By Richard Bagnall
The main reason that AVEs have still not gone away from our industry is down to a lack of education. In the spirit of playing my part to counter this, here is a list of reasons on why you should ignore this spurious and meaningless metric.
I put it out there in the hope that it will be shared widely and added to in the comments section below as appropriate. The list is in no particular order. Enjoy, please share and let’s all do our part to help the industry prove its value in meaningful and credible ways.
Sixteen reasons AVEs do not measure the value of PR:
1. The industry as a whole has moved away from AVEs, denouncing them as a flawed metric
The Barcelona Principles, endorsed by 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) denounced AVEs as ‘not the value of PR’. The IPR is on record saying:
“Most reputable researchers view such arbitrary ‘weighting’ schemes aimed at enhancing the alleged value of editorial coverage as unethical, dishonest, and not at all supported by the research literature.”
(The Barcelona Principles, with best practice advice on how to measure PR accurately, are detailed here )
2. Quantitative only
AVEs are purely a quantitative metric. They provide no insight into the quality of your content, the messages, inferences and issues that matter.
3. What multiplier should be used?
Many people believe that a multiplier should be applied to AVEs to ‘weigh them up’ to take into account the additional impact of third party endorsement provided by a journalist. There is no research that proves what multiplier should be used, or even whether one is relevant and appropriate at all. Calling a weighted AVE ‘PR Value’ is a fallacy.
4. Inconsistent across providers
When AVE’s are supplied by PR measurement companies, all measure them in different ways, using different methodologies. No two numbers are comparable.
5. Advertising and PR are different things
And should be treated as such. Advertising is an ‘interruptive’ marketing discipline. PR is an ‘engaging’ one. The audience seeks editorial out. Advertising has to leap out at us to get our attention. They work in different ways, are designed for different reasons and should be measured in different ways.
6. Advertising Agencies don’t measure in PR equivalents…
So why should we as an industry demean ourselves to measuring in advertising equivalents?
7 AVE’s take no account of target audiences
AVEs take no account of the target audience that you are trying to reach. An article in a publication that your audience does not read will still count towards your total AVE number. As a result… see point 8.
8. AVE’s drive the wrong behaviours in PR
When measured with an AVE, every piece of content counts, no matter how inappropriately placed. An old rule in PR Measurement is that you become what you measure. Using AVE’s will encourage behaviours that don’t benefit your organisation such as the ‘carpet-bombing’ of press releases. It makes it tempting to utilise a scatter gun approach to PR rather than a targeted, well-planned and credible strategy.
9. There is no such thing as a negative advert – or negative AVE
Adverts can’t be negative. Editorial can. How do you account for this in an AVE? Some systems apply a negative value to the AVE, however, this is particularly flawed. Reputation takes years to build but can be destroyed overnight – UK jewellery company Ratners being one famous example. One negative piece in the national press reporting comments made by their founder resulted in £500 million being wiped off their share price, and ultimately led to the company going bust. How would a negative AVE hope to measure that?!
10. You can’t advertise everywhere
You can’t advertise in all the places that you can gain editorial coverage so what advertising value should be applied in that case? For example, the BBC accepts no advertising in the UK. What AVE should be applied to a piece in the BBC and all the other media that don’t take adverts?
11. AVEs don’t work in online and social media measurement
Advertising works in a different way in online media than it does in the printed press. It is based on paid for exposures rather than guaranteed runs on sites. Accordingly attributing any kind of meaningful AVE to an online piece of mainstream content is impossible. Additionally, it’s not possible to assign a value to someone’s tweets, blog content, Facebook and Linkedin updates just for example. AVEs are even more flawed in social media than in the mainstream media.
12. How much of the article should we include?
When attributing an AVE, how much of an article should be included? Just the part with a brand name mention, just the page that the brand is on, the whole article etc etc. An already spurious and subjective number gets ever more subjective when size is taken into account.
13. No one buys adverts at Rate card prices
And yet AVE systems are usually based upon published rate-cards. What level of discount should be applied? Think of the last time you purchased an advert – how close to rate-card were you?
14. AVE’s rarely take into account other important advertising criteria
Do you remember when adverts used to carry a premium for being on a right hand page? The inside front cover, the back page, in colour? How many AVE systems know where each piece of content was in the publication and price accordingly?
15. PR is not just media relations
PR has always been about far more than just gaining editorial coverage and media relations. AVEs at their best only attempt to measure the result of your media relations activities. How can they be a true value of your PR?
16. Declining index
Finally, who on earth would want to assign their metric of success against an index that is in itself in steep decline? Advertising rates are linked to the readership of the publication and the response rate that they generate. As the media choice proliferates for consumers, readerships across the board are in steep decline, taking advertising rates down with them.
This means that should a brand achieve exactly the same editorial exposure for two years running, its AVE in the second year will be less than in the first year. Who would possibly want to report on their success using an index that reports the same performance as previous years as actually worse?
Richard Bagnall is CEO of PRIME Research UK. Prior to PRIME Research he ran analytics for Metrica and Gorkana. He’s also a board director and chair of the social media measurement group of AMEC – the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications, and a member of the UK government’s Cabinet Office Evaluation Council. Follow him on Twitter. A version of this article first appeared on Gorkana.com.