Tag Archives: AVEs

AVEs are a Disease – Here’s a Little Vaccine

16 Apr

One of the truly insidious aspects of public relations measurement is the use of advertising value equivalency (AVEs) or media value to assign financial value to public relations outputs.  It is a highly flawed, path-of-least-resistance attempt to calculate return on investment (ROI) for public relations.   To make matters worse, the practice has clearly moved into social media measurement as well.  For example, research studies that attempt to monetize the value of a Facebook Fan/Liker by attributing a CPM value from the advertising world.  Online media impact rankings also utilize equivalent paid advertising costs to assign monetary value to online news and social media.  AVE is like a disease that has infected and spread throughout the public relations industry.

In June of 2010, the PR industry came together in Barcelona to draft the Barcelona Principles, a set of seven principles of good measurement intended to provide guideposts for the industry.  The principle that has generated the most conversation is this one:

Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) is Not the Value of Public Relations

 While many of the Measurati have been preaching against AVEs for years, there now appears to be a critical mass of outrage that may kill the practice in the coming years.  Here are four compelling reasons why I believe we must make this happen – the sooner the better.

1. AVEs Do Not  Measure Outcomes

AVEs equate an article with the appearance cost of an advertisement.  It does not speak at all to the results or impact that the article may have on a reader.  Advertisers do not judge the success of advertising on how much the insertions cost.  Imagine an advertising manager being asked by his or her boss, “How are we doing in advertising this year?”, and them replying, “Great!  We have spent $500,000 so far!  The true value of public relations or social media is not the appearance cost, but what happened as a result of the PR or social media effort – the impact it has on brand, reputation and marketing.  You will note the Barcelona Principles also call for a focus on measuring outcomes and not (just) outputs.  What happened as a result of media coverage is inherently more interesting and valuable than how much coverage was obtained.

2. AVEs Reduce Public Relations to Media Relations

You are, or become, what you measure.  AVEs do not address the impact or value of several important aspects of public relations including strategic counsel, crisis communications, grassroots efforts, viral campaigns or public affairs.  In other words, AVEs reduce PR to just the media dimension by only assigning a value in this area.  If only AVEs are used to assess PR value, the results will understate the totality of value delivered by PR.  AVEs also cannot measure the value of keeping a client with potentially negative news out of the media, yet that may be the primary objective of the PR practitioner.

3. AVEs Fly in the Face of Integrated Measurement                

Good marketing, branding and reputation campaigns have always been integrated to varying degrees.  The digitization of our lives has accelerated integration.

Advertising and PR actually work together synergistically, yet AVEs treat them as cost alternatives.  Studies have shown ads that run in a climate of positive publicity actually receive lift from the PR.  Conversely, ads run in an environment of negative publicity will likely not be successful and/or may be perceived negatively by consumers.  We have seen exposure to brand advertising increases conversion rates in social channels. Integrated campaigns and programs require integrated measurement.  AVEs don’t play well in this world.  They are analog and segregated in a digital and integrated world.

4. AVEs Provide No Diagnostic Value

Too much measurement energy is focused on score-keeping and not diagnostics.  This is one reason why single-number metrics like the Klout score and others have great appeal to many.  However, measurement is fundamentally about assessing performance against objectives with sufficient detail and granularity to determine what is working and what is not.  AVEs fail miserably in this regard.  AVE results can actually be misleading and result in false positives.  AVEs may be trending up while important metrics like message communication, share of favorable positioning and share of voice are falling.  Unfortunately, AVEs provide neither a valid single-number score nor any diagnostic value.

Some have said the Barcelona Principles are the ‘end of AVEs’.  I would agree directionally with that statement with one minor addition, Barcelona was the ‘beginning of the end of AVEs’.  Awareness of the practice and recognition of its flaws are at an all-time high in our industry.  More education and evangelism are required.  Understanding concepts like impact, tangible value, intangible value and (true) return on investment help foster much more sophisticated conversation about the total value delivered by public relations and social media.  AVEs are a disease, education and knowledge are the vaccine.  AVEs won’t die easily.  The momentum generated by the Barcelona event has provided focus and intent.  It is up to all of us to make AVEs a thing of the past.

