PR, it’s only one aspect. AVE devalues the strategic-thinking, planning and creative processes and not to mention, results down to a flimsy output metric. What happens if you’re activity does not aim to target traditional media? AVE fails to acknowledge that PR is more than publicity.
7. AVEs are purely quantitative
Speak to any researcher and they’ll tell you about the importance of gathering both quantitative and qualitative data. I realise this is grossly simplifying matters, but numbers help you identify patterns and words give you much needed context. AVEs offer no context whatsoever and meaningful communications measurement requires both types of data.
8. PR is not advertising
Earned media is different to paid and requires a different approach to measurement. Trying to shoehorn PR alongside advertising will not show the true value of communications activity. PRs have to become better at educating clients on this, but it needs industry consensus, leadership and assistance first.
9. Print advertising revenues are shrinking
With print media readerships and subsequently, advertising revenues shrinking, it’s foolish to compare the impact of PR to this. As a growing industry why should we measure ourselves against one that is retracting? It shows a distinct lack of confidence, ambition and foresight.
10. Measuring PR by such a flimsy metric is bad for the PR industry
If PR is to gain a seat at the top table amongst the C-Suite, it needs to demonstrate outcomes that deliver real business benefits. AVE encourages focus on the wrong activity and produces the least meaningful metric for management. Moving away from AVEs will encourage a focus on real business results.
If you’re still offering AVE to clients or if you’re a client receiving these hopelessly inflated metrics, I’d suggest that you schedule a meeting to outline new KPIs that will drive business benefits. To kick things off take a look at this post looking at measuring Outputs, Outtakes and Outcomes. If there’s still not a commitment to robust measurement from your agency I’d suggest you look for a new one.
What are your views on AVE? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.