The Evils of AVEs

5 Apr

 Like a bad penny, the subject of using advertising value or advertising value equivalents (AVEs) to measure public relations just keeps coming back.  My most recent discussion of the issue occurred yesterday.  While frustrating to the majority of public relations professionals, it is easy to see why the topic keeps being raised.  As an industry we are desperate to be able to quickly and inexpensively assign a dollar value to our media relations efforts.  Assigning a value to the real estate as AVEs do is a path of least resistance.  But that doesn't make it right – it just makes it easy.


Here are nine reasons why AVEs are a poor metric for public relations.  It is a bit uncomfortable to have a list of nine – makes it look like we were too lazy to come up with a tenth.!  So, please post your reasons why AVEs are evil!   I know we missed a few… 


1. Advertisements and editorial articles are perceived differently by receivers/readers.  Editorial material benefits from the credibility of a third-party (the publication) by earning, not paying, its way into the magazine, newspaper or broadcast

2. 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.  The true value of an ad or article is in what it does – the outcome or impact, not the cost of appearance.

3. AVEs do not address the value of several important aspects of public relations including strategic counsel, crisis communications, grassroots, 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 may be much understated when considering the totality of value delivered by PR.

4. AVEs cannot measure the value of keeping a client with potentially negative news (e.g. layoff, scandal) out of the media, yet that may be the primary objective of the PR practitioner.  How much is it worth for a troubled company to not appear in the Wall Street Journal?  AVEs cannot address this.

5. Impression information for public relations is somewhat inconsistent.  Online impressions figures are not as reliable as print or broadcast, and are generally believed to be overstated  The fact that they are inflated skews AVE calculations to overstate the value of online media, often assigning unbelievable values to online articles compared to their print counterparts.  This hurts credibility and believability.  

6. AVEs do not properly distinguish between hits/articles that appear in ‘high value’ columns or publications and articles in more general or generic publications.  The calculation is based on ad cost only.  The value of appearing in a Walt Mossberg column in the WSJ or on Oprah with your new book far exceeds the cost of an advertisement in the WSJ or on Oprah due to the implied or explicit endorsement with earned media.

7. Advertising and PR actually work together synergistically, yet AVEs treat them essentially as equals or alternatives.  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/customers. 

8. AVEs are generally calculated by mainly, or only, taking into account the physical size of the article, and then equating that to the cost/value of an advertisement of the same size.  Often, article valence is not even considered, so a predominantly negative article would add positively to the overall AVE calculation.    

9. Some groups have devised their own ways to calculate AVEs.  PR articles are generally rated or scored as part of an algorithm used to calculate AVEs.  Factors considered might include brand prominence within the article, competitive mentions, overall article tonality and finally size/length of the article.

The problem here is there is no standard way to ‘score’ PR articles to implement an AVE system. 

For more information on AVEs please see:

7 Responses to “The Evils of AVEs”

  1. Katie Delahaye Paine April 7, 2006 at 3:26 pm #

    Oh thank you thank you thank you Don! You are so right. People keep falling back on this nonsense because its easy or more frequently “because clients demand it.” But as I keep saying: “If your client demanded that you supply them with heroin would you do it too? ” We’re addicted to the quick fix. And yes, good measurement requires a bit more time and effort, but so does anything worth doing.

  2. Greg Magnus April 9, 2006 at 3:59 pm #

    Thanks for the post and excellent analysis of AVEs and PR. I agree.

    We recently ran a marketing/PR campaign for a client with a zero ad budget – grand opening of a fitness facility (endurance center for triathletes). We had a press release published in “Inside Triathon” (huge circ, but very small percentage of readers in the local target market). The real value was increasing the “credibility” of the new facility via their association with a well respected national pub. We added links to the PR on their website, e-newsletters, etc.

    Although there was significant value in the PR, I can’t imagine how someone could accurately use AVEs to assign a dollar value for the exposure. The only true measurement we had for this event was the number of attendees at the event; goal was 200 and over 300 showed up. Given all we did was PR using WOM strategies, clearly the PR has “dollar” value. Finding a way to assign value to this type of PR is still a mystery to me.

