Photo Credit: The Measurement Standard
With the focus of management on ‘bottom line’ results, PR and corporate communication practitioners have sought ways to show a dollar value of their efforts. One approach to this has been the practice of calculating Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs), referred to as ‘ad values’ for short, which involves counting column centimetres or inches of press publicity and seconds of airtime gained and multiplying the total by the advertising rate of the media in which the coverage appeared. It is not uncommon, using this method, to find PR campaigns valued at many hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
There are fundamental practical and ethical flaws in using Advertising Value Equivalents to attempt to measure the value of media publicity as follows:
- Editorial publicity can be negative. Clearly, it is spurious to compare negative publicity with the best creative advertising. Yet most AVE calculations do just this. Few proponents of this method go to the time-consuming trouble of deducting negative articles and negative paragraphs or sections within articles;
- Editorial publicity can be neutral. Even this type of publicity cannot be validly compared with advertising because advertising is never neutral;
- Editorial articles often contain coverage of competitors, including favourable references to or comparisons with competitors. Advertising never favourably compares competitors and most advertising avoids giving competitors any mention at all;
- Editorial coverage can be poorly positioned, which affects its impact. Advertising is almost always positioned prominently, often with guaranteed prominent positioning through payment of loadings or volume bookings;
- Editorial coverage can be in non-target or irrelevant media – ie. media that do not reach key target audiences and markets, or media that are low circulation and strategically less important. Advertising is placed strategically only in the most important media;
- Editorial coverage can be poorly presented – eg. with ambiguous headlines, the client name buried in the story, and even errors. Advertising is prepared by creative professionals for maximum impact using eye-catching visuals and sophisticated design; PR METRICS – Research for Planning & Evaluation of PR & Corporate Communication
- AVE calculations are usually based on casual advertising rates which are much higher than the rates negotiated for advertising campaigns. This further inflates the so-called value of publicity in many cases;
- Perhaps most significant of all, even if editorial meets all the key characteristics of advertising – ie. if it is positive, only promotes the client organisation, is well positioned in strategically important media and well presented – Advertising Value Equivalents only calculate the cost of buying equivalent media space and time for advertising; they make no effort to measure the impact or effect of the content. No one in marketing or management would measure the value of advertising simply in terms of its cost – “it must be a good campaign because it cost $7 million!” Advertising is measured, at a minimum, in terms of reach, share of voice, recall of messages, and often in outcome terms such as inquiries, leads or sales. Thus, even when editorial is highly positive and well positioned, the use of AVEs as a measure of PR effectiveness is flawed (Macnamara, 2000).
Advertising Value Equivalents are invalid and irrelevant as a measure of editorial publicity
Advertising and editorial publicity are rarely, if ever equivalent; and
AVEs measure cost, not value – and an unrelated cost at that (advertising which is different to editorial media content in terms of content, placement, presentation and reader response).
Culled from Jim Macnamara PR Metrics Paper