The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the largest member organization for PR practitioners outside of North America. In short, they are kind of a big deal. And they've decided that AVE is not just a dying metric, not just dead, but that you should probably be disciplined for even reporting on it.
On Friday, they put out an announcement stating that they would publish a new professional standard regarding public relations measurement this fall. It will “identify the use of AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalency) in public relations as unprofessional and set out an expectation of members that their use will cease.” In addition, the announcement said that members currently using AVEs would have one year to transition to “valid metrics.” Members who fail to do so after the transition period “may be liable to disciplinary action.”
From the announcement, “It's time to make a clear and unequivocal statement that AVEs are unprofessional and this is something we intend to communicate to all other Chartered bodies. We believe that other professions represented around the boardroom table will welcome the guidance and grasp that public relations has a more profound impact on business objectives than an artificial measure placed on the value of coverage.”
While most agree that AVE has no value as a PR metric and that there are much better ways of measuring the value and impact of PR, the announcement did generate some controversy. As PR Week reported, some in the industry feel that an educational approach is preferable to a disciplinary one. David Gallagher, international president of Ketchum owner Omnicom Public Relations Group, Tweeted, “I’m no fan of AVE and have said so publicly on many occasions. Just seems overboard to threaten ‘disciplinary action’ for sloppy metrics.” Others, however, welcomed the news and the current president of CIPR told PRWeek that “The reaction from members to the announcement has been very positive.”
Why AVE Has to Go
The announcement may be somewhat jarring, but it underscores the importance of retiring this mirage of a metric once and for all. For those not familiar with the approach, AVE is simply the calculation of what earned media coverage, or editorial coverage would have cost if it were advertising. The column inches of each clip are multiplied by the ad rate for that placement. This approach is appealing because it is easy, it involves math and it equates PR to advertising, a channel that executives often more easily understand. Unfortunately, it is simply wrong.
The approach relies on three very bad assumptions:
#1 - People respond to advertising messages and media mentions in the same way. They don’t. According to Nielsen, “92 percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media … above all other forms of advertising.” That means that AVE can underestimate the value of earned media coverage.
#2 – That the entire article is about your brand. Users of AVE calculate the cost of the space taken up by the whole article even if there was only a brief mention of the brand, thus introducing the potential to grossly overestimate the impact of the mention.
#3 – All press is good press. What if the article were negative? There’s really no such thing as a negative advertisement, so the possibility of negative media mentions is problematic. Additionally, what is the value of a potentially negative story that the PR team manages to keep from publication? Those efforts should not be ignored when attempting to measure PR impact.
All this means that AVE may be too high, or too low making it a quite useless thing to track.
What to Measure Instead
AVE was really born out of a lack of better options. Before digital publishing measuring the true reach and impact of PR was very difficult. Fortunately, that has changed and today’s PR professionals can compile a set of accurate measurements that give a more useful view of PR results.
To bring structure to PR measurement, we recommend leveraging the Communicator’s Funnel, which breaks the impact of PR down into three measurable areas:
- Brand Impact: Awareness, Mindshare, and Reputation
- Digital Impact: Traffic, SEO Impact, and Social Amplification
- Bottom Line Impact: Influenced Pipeline, Conversions, and Revenue
Each of these metrics gives you valuable insight into how PR is impacting the things that really matter to your business and even allows you to measue PR's ROI.
It may be difficult for clients or executives who are used to the simplicity of AVE, but the fact that one of the leading PR organizations in the world has declared its intent to send it into exile is a good clue that a new approach is warranted. (It was also called out as a problem in the Barcelona Principles.) Fortunately, modern PR analytics software makes it easy to turn to quality data that will enable a smarter PR strategy based on metrics that matter. We think that’s good news for everyone.