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July 08, 2010



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Katie Delahaye Paine

Duncan, I have to respectfully disagree. It is NOT a legitimate measure because there is no evidence anywhere that supports the basic premise that 10 column inches of editorial has the same impact as 10 column inches of advertising. Never mind that value means someone is willing to pay for it, and I've seen far too many AVE calculations on stories that I'm certain no one would have been willing to pay for. And don't get me going on AVE as a measure of influence. Influence is specific to the market, the context and your specific customers. I had a client who's boss used AVEs to measure her performance so she got tons of coverage on the mornign shows, in the Wall Street Journal and Fortune. Problem was that the target audience was teen age boys. Lots of AVEs, and zero impact on the customers or on sales.
The other issue is that AVEs lead to very misleading conclusions. I had a client who saw his AVE values go up steadily each month so he thought all was well. Turns out the competition was eating his lunch, and most of the AVEs were based on lawsuit coverage that was esentially neutral, but sending customers fleeing to other companies. Need I go on?

Duncan Hopwood

I agree that AVE is simplistic, potentially misleading and shouldn't be used on its own but I really don't see that it deserves more vitriol poured onto it than several other measures I can think of. Positive coverage in apposite media will raise the profile of an organisation or brand, and that is generally the perfectly reasonable start point for entry level PR clients. Once you have assessed the quantity and nature of the coverage, AVE is a measure of influence since more influential journals command higher advertising rates. Is AVE misused by unscrupulous agencies? Probably, but that is not AVE's fault.

Mark Weiner

Ironically, Mark Westaby reinforces THE key point promulgated by AVE advocates, although as a serious PR research maven, I'm sure his AVE-promoting comment is unintentional. In an earlier post, below, Westaby notes "The reason AVEs correlate with sales is because they're effectively acting as a proxy for other data."

So if ad values are a more popular, more accessible and less expensive proxy for less popular, less accessible and more expensive alternatives, wouldn't their use provide someone with limited resources the opportunity to be approximately right (rather than totally in the dark)?

Again, I am not an AVE advocate: I believe there are better measures for evaluating and improving PR performance. I counsel against their use but the hysteria surrounding the debate is, well, hysterical.


Is this the middle age? No monitoring firm should be publicly blamed for delivering AVEs. AVE is just one product offering amongst many. It is the customer who decides whether a product can be of use or not. And it should be the result of the ongoing competition in this market to finally wipe out (or not) the AVE. That's how I understand free market economy. And the Barcelona-principles can help to get the right direction. But: pig, kill, cancer, invade, reject, refuse, boycott - what kind of PR-language is this?


Mark Weiner's point about AVEs correlating with sales just highlights how poor the statitical understanding is within our industry. The reason AVEs correlate with sales is because they're effectively acting as a proxy for other data. If done properly with this data in the first place the correlations would almost certainly be much better.

This does, however, highlight one of the major problems, which is that people will always come up with some excuse for using AVEs 'because clients want them'. Offer clients something better and that disappears. I fear for this industry, I really do.

Mark Weiner

Let me say that I am an "AVE Moderate:" I believe there are better measures for proving PR value and for improving PR performance, but I've also seen AVEs used in serious statistical models to reliably represent the impact of PR on business outcomes. My experiences are relatively limited when compared to the exhaustively thorough and highly documented case studies very openly shared by Angela Jeffrey in which AVEs and WMCs correlate with sales.

Ironically, there seems to be much more thorough research SUPPORTING the correlation of AVEs with outcomes than the OPPOSING view.

If AVEs correlate with business outcomes and if outcomes are the definitive measure, how will anti-AVE extremists respond? Do we not have a responsibility to invite the debate for the betterment of the profession we serve?

Two opinions in closing:

- The anti-AVE position has become overly emotional. And while I can argue the "pr is not advertising" case along with and as well as anyone, claiming that AVEs or WMCs are bad without proof undermines our credibiity when there seems to be proof to the contrary. As "PR scientists," we must be open to and openly debate new approaches rather than shouting over them.

- The highly emotional position so commonly taken on this forum and elsewhere is a form of "anti-AVE terrorism" which, in my opinion, weakens the PR research and evaluation profession by making us irrelevent to 75% of PR practioners.

Instead of boycotts and damnation, we must continue to introduce new evidence, to challenge the conventional wisdom, to engage in the debate and, where appropriate, educate the profession as we share what we learn and, by doing so, elevate the science of public relations.

Mark Westaby, Spectrum

If you provide real insight clients soon recognise the difference and AVEs never enter the conversation again. Unfortunately, AMEC, on whose board I sit, can't win on this one because it has to represent members who offer AVEs while recognising their limitations. So, I hope others will have some sympathy for the minefield the organisation is having to tread at the moment.

I respect Katie enormously for taking a brave stand on this. At the same time I have to agree with others who say a boycott isn't the right way forward. The market will decide what's best and as people wake-up to the real alternatives to AVEs they will abandon them.

Last but not least, the Barcelona Principles. If nothing else they've generated debate but, and this is very much a personal view, I think we look naive as an industry coming out with this stuff now. If I was still a PR consultant I'd wonder what century the measurement and evaluation industry was in. OK, one could argue these things have to be put down on paper but the British have managed pretty well without a written constitution; and, as this has all shown, sometimes these things are better not written down!

Anyway, here's to a good, OPEN debate, which is long overdue.


Don echos my views. I don't support AVEs and have been among the foremost practitioners in Canada in encouraging and developing better methods to evaluate media content. But I don't support a boycott, either. Several of the firms listed are suppliers and I too have long-time friends with them.

