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AVEs don’t measure PR. Here’s why.

Reading ‘Measurement: Making the grade’ in Marketing Week I had to agree with one of the comments.  It’s an article that could have been written 17 years ago when I first started measuring PR at Metrica. Although it makes some valid points about credible ways to measure public relations, it spends far too long discussing AVEs – the dreaded advertising value equivalent. 


Is AVE  the PR value of media relations

The value of PR is not reflected in AVEs









The main reason that AVEs have still not gone away from our industry is down to a lack of education.  In the spirit of playing my part to counter this, here is a list of reasons on why you should ignore this spurious and meaningless metric.

I put it out there in the hope that it will be shared widely and added to in the comments section below as appropriate. The list is in no particular order. Enjoy, please share and let’s all do our part to help the industry prove its value in meaningful and credible ways.


Sixteen reasons AVEs do not measure the value of PR:

1. The industry as a whole has moved away from AVEs, denouncing them as a flawed metric

The Barcelona Principles, endorsed by AMEC (the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) the IPR (the USA’s Institute for Public Relations) and the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) denounced AVEs as ‘not the value of PR’.  The IPR is on record saying:

“Most reputable researchers view such arbitrary ‘weighting’ schemes aimed at enhancing the alleged value of editorial coverage as unethical, dishonest, and not at all supported by the research literature.”

The Barcelona Principles with best practice advice on how to measure PR accurately are detailed here on slide 17.

2. Quantitative only

AVEs are purely a quantitative metric.  They provide no insight into the quality of your content, the messages, inferences and issues that matter.

3. What multiplier should be used?

Many people believe that a multiplier should be applied to AVEs to ‘weigh them up’ to take into account the additional impact of third party endorsement provided by a journalist.   There is no research that proves what multiplier should be used, or even whether one is relevant and appropriate at all.  Calling a weighted AVE ‘PR Value’ is a fallacy.

4. Inconsistent across providers

When AVE’s are supplied by PR measurement companies, all measure them in different ways, using different methodologies.  No two numbers are comparable.

5. Advertising and PR are different things

And should be treated as such.  Advertising is an ‘interruptive’ marketing discipline.  PR is an ‘engaging’ one.  The audience seeks editorial out.  Advertising has to leap out at us to get our attention.  They work in different ways, are designed for different reasons and should be measured in different ways.

6. Advertising Agencies don’t measure in PR equivalents…

So why should we as an industry demean ourselves to measuring in advertising equivalents?

7  AVE’s take no account of target audiences

AVEs take no account of the target audience that you are trying to reach.  An article in a publication that your audience does not read will still count towards your total AVE number.  As a result… see point 8.

8. AVE’s drive the wrong behaviours in PR

When measured with an AVEevery piece of content counts, no matter how inappropriately placed.  An old rule in PR Measurement is that you become what you measure. Using AVE’s will encourage behaviours that don’t benefit your organisation such as the ‘carpet-bombing’ of press releases.  It makes it tempting to utilise a scatter gun approach to PR rather than a targeted, well-planned and credible strategy.

9. There is no such thing as a negative advert – or negative AVE

Adverts can’t be negative.  Editorial can.  How do you account for this in an AVE?  Some systems apply a negative value to the AVE, however this is particularly flawed.  Reputation takes years to build but can be destroyed overnight  – UK jewellery company Ratners being one famous example.  One negative piece in the national press reporting comments made by their founder resulted in £500 million being wiped off their share price, and ultimately led to the company going bust.  How would a negative AVE hope to measure that?!

10. You can’t advertise everywhere

You can’t advertise in all the places that you can gain editorial coverage so what advertising value should be applied in that case?  For example, the BBC accepts no advertising in the UK.  What AVE should be applied to a piece in the BBC and all the other media that don’t take adverts?

11. AVEs don’t work in online and social media measurement

Advertising works in a different way in online media than it does in the printed press.  It is based on paid for exposures rather than guaranteed runs on sites.  Accordingly attributing any kind of meaningful AVE to an online piece of mainstream content is impossible.  Additionally, it’s not possible to assign a value to someone’s tweets, blog content, Facebook and Linkedin updates just for example.  AVEs are even more flawed in social media than in the mainstream media.

12. How much of the article should we include?

When attributing an AVE, how much of an article should be included?  Just the part with a brand name mention, just the page that the brand is on, the whole article etc etc.  An already spurious and subjective number gets ever more subjective when size is taken into account.

