Is it possible to ever fully measure earned media? Unfortunately, no.
Certain objectives may never be measurable, while others are easily tracked.
So why do PR pros and company executives continue to put weight behind bad metrics that align earned media efforts with ad campaigns?
The industry has moved beyond the days of interpreting PR success by measuring the total number of inches a story covers in a print publication. Yet, many professionals in the field continue to use outdated methods to justify the value of their efforts.
Most prominently, Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) remains unfortunately common.
What is AVE?
AVE stands for the practice of determining the success of an earned media placement by comparing it to the cost of an advertisement of a similar size.
For example, if your carefully crafted and well-timed pitch resulted in a quarter-page story in The New York Times, you would determine how much a quarter-page ad costs in that publication and attribute that potential ad cost as the value your story. This is how you would demonstrate value to your clients or bosses.
Sure, it’s a relatively easy statistic to determine. Most publication media kits are publicly available, and due to the high cost of ads in popular news publications, the results often make PR people look good.
What’s not to love? Plenty.
Why AVE doesn’t work for modern PR
It’s 2018, and AVE is simply a metric that doesn’t work for the modern PR practitioner. Here are four reasons why:
1. AVE is a totally arbitrary and inaccurate figure.
It bases the value of a hard-earned public relations campaign on a number it has absolutely zero impact on or control over: the cost of ad space.
As news publications struggle to pull in new readers in a tech-driven society where the average person gets their information in real time on apps like Twitter, advertising revenue continues to fall. A Pew Research Center analysis based on the 2017 year-end financial statements of seven publicly traded U.S. newspaper companies showed that ad revenue across the industry declined 10 percent, which outpaces the 8 percent decline in 2015. As revenue declines, so does the overall value of advertising.
Publications are forced to drop their rates and the number carries less weight than it once did, meaning that PR pros using AVE as a means for justifying the success of their earned media placements aren’t able to reach their targets.
2. AVE fails to take into account the content of a media placement.
Would your client pay big bucks for a feature in The Wall Street Journal that effectively bashes their product or service? Probably not.
Editorial coverage is not always pretty.
Comparing a piece with a negative tone to a sales pitch print advertisement is tantamount to falsifying data, but most proponents of this evaluation method wouldn’t go through thetrouble to remove negative articles or sections from their calculations.
3. AVE doesn’t look at the publication relative to the target audience.
Editorial coverage in non-target media outlets doesn’t further your goals and objectives.
Even if a newspaper or magazine has high circulation numbers, if your target audience isn’t reading it, your earned media placement will have little to no impact on your company’s bottom line.
Similarly, just because a publication has a large audience, that doesn’t mean that every single person who subscribes to that publication is reading the story about your brand or client.
4. AVE ignores social media impressions.
There’s no media kit out there to tell you the monetary value of a viral tweet.
Does that mean you should ignore social media altogether in favor of methods that will result in more AVE-friendly results? Of course not.
A better option
Despite the downfalls of AVE, there are still a variety of other metrics available to help you evaluate and showcase the value of your public relations efforts.
Unfortunately, there can be an overwhelming amount of data, dashboards and reports out there for PR pros. What you really need is something that cuts through the noise to make your reports easy to understand and highly actionable.
What you don’t need is a solution that simply tries to apply advertising metrics to earned media.
There’s an old saying in the marketing world, “I waste half my marketing budget, I just wish I knew which half.” For PR pros justifying the value of their efforts using AVE, you’re likely a lot closer to wasting your PR budget.
The true investment you should be paying attention to lies in how you can best qualify and quantify metrics that matter and refine your practices to optimize results.
Jessica Lawlor is the features editor for the Muck Rack blog. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.