By Priya Ramesh (@newpr)
Last year at the PRSA International Conference in Orlando, I loudly voiced my rant against AVEs during Shonali Burke’s session on “A Field Guide to Measuring the Business of PR.” Katie Paine, PR industry’s reputable measurement guru who has been tirelessly fighting against the AVEs, also was present in the room. If you haven’t been following Katie’s efforts to change the PR industry’s perception of AVEs, read her blog here. I wish we started a signature campaign to “STOP AVEs” right then, but it’s not too late. Several people in the room came up to me and agreed that we, as PR pros, should take a stand against AVEs and translate our stand into real action. So I want to ask my fellow PR strategists, HOW MANY OF YOU ARE GOING TO ACTUALLY KILL AVEs ONCE AND FOR ALL?
Just to refresh our memories, here’s a definition of AVE from the Institute of Public Relations Commission on PR Measurement and Evaluation:
“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.” You should be cringing right now if you still use AVEs to show off your PR efforts. I have been in PR for the past nine plus years, and thanks to my foundation in technology and B2B, I could never get away with showing millions of impressions to my CEO as a measure of our PR activities. I relied on new customer acquisitions, increase in positive references from existing customers, new leads generated via corporate blog and websites as standards of measurement versus spending ungodly amount of time calculating AVEs from media placements. We did media relations to boost awareness and that’s it.
The main reason we keep churning out metrics reports month after month with crazy numbers that have absolutely no value or impact on key business goals, is because our clients ask for it. When are we going to start counseling our clients to revisit how they measure PR and social media efforts and move beyond AVEs? The more we spruce up our metrics reports with the fancy AVE numbers that mean nothing to a brand’s success, the less we are taken seriously by the C-Suite. The Institute of Public Relations presents a good case for why AVEs are misleading and rightly summarizes the conceptual problem of AVEs:
“Calculating AVEs is not a problem in itself—its problems stem from what it is called and how it is used. Calling it an “advertising equivalency” strongly suggests that a news story of a particular size has equal impact to an advertisement of the same size in that publication. At this time, the Commission knows of no factual basis for this assumption. That is, there has been no research to confirm whether this is true.”
So you ask how should I measure media relations activities without AVEs?
The next time you get ready to pitch the New York Times or Mashable, make sure you think beyond the millions of eye balls a.k.a. impressions and ask yourself the following questions:
- How does that help increase traffic to your website or blog?
- How many people expressed an interest in your company after reading that story?
- What was the bottom line impact of that news story on your company’s reputation? Did it generate positive mentions online?
- Did you see an increase in sales following that story?
- Did your existing customers increase their business with you following the positive news coverage?
If you answered “no” to all of the above questions, maybe you should revisit your PR strategy. Media relations is NOT a viable tactic for all brands, rather focus your efforts on CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT. No media coverage is bigger and more valuable than a customer openly stating how happy he/she is after using your product. In my experience, I have seen increase in sales (more so) when PR efforts were more “customer-centric” than “media-centric.”
The #1 complaint against the PR industry is that our efforts don’t amount to bottom line results. Well, if we continue to tread down the dubious path of AVEs, we will only be distancing ourselves from being included at the boardroom level. Start questioning yourself and whomever it is that asks to see AVEs more than executing on campaigns that positively affect business goals.
If you feel strongly against the use of AVEs, express your opinion by leaving a comment here. Who knows, your support might help the PR profession to be taken more seriously than it is now.
Read more on why AVEs are defacing the PR measurement standards:
The Institute for Public Relations : http://www.instituteforpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2003_AVE1.pdf
Shonali Burke, noted PR industry thought leader and highly regarded for her principles on Metrics & Measurement: http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/PR_industry_must_consign_AVE_to_the_graveyard_7825.aspx
Chuck Hemann, VP of Digital Analytics, Edelman: http://chuckhemann.com/aves-are-a-scourge-on-public-relations-can-i
None other than Katie Paine herself on her blog The Measurement Standard: http://kdpaine.blogs.com/themeasurementstandard/aves/