Last June, at the 2nd European Summit on Measurement (organized by AMEC and the Institute for Public Relations) delegates adopted a set of standards and practices, “The Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles” to guide the measurement and evaluation of public relations activities. [For an overview, see my post on the MNPR blog.]
The most controversial of the seven principles has been #3:
“Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE) do not measure the value of PR and do not inform the future of activity.”
In essence, AVE measures the value of a placement secured by PR activities by calculating the cost of purchasing the equivalent of that amount of space in advertising.
This metric is flawed and has received criticism for several reasons, primarily:
AVE is to PR activity as apples are to oranges.
Trying to measure the effectiveness of a PR campaign by comparing it to the amount of money it would cost to purchase advertising space completely ignores the value of editorial content versus advertising. (i.e. People don't read, consume, and act upon a paid advertisement in the same way they do editorial content in the form of an interview, product feature, or industry news article.) It doesn't take into account the tone or sentiment of the placements, or the value of a quote in a feature article versus a product mention buried somewhere in the back of the issue. It doesn't explain the time and effort that goes into building a relationship with the journalists and editors or the long-tail affect of such work.
The science behind the AVE calculation is flawed.
Here's how it works ... for every placement, the monitoring company provides an "ad rate" dollar amount, which is the published amount for purchasing a full-page ad in the publication. Most often, the PR person within the agency who is responsible for compiling these clips will then divide that number as he/she sees fit in accordance with the amount of printed space that was dedicated to mentions of the client. Problems? First, ads are rarely purchased at the published, full page rate to begin with. Second, the infinite division (or multiplication) of that number to accommodate a one-line mention, several pages of text, a photo of a product, etc, is arbitrary and inconsistent.
AVE calculations do not contribute to PR strategy.
"So what and who cares?" is a line I use a lot when talking about measurement. After calculating AVE per individual placement, a report is generated to provide a grand total telling the client the "exact" amount of money the PR campaign netted them had they instead paid for advertising space. What's next? Who cares? How does it contribute to strategy? What does that number mean? Truth is, it means nothing. It's a way for lazy PR people (yes, I said it) to show ROI and prove enough value to the client to get them to continue to renew their contract.
After years of debate over these issues, The Barcelona Principles have the ability to initiate a change in the industry and eradicate this metric once and for all. But, despite these principles, monitoring firms continue to provide AVE, and as long as they do, PR professionals will continue to be misguided and use this false information in an attempt to prove ROI to their clients.
One of the leading experts in PR Measurement, Katie Delahaye Paine (KD Paine), has been a vocal supporter of The Barcelona Principles, calling for a boycott of monitoring firms who continue to deliver AVEs and taking an active stand on this controversial debate.
Industry leaders set examples and provide standards that others look to and follow. While monitoring firms who continue to provide AVEs could argue that they are merely providing a service to the clients who continue to ask for it, the reality is that they are contributing to a vicious cycle.
As long as leading firms continue to offer this metric, it will still hold validity and continue to be used by professionals who may not know any better. Imagine, for a moment, if a big gun like Chris Brogan were to support Twitter spam. Sure, there are many who know better, but all of the social media newbies would take this word as gospel.
A better approach might be for these firms to work with industry experts to create and refine metrics that are an accurate measurement of PR, and then educate their customers and customer’s clients.
AVE was never a logical way to measure the value of PR, but it becomes even more obsolete as the industry evolves. Because they are so accustomed to relying on the AVE metric, I have seen firms try to equate it to the web by trying to find circulation rates or ad equivalencies for tweets, blog comments, Facebook posts, etc.
It just. Doesn’t. Work.
Even if you can come up with a number, it’s completely arbitrary, and what in the world does that tell you, anyway?
Discussions over the the validity of AVE have been going on for decades. The Barcelona Principles are a huge step by the industry to formalize standards for measurement. But, if the big companies in the industry don't actively support them, they will lose significance. The PR industry is so resistant to change, and has been criticized for its inability to adapt and evolve with the marketplace. Right now, the industry can further perpetuate that notion, or it can shift that perception and denounce this metric.
I'm with Katie. I commend her for standing up and calling for a bold move. Our firm, Kane Consulting, will support her and all seven of The Barcelona Principles, and in doing so ...
Are you ready to take a stand and call for a change?
Need some support?
Join the Support Group for AVE Foes on LinkedIn.http://www.linkedin.com/groups?mostPopular=&gid=3219019
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I’m a consultant, strategist, author, educator & speaker with more than 20 years of experience in marketing and communications. I’m passionately curious, fairly sassy, kinda dorky and seriously good at what I do.