media update’s Aisling McCarthy takes a look at AVE as a metric for PR, and weighs up its real value against other options.

What is AVE?

AVE has been the standard measure of PR performance for just about a century. It was created as a way to give non-PR folk a recognisable way of putting PR efforts into relatable context by comparing it to brand advertising.

Ad value was simple to measure in print — calculated based on the size of your advert and the reach of the medium it was placed in. When it comes to PR, however, it’s exact value can be difficult to calculate. So, to aid these calculations, the AVE solution treated a PR piece as if it was ad content.

How is AVE calculated?

The basic AVE formula is simple:

AVE = Size of ad X ad rate

So if your PR article was in a column that was 15cm long, in a newspaper that charged R10 for every column centimetre, your calculation would look like this:

AVE = 15 X 10 = R 150 AVE

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, some people make things really complicated by messing with this basic AVE calculation. Many people add in an extra number into that basic formula to support the idea that PR is more valuable than paid advertising.

So, taking this into consideration, many agencies multiply their AVE figure by another variable that represents how much more valuable the PR is than advertising — that’s believed to be anywhere from three to 12.

By this logic, your initial 15cm long PR piece has an AVE of anywhere from R150 to R1 800!

“AVE figures are popular in the industry as an easy way to show much value you can get from PR,” says Claire O’Sullivan in an article for PR Week. “Often, AVE figures are much higher than any PR budget and they make PR people look really good.”

Does AVE work?

Not really …

That might not be what you want to hear, but it is the case because there are so many variables in PR and AVE doesn’t account for many of them. For example, how would the AVE be calculated for press coverage that appeared on a medium with no rate card? Undoubtedly, it would involve a lot of guesswork.

Further, what if an article mentioned both your brand and your competitor, but focussed on your competitor. How would you take that into account when calculating the AVE? And what about the sentiment of an article? AVE doesn’t account for that — it treats all news as good news, which isn’t always the case.

It’s unsurprising then to see how often they it is criticised in the PR industry, and yet, it is still used!

“The extent to which [AVEs are] criticised by commentators is only matched by the extent that the concept is used in practice,” says John Noble in Chartered Public Relations: Lessons from Expert Practitioners.

PR is not advertising, and thus it shouldn’t be measured as if it is.

So, what should the PR industry do about AVE?

Simply, stop using AVE as a PR metric.

Your client might love them, they may be quick and they might be what you’ve always used, but that still doesn’t make them accurate. Rather, each PR campaign should be analysed individually, and based on the analysis, more accurate metrics should be used.

PR is not advertising, and thus it shouldn’t be measured as if it is.
According to Robert Phillips, founder of Jericho Chambers, “AVE is a lazy way of persuading marketers schooled in old ad ways that PR counts, rather than working to find new and better systems of measurement.”

In 2017, the Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication made a commitment to eradicate the use of AVEs, but despite this, the metric still persists within the PR industry — although trends do suggest that it is slowly on the decline.

What are the alternatives to AVE?

So you’ve kissed goodbye to AVE and vowed to never use that metric again. Now what?

“When it comes to identifying the right metrics to analyse, you have to take into account the campaign’s objectives,” says Mikaela Slattery, an analyst at South African media analysis company Focal Points.

Just as no two campaigns are the same, the metrics used to measure them correctly cannot be the same.

“While return on investment is a metric that should apply to just about every campaign, there are other identifiers like target audience reach, social media engagement and positioning that can signal whether the campaign was a success or not,” Slattery says.

“It has become more important to measure the effects of PR, what target audiences now think, say and do after exposure to PR, than it is to provide a financial mark of activity,” says Dominic Payling, planning director at MS&L.

Do you think AVE is still a valuable metric for modern PR? What other metrics do you think PR should use? Let us know in the comments section below.

Want to stay up to date with the latest news? Subscribe to our newsletter.

Along with saying goodbye to AVE, one PR agency has said ‘Goodbye influencers — hello traditional PR!’ Find out more in our article about how The Atticism has ditched social media in favour of traditional PR practices.
*Image courtesy of Vecteezy