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When I first started working in the PR & Communications industry, people would talk about the 'thud factor': the sound that a clippings book makes when it hits a client's desk. The more coverage they got, the thicker the book, the louder the thud. This would be followed by the inevitable question: 'What's our AVE Value?'
Twenty years later, and our measurement methods have got far more sophisticated. We measure everything from sentiment to share of voice to message penetration. But one thing hasn’t gone away: whether you like it or not, AVE (Advertising Value Equivalency) remains a popular way of showing how much value you got from your media efforts. Unless a client specifically asks for it to be taken out, it’s included in practically every report we send out. In fact, many clients insist on it.
The debate around AVE has raged for years, and trust me, it will rage for some time to come. The biggest argument against AVE is that PR isn’t advertising, and should not be compared with it. And no, it’s not a sophisticated or insightful means of measurement. But while AVE should never be used as the sole measurement of PR outcomes, it’s certainly useful as one of many metrics – and here’s why.
It’s easy to understand
The main attraction of AVE is that it helps you explain the value of PR to people who’re not familiar with marketing and media. Finance people don’t understand prominence, frequency and impressions. They get AVE. In tough economic times, it’s critical that you’re able to provide a clear return on investment (ROI) to the business.
It makes the PR function look good
Telling a board of directors, or a company MD, that you’ve secured coverage worth millions of rands doesn’t just make the PR agency look good. It makes the client look good. It makes the entire industry look good, for that matter. And once PR has earned the seat at the table, then it’s easier to start educating the business about the broader value of PR.
It gives the business certainty
It’s traditionally been risky for a PR agency to guarantee coverage in any media. But what they can do is set monthly, quarterly and annual AVE targets, which give the client certainty that their investment will pay off.
Fact is, most agencies and businesses today use a combination of measurements as they try to analyse the depth, resonance, importance and influence of the conversations they’re part of. There’s no one-size-fits-all model. It all depends on the objectives of the business or the campaign.
If your goal is awareness, for example, you’ll be looking at metrics like target audience impressions, reach, volume, share of voice, frequency and prominence. For engagement, you’ll be focusing more on key message penetration, social network followers, retweets, owned engagement and even event attendance. And so on.
In today’s economic climate, few clients are prepared to pay for extensive surveys before and after a campaign to see whether real perception shifts have taken place. For now, it seems AVE will be around for a while yet.
About the author
Joe Hamman, founder and director of the Novus Group
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AVE's do not show business value. they show an estimate of what someone migh thave had to pay if they wanted to be in that publication, but I have yet find a client that would be willing to write a check for that amount. Secondly huge AVE numbers do NOT necessarily make the PR function look good. I’m sure Bell Pottinger’s AVEs were sky high right before they shuttered the business. AVEs do not promise certainty because media is by its nature unpredictable. If your goal is just awareness, just have your CEO get caught doing something illegal and your AVE values will skyrocket, but I doubt if anyone will write a check for that "value." PR does need to show value, but value in business generally implies something that helps the bottom line, and all AVE show is that you didn't have to pay for something you weren't willing to pay for in the first place. PR's value is very measurable, whether the goal is increasing awareness of what you do and what you stand for, increased belief in your messages, improved positioning relative to your competition, increased trust and credibility, lower recruitment or legal costs, increased customer preference and consideration or increased support or stock price. Those are the goals of most of the professional communicators I work for and none of those goals can be measured with AVEs. They are measured by goal conversions, changes in perceptions, increased stock price or likelihood to recommend. Most clients are willing to spend a few thousand dollars to figure out whether the millions they are spending is working.