Despite numerous pleas by public relations professionals for clients (and colleagues) to stop using Advertising Value Equivalents
(AVEs) to measure the value of their work, the use of this measurement “standard” persists.
This conundrum exists despite the PR community’s adoption of the Barcelona Principles
in 2010 that called for an end to using AVEs. Here’s what clients and PR practitioners need to know:
• AVEs are based on the cost of advertising. The value of advertising is not equal to its cost; so why would the cost of advertising be equal to the value of public relations?
• Standard multipliers showing that earned media is more valuable than paid media don’t exist. Sometimes earned media is more effective, and sometimes it is less effective. There are techniques to figure out the relative value.
• Quality has to come into the picture when evaluating earned media. Did you say the right things to the right people in the right place at the right time? Blanket use of AVEs assumes answers to all these questions are, “yes,” which they rarely are.
• The value of public relations comes most often from effects on awareness, understanding, perception, behavior, and advocacy — none of which are the cost of advertising. Measuring the message delivery to the target audience through media analysis is a helpful proxy for PR value.
However, sometimes a client won’t back off, and, after all, those with the gold make the rules. Here are a few ideas to dissuade clients from using AVEs:
• Show them the numerous articles about the PR profession’s rejection of this measure.
• Remind them that many PR awards programs are now discounting or rejecting entries that use AVEs.
• Bring some measure of quality into any measurement of media results; impressions and hits alone are meaningless.
• Ask whether they have an existing brand or reputation tracking survey. If so, then you can often add a couple of questions to determine PR’s impact on audience changes and even business results. Move the conversation to these kinds of metrics and away from AVEs. If the client doesn’t have a survey like this, then remind them that they can conduct surveys inexpensively.
• Compare the qualified impressions from earned media to the cost of buying the same number of views as advertising. But the term “qualified” is crucial — you have to adjust for the amount of your target audience that you actually reached, and what portion of your message actually appeared in the media. If you decide to go this route, then it must be abundantly clear to the client that you are looking at the efficiency of budget spent, not value created by public relations.
Meanwhile, we want to hear from you. Write to AskDocRock@prsa.org
A version of this column was published in the January 2012 issue of Public Relations Tactics.
David B. Rockland, Ph.D. is partner/CEO and managing director for the research and change communications businesses at Ketchum. He has held leadership positions in corporate communications and research throughout his career, with extensive global experience in both fields.