Some recent discussions with Government officials and senior execs have convinced me that PR and other communication professionals still have a BIG problem: organizations are addicted to Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE). And from what I see, it’s going to be a tough habit to break.
For those who have never encountered AVE, it’s an antiquated measure that seeks to represent PR success as a single dollar figure. So why is it still demanded as a PR effectiveness measure by executive teams in organizations all around the world?
Well, as metrics go it’s very simple to calculate … and it’s easy to understand any ‘score’ that’s in dollars or euros etc. After all that's the language of business right? This appealing combination of simplicity and ease explains why executives teams are hooked on AVE. It’s just a pity that it isn’t accurate. Let me explain why.
Advertising Value Equivalent – as the name suggests – is all about putting a total dollar value on the volume of coverage a PR team places in a given timeframe.
The formula is simple:
AVE = the total column centimeters occupied by your stories multiplied by the cost of placing ads that occupy the same column centimeter space, across all the publications in which the stories appeared.
The resulting figure is supposed to represent how much it would have cost you to buy ads that cover the same page area as your stories. But what does this really mean in terms of answering questions that can make a difference to your comms efforts?
Using AVE-centric KPIs forces communicators to focus only on the largest publications or media outlets: those that charge the most for ads. Forget targeting key messages to specific stakeholder groups where you may get superior impact or up-take of your ideas. AVE forces comms groups to trade insight, skill and precision for raw size, homogeneity, and mediocrity. That's how they "win" with this metric.
Further, AVE is an aggregate that cannot inform an organization as to why a campaign worked or didn’t work. It’s just a dollar figure, devoid of depth, which robs organizations of the opportunity to learn and improve.
Communicating with customers, employees, regulators, investors and other stakeholders is a challenging and let’s face it, untidy task. It’s also an activity that doesn’t lend itself to simplistic measurement, but don’t get me wrong, it can definitely be measured … and very effectively at that.
All we need to measure communication effectiveness better, is to answer the right questions. Here are some suggestions:
This is not an exhaustive list of course, but you get the idea. The right questions in respect of good media analytics are typically those that serve as a bridge between our objectives and indicators of our success.
Seeking to answer the right questions about any communication effort, and thinking about these before racing out to implement a campaign, leads to better campaign design, and gives you a fighting chance of being able to link comms efforts to business outcomes. And that’s something AVE simply cannot and will not ever deliver.
Now, which way to rehab?