As for the Barcelona Principles, I'm afraid that, to me, they read like we've decided to endorse world peace. With the exception of the AVE point, they seem to speak to client organizations ("social media should be measured" or "goal setting is important")and not to how research should actually be conducted. There are ways to evaluate empirical research based on long-standing, well-published and oft-stated ideas around sampling validity, reliability, etc. I not sure I see much here to endorse (or oppose).

Andrew Laing, President, Cormex Research

Tom O'Brien

In the end - real world results are all that matters. Did your communication campaign change something in the real world. Sales, share, awareness, consideration, advocacy, etc.

If not, then you are simply measuring activity, not value.

Tom O'Brien
MotiveQuest LLC

(We do NOT use AVE as a metric.)

Don Bartholomew

Being referenced in Katie's post has upset some people whom I like and respect. Therefore I would like to set the record straight to alleviate any possible confusion.

- I had no prior knowledge that Katie was going to write this post or of her plans to call for a boycott of firms offering AVE-like products

- When Katie asked me to send her the cartoon I had no idea it would be used in a blog post or in this context

- While I have been and remain one of the most prominent voices against the use of AVEs in PR measurement, I do not support the notion of a boycott against companies that explicitly or implicitly support their use

- My agency, Fleishman Hillard, regularly uses and has great relationships with VMS, BurrellesLuce and Cision, and I have friends at each of these organizations.

My personal view is the Barcelona Principles are a good first step that offer great promise for industry change. There are probably more constructive ways to effect change than a boycott weeks after the conference. Now is the time to think about how to operationalize the Principles within our firms and organizations, not how to use them in a scorched earth strategy towards AVEs.

Thanks, Don B @Donbart

Don Bates

I like the comments and discussion but I don't like the call for a boycott, especially since I believe that most, if not all, of the vendors mentioned offer other forms of measurement.


So how do you explain your expert witness report in Melk v. Pennsylvania Medical Society? Does this mean you have to boycott your own company?


Katie's point is absolutely the right one here and I'm afraid using the defense that AVE is well understood by the C-suite is simply not acceptable in my view. The challenge is to:

1. Demonstrate tangible evidence of outcomes (as opposed to pure outputs), and;
2. Push back against AVE and make a strong case to educate the C-suite about precisely why it's a dumbass measure.

As evidence, I present Exhibit A:

I joined a large agency many years ago and inherited the account for a very, very big and well-known global brand, right at the point where the agency was about to deliver their annual results report.

The entire account team were busy congratulating themselves on their "stellar" results for the past year as they were able to point to >40% increase in ink and AVE numbers that were off the charts.

A few minutes of deeper digging showed that three quarters of the coverage they'd "earned" (*cough cough*) was directly due to a major corporate acquisition that had been rife with controversy. The client's own sales and market share numbers clearly showed that they had suffered a significant performance drop in the same period.

As Katie so succinctly puts it: "there is no inherent value in ink". In this case, measuring the ink volume alone and pairing it with a glowing AVE score presented a case that was not only misleading it would actually have made the agency look utterly stupid to any client contact with half a brain.

We ended up using this situation as a way to convince the client that the way they'd traditionally measured their agency's performance was wrong and overturned the entire basis of their metrics. Taking insights from the real meat of the results report, we were able to build a much smarter plan for the year ahead and ended up with a set of much more meaningful results.

AVE is simplistic, wrong-headed and can be completely misleading. Just because clients understand and/or ask for it doesn't mean we should ever settle for measuring our efforts by such a flawed metric. We owe it to our clients to offer smarter counsel than that.

Diane Lennox

AVE lets marketers compare COSTS, but not effectiveness. Since the mere appearance of an ad doesn't automatically signify value (what if you paid too much to place it in the wrong media?), comparing the cost per inch of the coverage is not only invalid, it's irrelevant. An ad must deliver value beyond its pretty face as well.

Fight the good fight, Katie - greetings from Oz.


Hi, KD. I think I may have not phrased my last comment the right way. I DO know that AVE doesn't show any true value at all - trust me. :) My point was that although this is not necesarily valuable to us as PR pros, it is valuable to others (whether we like it or not) and if we have to do a little AVE every once in a while to please our clients (or management) then that's what needs to be done.


Katie, Jennifer's comment above shows what we are all up against when it comes to this measure. You know that I'm even-handed in these matters, and have written on the topic a few times.

Jennifer's comment: "tangibly show the value of public relations to those who may not know otherwise" is very revealing. The C-Suite understands marketing/advertising from MBA. If every communication activity is part of the marketing mix, the tendency is to see it all in that context.

Businesses like AVE because it puts PR in a frame that is familiar and accepted.

Five years ago, at the Summit on Measurement, there was animated discussion on the "right" way to do AVE -- actual media cost (not book rates), less actual expenses, with no multipliers and no credit for anything but positive clips.

Now there are other means of measuring, but the AVE demand is still there -- it's simple to the point of inaccuracy, and makes too many assumptions, but it's familiar and easy for non-PR folks to "get."

See ya soon.


Jennifer, you miss the point. It does NOT show any value at all. There is no valid data behind it. The value of PR should be measured by what value you have delivered to the organization. Column inches of coverage is not value. Lower cost, more messages, more recommendations, improved positioning - value. But there is no inherent value in ink (or digital bits and bites) You are essentially presenting your C-Suite with invalid and inaccurate data. No wonder they think PR is a waste of time!


I wholeheartedly agree, KD. However, although PR practitioners should know that the success or failure of a project/campaign shouldn’t be determined solely on Ad Value Equivalency, this is a way to numerically, and tangibly show the value of public relations to those who may not know otherwise. This is how I find AVE useful anyways – as a way to often prove how PR can be an asset to C-suite executives and businesses who think PR is a waste of time and money (which is clearly not true).
Thank you for your post. Very thought-provoking!

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