    On another note: The Institue for PR has changed their URL and your link no longer takes you directly to the article you reference. Here’s the updated link for your readers:

  3. David Phillips April 10, 2006 at 7:09 am #

    And, of course, value and cost are different.

    Way back in the mid ’90’s when I wrote ‘Evaluating Press Coverage’ (Kogan Page 1992) these points were made and dutifully ignored by the PR industry.

    You are right, PR people in post Enron era do need to be able to make critical (and that includes numerate) decisions. This may mean that painting by numbers PR (Marketing Communication) has to go. It ill serves the client and the industry especially when it wants AVEs.

    In addition practitioners may work in ‘my back yard’ but their constituents are global. 25% of readers of the Guardian do not live in the UK and most Guardian blog commentaries are relayed by Americans. We have to monitor globally and we have to measure effect from the global perspective – even when the client only sells wine in Winsor.

  4. Thomas Stoeckle April 10, 2006 at 1:59 pm #

    Thanks for making these points. Nine is pretty impressive – I think the standard in AVE dismissals is about four bullet points…

    AVEs are also a reflection of the pecking order in marketing communications, where advertising has been the steam roller, power crane and excavator in the tool mix for many decades. And such habits die hard.

    But as consumer attention becomes ever more fractured and ephemeral, marketing will move away from advertising, both in practice and measurement. In this context, from Philip Kotler to Al Ries, to The Economist – there is general agreement about The Rise of Advertising and the Fall of PR.

    So far, so good. The enhanced importance of PR enhances the importance of PR measurement; better PR measurement further enhances the importance of PR. And so on.

    PR, as well as the measurement of its success, needs to become more of an exact science to impress those executives that think of expenditure first and foremost as ‘contributing to the bottom line’. And what better way to express that, than as a monetary value?

    In that sense, PR measurement’s ultimate goal should still be a metric that can be expressed, validly and reliably, in $, £ or €. Unfortunately, however, this goal may simply not exist – at least not as a measure of PR success that can be meaningfully isolated from other marketing communications activities.

    It will be a strong sign of PR measurement’s growing maturity if we ‘measurement folk’ succeed in convincing senior executives that $, £ or € are the wrong currencies when it comes to gauging the success of PR efforts.

    Since the late 1990s, econometric modelling has been developing into a serious tool for evaluating the success of advertising and marketing campaigns. The next step would be to widen the scope to apply the model to the entire marketing mix, including editorial coverage. Some of our clients are moving in that direction and we need to support these efforts with the best data possible.

    In the meantime, PR measurement is well advised to promise only what it can realistically deliver, for example
    – audience (reach) figures that are based upon high standards of validity and reliability,
    – mapping out the ‘mediascape’ with variables such as credibility and accuracy of source – impact on consumer, impact of decision-makers and opinion-leaders, impact on corporate reputation (Report International has developed a methodology to add these variables to its media data, and is currently testing it in the field), and
    – consistent content analysis of editorial coverage at a level of granularity to allow for determination of positive and negative comment, replay of messages, share of voice by competitor – all relevant factors in assessing ‘the quality of the quantity’ (i.e. the crucial difference between advertising and PR).

    From that data, together with the knowledge of total audience (per market, per business) and specific PR expenditure, we could at least calculate a PR cost per thousand. We would still be borrowing from advertising, but at least we would be avoiding some of the evils that live in AVEs!

  5. Pogo Stick January 15, 2007 at 12:24 am #

    Is there any better, or easier blog software out there than this? i need something php based that doesnt kill MySQL. Any techie types on this thread that can point me in the right direction?


  1. PR Measurement - Those evil ad equivalencies - April 12, 2006

    […] We discovered a new blog called Proving the Value of PR thanks to Greg Magnus.  It’s authored by Don Bartholomew who is an executive VP at GCI Group.  I’m not certain which office he works out of, but he is clearly a thought leader when it comes to measurement. Don has some great posts, including his one about the top nine reasons why advertising equivalency is flawed.  Definitely worth a read. […]

  2. Are we STILL talking about AVEs? « Measurement PRoponent / PRomulgator - July 10, 2007

    […] Metrics Man, Dan Bartholemew’s excellent blog post […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: