The AVE Debate

The AVE Debate

An interesting report has recently been published by Meltwater, the media monitoring and analysis company.  Titled, ‘Estimating the real value of Public Relations’ and authored by communications expert, Robert Wynne, the report espouses the advantages of AVE, or Advertising Value Equivalent, as a meaningful metric for measuring the value of PR coverage.

The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) and the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) have issued a joint statement condemning the report.

Francis Ingham, Director General of the PRCA and ICCO Chief Executive, was forthright in his condemnation, “We are astonished that any credible measurement and evaluation professional would make the case for AVEs. AVEs measure absolutely nothing other than the vanity of those reporting them. I had hoped that the evaluation community had condemned them to the rubbish bin of history years ago.”

Strong stuff indeed and my initial reaction was to echo Francis’ views.  But then I re-read the report and considered the subject of AVE from the perspective of our clients in the B2B sectors.

Let’s be clear.  I don’t agree with the concept of AVE as an accurate measurement of the value of PR activities and coverage.  It’s far better, as stated in the Barcelona Principles, to measure outcomes – ideally, the value of new business that can be attributed to media coverage, the change in perception of a brand, or awareness and acceptance of a new product or technology.

However, we don’t live in a perfect world and, just as we are forced to accept the imposition of so called ‘colour separation charges’, we should also be pragmatic about the use of AVE.

In the B2B space in particular, where realistic budgets for measuring changes in market perception or brand awareness are as rare as hen’s teeth, there is little scope for other techniques to be used.  Similarly, in a sector where sales cycles are often measured in months or years, it can be extremely difficult to make a clear link between media coverage and a successful outcome in the form of a new customer, purchase order or money in the bank.

It is, of course, possible to measure the impact of coverage in owned and non-owned media channels, in the form of click-throughs or downloads.  Even here, however, if the appropriate sales follow-up to a download is lacking, or if there is no mechanism for tracking the subsequent activities of a web site visitor who clicked from a piece of on-line coverage, then it’s impossible to put a meaningful value on the original PR material.

It’s also possible to use more sophisticated analyses, based on the quality of the coverage and measuring, for example, tone of voice, position of the article or credibility of the publication.  However, in the trade and technical media most coverage by its very nature is neutral in tone, while in each segment the leading magazines are equally credible.

In the absence of other solid methods of measuring the value of PR, AVE has, in the technical and industrial PR sector at least, a role to play.  It may not be ideal, and it’s certainly open to interpretation, as different multipliers are used; for example, Robert Wynne recommends a multiplier of 5, so an A4 page of coverage in a magazine where the page advertising page rate is £1,500, would give an AVE of £7,500.

The problem with the use of a multiplier, where editorial is effectively given a value several times that of the equivalent advertising space, is that it is essentially an arbitrary figure.  Although there have been studies carried out to calculate the value of editorial against advertising, these have focussed on the consumer sector.  As far as I’m aware, there is no solid  research to prove the point one way or another in the B2B sector.

We therefore take a pragmatic approach.

Ideally, we’ll use a mix of metrics to measure the success and outcome of PR work.  This includes the collection of anecdotal evidence, for example, feedback from clients’ sales teams when their customers have commented on particularly high profile coverage, plus the use of digital metrics, click-throughs, social media posts and comments, and so on.

It will also include an AVE analysis, using coverage, circulation and readership data, but without a multiplier, as we know that the quality and quantity of the coverage we achieve for our clients delivers outstanding value without the need to inflate the AVE figure artificially.

Combined, these metrics provide a combination of specific and interpretive data, which can be collated simply and at realistic cost.  This provides a gauge of PR activities that may not be perfect, but nonetheless offers a consistent benchmark against which ROI can be measured.

To read more download our overview of PR analytics, from consultant Tim Williams.

Nick Brooks

Nick is the founder and Managing Director of 4CM Ltd with over 35 years experience in developing powerful and cost effective marketing, media and communications programmes.