13. No one buys adverts at Rate card prices

And yet AVE systems are usually based upon published rate-cards.  What level of discount should be applied? Think of the last time you purchased an advert – how close to rate-card were you?

14. AVE’s rarely take into account other important advertising criteria

Do you remember when adverts used to carry a premium for being on a right hand page? The inside front cover,. the back page, in colour?  How many AVE systems know where each piece of content was in the publication and price accordingly?

15. PR is not just media relations

PR has always been about far more than just gaining editorial coverage and media relations.  AVEs at their best only attempt to measure the resul;t of your media relations activities.  How can they be a true value of your PR?

16. Declining index

Finally, who on earth would want to assign their metric of success against an index that is in itself in steep decline?  Advertising rates are linked to the readership of the publication and the response rate that they generate.  As the media choice proliferates for consumers, readerships across the board are in steep decline, taking advertising rates down with them.

This means that should a brand achieve exactly the same editorial exposure for two years running, its AVE in the second year will be less than in the first year.  Who would possibly want to report on their success using an index that reports the same performance as previous years as actually worse?


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Written by Richard Bagnall

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  • http://twitter.com/Sheldrake Philip Sheldrake

    Lovely list. Here’s one more for good luck. AVE doesn’t measure the value of advertising either, just the cost (courtesy of Paul Holmes in Barcelona 2010).

    If you do still employ AVE I recommend setting the photocopier to 105% for an immediate 5% uplift in your KPI. Note however that you can only really get this uplift the one time. A further 5% twiddle the following year really starts to get noticeable.

    • richardbagnall

      Hi Philip, Thanks for stopping by and adding to the list.  Not sure how the licensing bodies would feel about the photocopying though! ;-)

    • http://twitter.com/piracycorp Martin Ballantine

      haw!! ;->

  • eli1605

    this is a really good list and all arguments make sense. Wrong or not AVE’s did provide a certain figure at the end of every analysis that supposedly made sense. Now that we need to replace this “metric”, what should we use instead? 

    • richardbagnall

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. 

      AVEs were often thought of as a single number that could act as a proxy for measuring PR which, for all the reasons listed above of course, they never were. 

      As frustrating as it may seem, there will never be a single number that can measure a communications programme.  Different organisations have different objectives and a measurement programme needs to be shaped to reflect these and these alone.  PR & communications are fluid, dynamic things and will always need a variety of different metrics to accurately reflect what they are achieving.  Think of your communications measurement in the same way as a pilot controls his plane – a dashboard of relevant metrics provides accurate feedback enabling a succesful journey.  I know I would hate to fly with one number appearing on the pilot’s dashboard! 

      • Grazia

        I totally, absolutely agree that AVE is not the right way, in an ideal world, to show RoI and I haven’t used it for many, many years. However, you are presuming (and I am guilty of that as well) that the people one is addressing understand and appreciate PR and what it does.

        I spend all day, every day (and that’s been the same for over 15 years)
        in between doing my actual PR work, doing my other work – telling people
        PR doesn’t stand for press release and explaining what PR and
        communications is all about. I have now found saying I am responsible
        for the image, brand and reputation gets across a better message than
        saying public relations BTW.

        In the past 10 days, I have felt as though I work for McDonalds, with
        people sending me orders for “a press release”, “get this in the FT”,
        “do me a draft so my client’s PR person will see what a release looks
        like”..and I feel like asking if they would like extra fries with that!

        I work in a company with 140,000 employees – believe when I say that
        139,950 don’t know what PR is or what it does. So we spend all our time
        educating them, but it’s an uphill struggle.

        Sometimes, one has to take the easiest path, the one of least
        resistance. For some, AVE is a language they understand. They don’t
        care about share of voice or negative vs positive or if our key messages
        are there – because they don’t know or understand the importance.

        Saying that one of people who commented about one of their clients
        liking AVE must have more sophisticated clients is a facile comment.

        Most companies don’t even know who their competitors are, cannot articulate their USPs or even know what they are, so why should they be PR experts?

        Everyday, I wonder why I do the job having just explained PR to a
        dingbat who claims he is a PR expert because his daughter did a PR
        degree or someone who dabbled in PR as he was in biz development and
        thought it would be fun.

        But we slog on. We don’t need our own telling us we are wrong as well…

  • soka1605

    thank you richard for your kind points. But when working in a media monitoring office and you have a client who wants AVE and cannot explain other objectives to measures real impact, how can you advice the client? 

