How to move PR beyond the AVE

The old standard measurement tool of the advertising value equivalency just can’t cut it anymore. But don’t worry. There are alternatives.

Digital PR has forever disrupted how we measure and track public relations, leaving many PR pros scratching their heads in confusion. Advertising value equivalencies (AVEs) are going the way of the dinosaur, and for those struggling to put a value on their PR visibility, it’s time to take a fresh look at the possibilities. Take a deep breath. It’s not as bad as you think. Here are a few thoughts on the subject: 1. Decide your goal early, then create content to fit the goal. Try to measure end results. What is the business goal you want to accomplish? Make sure you are measuring something achievable within the scope of the services you are providing and that you use metrics consistent with how sophisticated your client is. For example, what is the point of measuring revenue if the client is not able to connect sales dollars to the specific coverage you secure for them? Their in-house systems might make that difficult to track, but following clicks to their website from a specific piece of content might be achievable. Perhaps a piece of content you want to track is a finance-related press release. You can Google Analytics to track clickthroughs to an investor relations page. Thinking through what action you want a PR placement, press release, or article to drive makes a huge difference. For new clients, I find it often makes sense to determine metrics during the discovery phase. Since you are learning the business, it makes sense to talk about what they would like to achieve with PR, and what makes sense when deciding if something is successful or not. If the client isn’t sure what their own objectives can be, solid guidance can be a huge boon to bring to the table. Looking at business results also helps you focus on quality and quantity instead of the mere fact that you landed a placement. Did it boost website traffic or result in social shares? Were email subscriptions or eBook downloads the result? Each of these things can be tracked back to a source. 2. If you are tracking AVEs, then you aren’t thinking through your strategy enough. Let’s step back and talk a little more about what an AVE is. It’s a measurement in which the value is calculated by what that same amount of space would cost as an advertising purchase. For example, you’d substitute the cost of a half-page advertisement in a publication as the value of a half-page editorial piece in that same publication. It’s an outdated metric that does not signify value or quality of the placement. It’s very arbitrary. Even using the publication audience size is a better metric than ad equivalence. At least then you can demonstrate reach. In years past, PR professionals would report the AVE dollar amount (or double it, since editorial content is more credible than an ad) as the primary metric. As public relations has shifted and online placements have become as strong part of the mix, methods used to measure PR have also improved and become more sophisticated. The size of client can also determine the metrics you use. Is there enough time in the monthly retainer or your agreement to accommodate pulling reports and tracking? If you are still reporting AVEs as a metric to show the value of PR, it’s time to move on. Invest time in working with your client or employer to set real goals and realistic methods of measurement. It’s also helpful to focus on the quality of the placement, not quantity. Does it reach the correct audience? Does it create a desired action? 3. Solid reporting impacts retention. Whether you consider time building reports and tracking as billable time or not, how well you communicate results has a direct impact on client retention. Those who ask “what have you done for me lately” need more communication and a better understanding of the value you provide.

Unhappy clients can often be tracked right back to a lack of measuring success and reporting. Occasionally, a gap occurs when a client doesn’t understand the metrics, so be sure to spend time ensuring everyone is on the same page. Consistent, steady communication leads to happier clients. Even the smallest retainer must measure something. If it doesn’t, it’s well worth having a discussion about goals, then matching those goals to specific results and metrics. Carrie Morgan is a 20-plus year public relations veteran based in Phoenix, specializing in digital PR. A version of this story first appeared on the Rock The Status Quo blog.


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