The Best and Worst of PR Measurement - Round 1: AVES

A huge part of public relations revolves around metrics. After all, like any industry, how do you prove success of a campaign without something to base it on? Metrics come in many forms and there is no industry standard for the best way to measure public relations success. In the next few blog posts I plan to dissect a few of the most common types of measurement, both traditional and modern, and their pros and cons when it comes to determining the success of a public relations campaign.

While it is a question we (luckily) get asked increasingly less, it still rears its ugly head from time to time from both prospects and long-term clients alike: “How can we measure this placement in terms of advertising value?”

Advertising value equivalencies (AVEs), while primarily defunct now, were at one time all the rage in public relations, and still are used by many to some extent.

What they are:

According to the Institute of Public Relations Commission of PR Measurement and Evaluation AVEs are: “The calculation of space or time used for earned media (publicity or news content) by comparing it to the cost of that same space or time if purchased as advertising.” AVEs are one of the most traditional forms of public relations measurement and were widely used at one time.

Traditionally they are measured by calculating the space (column inches) occupied by a clip (for radio and television coverage, you measure time). Then multiply the column inches (time) by the ad rate for that page (time slot). Sometimes and additional multiplier would be used in the range of 3-10, to allow for the credibility factor of news coverage over advertising.

Benefits:

The main benefit of AVEs is the ease to which they are understood. While my parents still don’t really understand what I do, they understand what advertisements are. And while most clients are marketing savvy enough to have a much better grasp on public relations, having a number based measurement is one of the easiest ways to show success.

People are attracted to AVEs because it puts a dollar amount on media coverage and to some extent, compares results to advertising. Using dollar amounts allows clients to clearly measure the success against the budget they are paying. If there is a set number your budget can be compared against, it becomes much easier to justify the expense.

Weaknesses:

AVEs don’t consider the message of the article. If the article does not contain your key businesses messages or if the publication is not what your target audience reads, even a placement in the New York Timesmeasured in AVE terms will be skewed when compared to business results and actual ROI.

Additionally, AVEs don’t take into account social media. Because AVEs has been around for quite some time, social media wasn’t what it is today at the time of their creation. Having key influencers tweet out an article can have a huge impact on your brand’s exposure that would never be captured in an AVE report. The same goes for online publications. While an article on TechCrunch would be considered a win by pretty much all of our clients, measuring that success with AVEs could show a drastically different impact that what would actually happen because of the nature of online advertising and its payment models.

AVEs measure what an equivalent advertisement in a publication would be. But a 3rd party article is not an advertisement – and has far more sway with consumers than an advertisement. Reporters are not paid for their comments, therefore providing readers with a sense of trust that will garner much more credibility than any advertisement.

To be honest, I could go on and on about the weaknesses. But most importantly, PR is not just media relations (and is something totally different than advertising), so it deserves a metrics system that measures more than just media content.

Overall assessment:

While the measurement tries to provide more of an ‘apples to apples’ approach when it comes to looking at budget vs. return, what we’re trying to compare is not ‘apples to apples’. Public relations is not advertising and it never will be so the comparison of article space to advertising cost just doesn’t add up.

Thus, AVEs have been regarding as irrelevant in the industry for years. Yet, clients still love to see the numbers so it becomes a re-education process. There are numerous other ways to set expectations and measure results that are realistic and prove ROI even without dollar amounts. As a client, if you want to have a meaningful measure of your public relations efforts, talk to your account team and together set goals that are both attainable and at the end of the day would help your bottom line.

Public relations is not a science nor is its measurement. PR cannot be measured in one way as each company as different goals and marks for what they consider a success. In the next post, we’ll discuss alternative options to AVEs and what form of measurement might work best for your business.