ave & pr measurement

AVE & the challenge of PR measurement

As the industry continues to try to link PR results with genuine business outcomes, the struggle to effectively measure the value of earned media relations and the ‘buzz’ delivered from a successful PR campaign, has not only continued but has got tougher and more muddied.

I’m going to say it….. I miss the days of AVE.

For the uninitiated, AVE or Advertising Value Equivalency, was the practice of determining the success of an earned media placement by comparing it to the cost of an ad of a similar size, in the same publication and multiplying it – usually by three – to address the additional value of the coverage being ‘earned’ rather than ‘paid for’, as the information being shared was deemed more trustworthy and therefore intrinsically more valuable.

Ad cost x 3. A simple formula, happy days.

So why the move away from this often complimentary measure? There are a number of reasons, none of which we can unfortunately ignore.

AVE doesn’t consider the audience of the publication and their behaviour.

It’s a positive piece of coverage, it’s quarter of a page, it includes all of the key messages and relevant information the brand wants to share, the important question is still – do your target audience read this title? Even if a newspaper or magazine has high circulation numbers, if your target audience isn’t reading it, your coverage will have little to no impact on your client’s bottom line.

AVE fails to take into account the content quality or sentiment.

Would your client pay for a feature that effectively criticises their product or service? Probably not. Journalists with integrity write what they think, that’s what makes positive coverage so valuable. Comparing a piece of coverage with a negative tone to a sales focused print ad is just false data, but AVE evaluation doesn’t require you to remove these articles from your calculations. It works on the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

AVE is a totally arbitrary and often inaccurate figure.

AVE bases the value of a hard-earned piece of coverage on a number, and it has no impact on or control over the cost of ad space. As ad revenues continue to decline and publications are forced to drop their rates, either the calculation is based on a rarely paid rate card or on a figure so low that it no longer justifies the success of the coverage achieved. Either way the maths is, unfortunately, flawed.

There is no AVE calculation for social media success

It’s been a long time since PR success was measured in coverage inches alone. So, you’ve achieved the ultimate aim. Your campaign has gone viral. There’s no handy rate card or media pack to help you work out the value of all that social noise.

So what’s the answer?

It’s clear that, as the way we practice PR evolves, AVE is no longer fit for purpose. But what should the industry be doing instead to measure PR success in a standardised and comparative way that can help you prove the value of your work to existing and new clients?

If we look at all the reasons why AVE no longer works then we can start to consider what we need to do to modernise the approach to measurement.

  1. Measure the audience response: Whether that’s sales, comments, uptake or understanding. It’s important to ensure that the message we wanted to communicate to our audience has a) reached them and b) achieved the desired impact. There are of course a lot of variables that can lead to audience response, but if you know what you’re trying to achieve and the period you’re trying to achieve it in you can certainly explore whether PR success has contributed. That leads us to…
  2. Agree the impact you’re looking to achieve before you start the campaign: Set relevant and measurable goals and objectives, agree what you want the desired audience response to be and the way you’re going to track it. If you don’t do this, you’ll never be able to attribute success, no matter how great your campaign went.
  3. Take a qualitative and a quantitative approach: Sure, ridiculous reach figures and a bursting coverage book look good in your client’s end of year review, but understanding whether the titles were the right ones, whether the coverage made the right points and looking at other alternative metrics beyond the numbers, will help you justify your approach and develop future campaigns worth doing.
  4. Understand your competitor set and track your share of voice: Looking at your campaign results in a vacuum will never help you demonstrate to your client that the work you’re doing for them is shifting the dial. Stacking your media results against a competitor’s is a useful tactic for evaluating the overall effectiveness of your efforts.

If we’re honest, there will always be two types of metrics when it comes to measuring and evaluating PR success. There are the numbers that help to sell PR as a channel and the agency or service delivering it – these are the numbers that look good on a slide.

And then there’s the metrics – and I don’t believe they’re always numbers – that actually help us develop campaigns with impact, campaigns that allow us to stand back and be proud of the work we’ve done, that allow us to reproduce success and continue to improve as PR practitioners.

So, is it possible to accurately measure earned media? Unfortunately, no. I don’t think it is.

But I believe delivering a meaningful PR campaign is about more than what’s ultimately measurable, it’s about buzz and noise and opinion and belief. And, whatever the results on the slide in the wrap up report, that should always be the aim.

About the author:

Rebecca Jones is the Communications Director at CreativeRace. She has 21 years of experience in communications; specialising in PR, social media and influencer relations, having worked on local and global campaigns for a wide range of brands from head and shoulders and Pantene to John West and Fiat 500.