    • richardbagnall

      That’s the job of your consultants and the reason that decent education on the importance of proper strategic planning and measurement in PR is so important.  Happily there shouldn’t be too many clients like you mention…

      • The_Duuude

        Sadly, I think you will find that the people signing the cheques want an ROI & to report an ROI by means of a “feeling” for brand position will I have no doubt, end your retainer based contract.
        If you look at these outdated measurements (yes – i do agree they are flawed) as an index, ensure that your data is up to date and continue to deliver good results for your client – then Q on Q, year on year – these stats can offer comparison in performance, if not a true value.
        The other issue that is always skirted is cost. Whilst there may be many global communication agencies that are queuing up to engage the likes of Metrica to provide truly insightful measurement – the reality is there are 1000s of smaller scale agencies doing great work but sadly, don’t PR white goods (fridges and dishwashers) and therefore won’t have either the margin in their profits to spend it on measurement or can’t convince a smaller client to double its retainer simply to be ahead of the pack on measurement.
        The reason it will take years to change this thinking is simple, to gather AVEs is free.

        • richardbagnall

          I totally agree that ‘feeling’ and ‘gut feel’ as measurement is never going to wash.  After all, we live in the age of accountability and every business wants to know what it is getting in return for each and every £ or $ spent.

          The point of the post is to list reasons why AVEs are not metrics that should be used.  I would agree that an AVE as an index number can provide useful comparisons.  The importance here is to remove the £ or $ sign from the number and to educate the market place that AVE’s are not the value of PR.  The financial symbol at the beginning of the number confuses people into thinking that it is. Indeed, three years ago I participated in a debate at the IPR Measurement Summit in the USA where I laid out the pros and cons of AVE’s and made exactly that point (http://bit.ly/LQodhe).  

          The problem with this of course is that while indexes are a very good way of looking at general trends (think of the FTSE or NASDAQ) they are not a very good way of looking at specifics (think of the individual shares in a portfolio which may well not be following the same pattern as the index).  

          Whether an AVE has a monetary symbol at it’s beginning or not, it also is only a measurement of an output – a press clipping, broadcast piece etc – and is in no way a clue to the ROI – the return on the investment -that public relations has generated.  To do that, we need to move beyond outputs to out-takes (what the target audiences now think as a result of your work) and outcomes (what has actually happened).

          In terms of your point about costs I’d offer two thoughts. First, creating an AVE is not free.  It takes someone, somewhere time to collate the data and then present it.  This time is not free and is particularly poorly spent when considering that the end point is a meaningless number.  And in terms of only FMCG agencies and companies being able to afford the services of Metrica and Gorkana Insights I’d point out that we are retained by over 250 companies and organisations of all sizes ranging form the world’s largest organisations to the UK’s smallest and niche players in the not for profit sector.  All of our clients are united by the same aim – to prove and improve their PR based on tailored, appropriate and credible metrics that are not price prohibitive.

          • The_Duuude

            Morning Richard,

            I’m super busy today, ironically – preparing AVE or our transparent version of them for a big client review later today.
            But I’d like to add a few bits.

            By free, I meant at no extra external cost to the company.

            I appreciate you were pointing out why AVE is wrong, and I’d agreed with you. But it’s often easier to point out why something is wrong – it’s harder to give a solution that would suit an industry. Anyone who actually thinks AVEs serve more than just an index are deluded.

            Without a global standard on measurement – aren’t companies supplying “insights”  - all with their own ideas, simply adding to global industry confusion and segmentation?

            With regard to prohibitive cost, I’d be very interested to see the turnover split of your 250, and then overlay this with their client portfolios – as my feeling is it would often come down to a forward thinking client that is prepared to bare the cost – OR – one that operates a EU or Global directive on measurement, and one that may even engage a measurement service directly.


  • Stacey Rumble

    Which other metrics would you suggest to report value to clients then?

  • http://twitter.com/piracycorp Martin Ballantine

    *sighs*. Can’t argue with these but, hey, they’re all very obvious. Why does Gorkana/Durrants continue to include BRAD rates on coverage? By leaving this on, you’re complicit in AVEs’ survival/the notion of coverage equating to an advertising value, surely? Otherwise why include it? Can’t you just remove it? Truth be told, any agency worth its salt should be able to do its own thing and create a proprietary system that measure’s its efficacy properly.

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