Why AVE is toxic to PR

It’s high time for public relations practitioners to put the kibosh on the ad value equivalency metric, the author vehemently asserts.

It’s time to say adios to ad value equivalency (AVE).

Of the seven Barcelona Principles established seven years ago, only one made headlines—that which that debunked (AVE), a flawed metric that tries to assign dollar values to media coverage.

The number of people tracking AVE has been steadily dropping. The most recent NASDAQ CCO survey claims that 37 percent of CCOs still use it. A recent PRWeek/PRCA poll pegs it at 35 percent, and the Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) says it’s more like 18 percent.

Whatever the number, if it’s greater than zero, it’s still too high.

AMEC recently announced an initiative to dump AVE. The push includes pledges by members not to provide AVEs by default to any client, as well as additional resources to explain why the measurement is untenable.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) took an even tougher stance, announcing it will publish new standards for its members. Current members will have a year to transition away from AVE, and those who fail to phase it out may face disciplinary action. The announcement launched a lively Twitter debate about the merits of carrots versus sticks when it comes to killing this troublesome metric.

I’m very much in the stick camp, because strong action is long overdue. After seven years of prattling on about principles and touting the merits of better PR methodology, data show that carrots and persuasion just aren’t working.

To those who say punitive action is too extreme, I would suggest that inaction does more harm to our industry. Actions speak louder than words. How many of those bashing CIPR’s action have advised clients in crisis to act rather than talk to rebuild trust? Now is the time for action.

It’s seldom acknowledged that many of the sponsors and board members of these industry associations continue to give clients AVE numbers, which further erodes trust in the profession.

AVEs further the notion that PR is all about activity rather than results. AVEs were invented when space in a publication was at a premium and publishers charged advertisers by the column inch.

Now advertisers pay for clicks, “likes,” leads or conversions—not for an essentially unlimited and worthless commodity. AVE defenders essentially say: “Who cares whether you reach your target audience with a key message or generate any action? So long as you are creating column inches, you’re good.”

I would suggest they discuss the value of column inches with Wells Fargo, Uber or United Airlines.

PR people who think AVEs will justify their existence are clinging to a leaky life raft. There is no evidence that a newspaper or magazine article has the same impact as a paid ad in the same publication, and there’s even less evidence that an online story has the same oomph as online advertising. Meanwhile our marketing counterparts have been practicing better measurement for years, which is why dollars and people are moving away from PR.

Savvy PR pros have already switched to measuring either attitudinal changes, such as increased consideration and preference, or behavioral changes, as measured by conversions, web traffic and leads. They’re the ones who will keep their jobs.

Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of Paine Publishing.

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