16 reasons you should ditch AVEs

The advertising value equivalent metric relies on an array of variables, including the declining worth of advertising in print media.

Reading “Measurement: Making the grade,” I had to agree with one of the comments.

It’s an article that could have been written 20 years ago when I started measuring PR at Metrica. Although it makes valid points about credible ways to measure public relations, it spends far too long discussing AVEs – the dreaded Advertising Value Equivalent.

The main reason that AVEs have still not gone away comes down to a lack of education. To counter this, I offer a list of reasons 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. The list is in no particular order.

Enjoy, please share, and let’s all do our part to help prove the PR industry’s value in meaningful and credible ways:

1. The industry as a whole has denounced AVEs as a flawed metric.

The Barcelona Principles, endorsed by AMEC (the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication),IPR (Institute for Public Relations) and PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) denounced AVEs as “not the value of PR.”

IPR is on record as 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 on slide 17.)

2. They are 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. They prove inconsistent across providers.

When AVEs 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.

They should be treated as such. Advertising is an “interruptive” marketing discipline. PR is an “engaging” one. The audience seeks out editorial. 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 distinct 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. AVEs take no account of target audiences.

AVEs take no account of the target audience you are trying to reach. An article in a publication that your audience does not read will still count toward your total AVE number. As a result…

8. AVEs drive the wrong behaviors 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 AVEs will encourage behaviors that don’t benefit your organization, such as the “carpet-bombing” of press releases. It makes it tempting to use a scatter-gun approach to PR rather than a targeted, well-planned and credible strategy.

9. There is no such thing as a negative AVE.

Ads can’t be negative. Editorial can. How do you account for this in an AVE? Some systems apply a negative value to the AVE, but this is particularly flawed. Reputation takes years to build but can be destroyed overnight.

The U.K. jewelry company Ratners is one famous example. One negative piece in the national press reporting comments made by its founder resulted in £500 million being wiped off its share price, ultimately leading to the company’s demise. 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 U.K. What AVE should be applied to a piece on the BBC and in all the other media outlets that don’t run advertisements?

11. AVEs don’t work in online and social media measurement.

Advertising works in a different way in online media from the way 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. AVEs are even more flawed on social media than in 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? An already spurious and subjective number gets ever more subjective when size is taken into account.

13. No one buys ads at rate-card prices.

Despite this, AVE systems are usually based upon published rate cards. What level of discount should be applied? Think of the last time you purchased an advertisement. How close to rate-card pricing were you?

14. AVEs rarely take into account other important advertising criteria.

Do you remember when advertisements used to carry a premium for being on a right-hand page? The inside front cover? The back page? In color? How many AVE systems identify where each piece of content was in the publication and value it 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, attempt only to measure the result of your media relations activities. How can they be a true value of your PR efforts?

16. The index is declining.

Finally, who on Earth would want to assign a 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 rates 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 verifiably 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.


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