A year ago, following the IPR Measurement Summit, the IPR Measurement Commission voted to reject the principle and practice of AVE once and for all. A task force was formed to consider alternatives and to define a final statement we could all agree upon. Following this years Measurement Summit, Brad Rawlins,
chair of the task force, presented his report which was unanimously approved by the Commission. Here is the full report:
Report of AVE Task Force
Submitted by Brad Rawlins, Task Force Chair
Task Force Members: Toni Griffin, Rebecca Harris, Fraser Likely, Tim Marklein, Brad Rawlins, Mark Weiner
1. Motion passed at October 2009 Measurement Commission Meeting:
The IPR Commission on Public Relations Measurement & Evaluation voted to reject the term, concept and practice of Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) in October 2009.
2. Definition of AVE
The calculation of space or time used for earned media (publicity or news content) by comparing it to the cost of that same space or time if purchased as advertising.
3. Reasons why we reject the practice of AVE
The term, Advertising Value Equivalency, erroneously suggests that the space and time occupied by earned media generated through public relations is equivalent to the same space and time of paid media when purchased as advertising. There is no evidence to suggest that advertising and editorial space hold equivalent value. Advertising is purchased and affords complete control to the advertiser for content, placement and frequency and is almost always positive. In contrast, publicity, or earned media, is only semi-controllable after ceding the final output to the medium that may result in positive, neutral or negative messages. While earned and paid media deliver messages, the editorial imprimatur represented through earned media is a key differentiator. The two are not equivalent concepts and should not be treated as such.
Additionally, AVE is not a proxy for measuring the return-on-investment of public relations. AVE subjugates the value of the messages delivered through public relations simply to the cost of the space and/or time occupied by advertising, not the impact or effectiveness of public relations in its broadest definition. Even more problematic is the use of AVE to represent a public relations outcome, and a meaningful measure to represent a financial return on investment. This obfuscating practice often prevents or misdirects focus from quantifying the more meaningful outcomes of public relations. The Commission recognizes that the use of AVE is a common practice because calculating AVE is inexpensive and accessible but this does not justify the practice as appropriate.
4. Measuring the Value of Public Relations
First and foremost, the commission encourages measurement and evaluation practices that demonstrate the degree to which public relations efforts contribute to organizational goals. Ultimately, outcome-based measures—such as awareness, understanding, attitudes and behaviors—provide a better way to demonstrate public relations’ unique impact. While some of these outcomes might be transaction-oriented (sales, membership, donations, enrollment, etc.), there are other important results of effective public relations. Examples of viable and quantifiable public relations outcomes include improved relationships, increased trust, higher levels of satisfaction and loyalty, enhanced reputation and meeting expectations for social responsibilities.
5. Measuring Public Relations Messages
The Commission recognizes that achieving outcomes requires communicating effectively with key audiences. Therefore, it is necessary to measure the quantity and quality of public relations output in order to demonstrate a contribution to outcomes. Whenever possible, it is best to isolate the message generated by public relations and control for other variables in order to more accurately measure the likelihood of direct impact on the target audience.
Measuring media coverage is a valuable way of evaluating media-focused public relations and the delivery of intended and unintended messages. However, AVE does not evaluate the quality of media messages and their probable impact on outcomes. Any measure of media coverage should also include variables such as tone, prominence, placement, appearance of key messages, the portion of story that applies to the organization or its key messages, and the credibility and targeted reach of the medium in which the message appears. It is also better to compare data to previous performance, expected outcomes, or competitors. Without these comparative contexts, the numbers are not as meaningful.
These best practices for measuring quality of media output are not intended to supersede the importance of measuring outcomes, nor do we suggest that the primary purpose of public relations is to generate media coverage. Rather, these recommended practices propose to improve the way that media coverage is measured and evaluated when it is an essential part of the process.
For those of you steeped in outcome measurement, marketing mix modeling, social media measurement or other more advanced forms of measuring PR, you may be scratching your head as to why I think this is such a big deal.
But here's the reality. For thousands of PR practitioners world wide, counting clips is measurement and AVE is considered an improvement. Many of us on IIPR Measurement Commission have been railing against AVEs for more than a decade, and we've felt like most of our words are falling on deaf ears.
With last summer's Barcelona Principles, PRSA's Business Case for PR and now this definitive statement from the IPR Measurement Commission, we now have build a consensus that makes it very hard for a PR professional to argue that AVE is a valid model. I'm hoping that these agreements will provide the ammunitiion that our clients need to take to their bosses and say: see, this really isn't valid, we need to measure the actual business impact of what we do. Well, I can dream can't I?