The Barcelona Principles: Leaders Speak

23 Jun

Well, the Second European Summit on Measurement held last week in Barcelona has come and gone, but its impact may be felt for some time to come.  The Summit was organized by the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) and the Institute for Public Relations.  The most notable outcome of the Summit was the creation of the ‘Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles’.  The Principles were debated and voted upon by about 200 delegates representing 33 countries and five global PR and measurement organizations (AMEC, IPR, PRSA, ICCO, The Global Alliance).  David Rockland, Ph.D. chaired the debate.

Here are the ‘Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles’:

1. Goal setting and measurement are fundamental aspects of any PR programs.
2. Media measurement requires quantity and quality – cuttings in themselves are not enough.
3. Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) do not measure the value of PR and do not inform future activity.
4. Social media can and should be measured.
5. Measuring outcomes is preferred to measuring media results.
6. Business results can and should be measured where possible.
7. Transparency and Replicability are paramount to sound measurement.


I asked three of the leaders of the conference to comment on four questions regarding the Summit and what it may mean for the future of measurement.  The leaders are:

Barry Leggetter, FPRCA, FCIRR is Executive Director of AMEC  (barryleggetter@amecorg.com)

Pauline Draper-Watts, is Chairperson of the Institute for Public Relations, Commission for Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation  (pauline.s.draper@gmail.com)

David Rockland, PhD, is Partner/CEO, Ketchum Pleon Change and Managing Director, Global Research (David.Rockland@ketchum.com)

Here are their thoughts on the Summit:

Q1. For those not able to attend the Summit, how would you briefly describe what they missed?

BL: A milestone moment when delegates from 33 countries agreed to take program measurement more seriously, starting with the abandonment of AVE’s

DR: Missed a great opportunity to network with colleagues from 33 countries, hear some engaging speakers, and be part of a moment in time where the industry first adopted a set of measurement principles.

Q2. From your perspective, what are the two or three most significant outcomes of the Second European Summit on Measurement?

BL:

  • For AMEC to be successful in getting five global organisations on the same platform for the first time and talk from the same page about the need for the PR and media intelligence industry to act – not just talk – about improved methods of program measurement.
  • That the Summit achieved its own break-through status in receiving speaker support from senior level clients from global organisations such as FedEx Corporation, Yahoo, Royal Philips Electronics, Nissan, Telefónica, Banco Santander and others.

PD-W: The percentages (voting) in favor for each of the Barcelona Principles following the discussion

DR: To me a significant outcome was a gathering of the industry in a manner where ideas were shared, friendships and partnership extended, and we agreed as an industry to look ahead to how we can do what we do better and professionalize the practice of public relations.

Q3. How do you hope agencies, companies and organizations operationalize the seven principles?

BL: I introduced quality management processes when a Director of Porter Novelli in the UK in the 90’s – the first agency in the world to make this commitment. It became part of our agency’s way of working. I hope agencies, companies and organisations will similarly make the same commitment to the Barcelona Principles and introduce more stretching methods of program measurement on all programs.

PD-W: Integrating them into the culture and corporate language within the organization so that they are lived out in practice.

DR: My hope would be that first the principles are widely talked about and become SOP for what we do. Second, that the term AVE disappears along with the incredibly counter-productive debate around this subject that has distracted the industry from its own development. And third, that each organization adapts the Principles into their own words and practices; when we see them translated into the languages of the 33 countries represented at the Summit, we’ll know it worked.

Q4. Please complete this sentence: A year from now, we will know the Second European Summit on Measurement was successful …….

BL: …if when I judge my next PR Awards schemes PR consultancies and company in-house PR teams are putting more effort into the Program Measurement heading on the award entry as they are now doing to demonstrating creativity!

PD-W: … the Barcelona principles (modified to reflect the comments made at the Summit and submitted afterwards) are not only adopted but also put into practice throughout the industry.

DR: …if we don’t hear PR practitioners continue to complain we don’t have a “seat at the table” because we lack the metrics and measurement approaches other disciplines have.

Keeping it real…and transparent

  • I am a member of the Institute for Public Relations, Commission on Public Relations Measurement & Evaluation
  • My agency, Fleishman Hillard, is a member of AMEC
  • Ketchum is a sister Omnicom agency
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