Replacing AVEs

Posted on: April 7, 2007

In commenting on my blog, Time for awards to ban AVEs, Simon Wakeman asked, “The big question I grapple with is what are the measures that we can replace AVE with? Given the fixation with measurability and accountability how can PR prove its worth alongside other more easily accountable disciplines?” So this blog answers that question and points to sources for alternatives. What do AVEs prove as a measure of PR effectiveness? Nothing in relation to achievement of objectives as a false correlation of value is used. The PR programmes and campaigns I worked on for 25 years had measurable objectives in terms of getting support, helping reach sales targets, building awareness of an issue or cause, but none had “getting £XX,000 in advertising equivalent spend of coverage”. Any media coverage was generated to support the campaign objectives and wasn’t an end in itself. PR professional and trade groups have strong views on AVEs, too, 

CIPR: Many problems stem directly from an over-simplified view that ‘PR is basically free advertising’.  This leads to ‘measures’ such as AVEs (advertising equivalents), which continue to be used despite being completely discredited. PRCA: They (AVEs) are weak and imply public relations is a substitute for advertising, when the two disciplines have different roles. AVEs take no account of positive or negative coverage, or the value (or damage) of editorial endorsement (or criticism). High quality editorial endorsement cannot be bought, so to put a value on it by using equivalent advertising space costs is misleading. 

British evaluation expert Dermot McKeone says “the whole concept of AVEs is based on false assumptions and any conclusions based on them are misleading and dangerous.” 
US PR educators Wilcox, Ault & Agee say this methodology “is a bit like comparing apples and oranges”; because advertising copy is controlled by the space purchaser while news mentions are determined by media gatekeepers and can be negative, neutral or favourable. It is also inherently absurd to claim a value for something which was never going to be purchased in the first place.
  What can replace them? There is a wide range of measurement methods which can and should be used, because public relations deals with complex issues and relationships, so a single metric can’t give clear answers. Any PR text has chapters on evaluating PR programmes. Modesty aside, there is “Evaluating Public Relations – a best practice guide to public relations planning, research and evaluation”, written by myself and Paul Noble and published by Kogan Page. It has a wide discussion of research methods and evaluation methods. As well, the CIPR has its range of PR Evaluation Toolkit publications, the (US-based) Institute for Public Relations has an excellent set of publications on its website, and there are many blogs developed to the subject of public relations measurement and evaluation. Further reading: The CIPR also made a major report and statement on PR evaluation in 2005 which says that all the evaluation methodology is in place and it’s time for practitioners to use it. It does argue that there is a place for a Return on Investment (ROI) measure but only in relations to campaigns where the objective has a specifically financial objective, for instance to reach a sales or fund-raising target. I have problems with the use of financial language to express PR outcomes but you can read this paper at . 

Finally, as David Phillips comments in reply to my blog on AVEs, the value of advertising space in print and broadcast is falling as spend shifts to click-through online advertising. How long will the dinosaurs in PR cling on the AVEs when the value supposedly being generated is dropping?


3 Responses to "Replacing AVEs"

Hi Tom,
Thanks for that – you’ve inspired me to take another look at one area that I know I’m not that strong in!

I’ve made this issue a whole chapter in my book — you can read it here:
There are alot of alternatives, most of the infinitely superior. It’s just laziness that keeps AVEs alive

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