PR Measurement: to AVE or Not to AVE?

To AVE or not to AVE? I know some PR pros for whom it might be some kind of an existential dilemma. They really enjoy creating all those Excel charts at the end of the month to show their clients that the work they do matters and saves money. They treat it like a proof. In black and white. If you ask them why not make a real effort, I mean, go the extra mile and measure the effectiveness of PR to learn what really does or does not work, they say it’s what the client wants and shield themselves with the need for educating the market. But do they actually educate? No, above all, they prefer easy money and to keep the status quo. Or, they simply don’t know what other KPIs to set. This is where it all falls apart, of course.

So, to AVE or not to AVE?

It seems like The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has finally decided.

It has welcomed lately the Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication’s (AMEC) commitment to eradicate the use of Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) and announced plans for a ban on the use of AVEs by CIPR members. Why? Because, as Jason MacKenzie (CIPR President) wrote, “AVEs are unprofessional.” Or, like Kevin Taylor (Chair of the Professional Practices Committee, FCIPR) said, “anyone attempting to use them today is fooling themselves, fooling their clients, and failing the profession.” Well, better late than never.

In fact, it’s not a 2017 thing that measurement became the “Holy Grail” of PR. It started a long time ago. In an informative lecture on the history of PR measurement, Tom Watson stated that the search for methods to measure and demonstrate the value of public relations became the subject of intensive focus only after the 1970s. Here, in this great article written for PR Week by Amit Jain, you can find the most commonly used models of PR measurement and read about the barriers that are causing a deadlock in the evaluation of PR.

Here only few of these models:

The Jim Macnamara model of measurement and evaluation
The Valid Metrics Framework, AMEC
How social media campaign can be measured. Source: ChatThreads
The Metrica dashboard, source: PRWeek

Oh, and here is another article, about the PESO model by Sabine Raabe. Plus this one, with 30 public relations metrics from Stephen Waddington (a must-read). What I mean here is that the list of documents and websites on this topic is really long. All you have to do is make an effort. Don’t wait for the next debate. What CIPR did is just a minimum standard that everyone can agree with. In modern, professional PR there is no place for AVE.

If you can’t even remember when you stopped using AVE, you are saved. So are your clients. What is more, as Jim Weiss, CEO of W2O Group said, “Armed with powerful information and technology in the age of big data, that value (of PR) can go even higher.”

Below, I’m sharing with you some more comments from experts I spoke on this matter:

Amy Grimshaw, Head of PR & Communications at “What’s wrong with the PR industry?”

Micky Mouse measurement metrics like AVE and OTS (opportunity to see) have long been what’s wrong with the PR industry; a lack of innovation which ultimately makes it seem like clients are being taken for a ride. Attribution will forever be the curse of the top of funnel activity like PR, but linking to business objectives is a good start. When we launched Founders Factory, we needed to explain a tricky business model and attract talent to our team, so we were very strategic in the publications we talked to and carefully watched organic web traffic and job applications. It’s a real buzz when new hires would quote an article they saw within their interview.

For a more quantitative approach, in-house at MADE.COM (Europe’s no.1 online homeware destination), we took measurement into our own hands, creating our own scoring scale based on key messages, relevance of the publication and inclusion of call to actions. This requires some set-up time and internal roll-out but gives you the insights to optimize your media relations based on fact, not gut feeling.

Aly Saxe, CEO & Founder at “We should continue to take a hard stance on AVEs”

PR and marketing organizations should continue to take a hard stance on AVEs. It’s going to take a massive effort by the entire industry—practitioners, professional orgs, and education—to root this BS metric out of PR once and for all.

Steve Falla, FCIPR Chart.PR, Managing Director, Orchard PR: “AVEs simply don’t measure effectiveness”

Steve Falla PR Founder Orchard PR, CIPR Chartered Practitioner and PDMC member

  • The assessment of CIPR’s initiative

It’s welcome and long overdue. At Orchard, we wholeheartedly support it as we abandoned AVEs a very long time ago. The promise of resources to support best practice measurement methods and the transition period of one year make sense because it won’t leave organizations and public relations practitioners high and dry.

There are still some clients and board directors who instinctively look towards AVEs as, on the face of it, they are easy to understand. It is helpful that the CIPR is taking this stance, as now when we are talking to new clients, contacts, and prospects, it strengthens our case and endorses our commitment to upholding best practice.

  • AVEs and their actual value in measuring the effectiveness of public relations efforts

AVEs simply don’t measure effectiveness at all as there’s no qualitative element to them. PR, more than other marketing disciplines, is about effectiveness, not just reach. We would rather reach 100 people and influence their behavior than 100 million and have no impact at all. What is the PR objective? Yes, outputs should be considered, but not in terms of what they would have cost an advertiser. More insightful ways of looking at outputs would be to demonstrate real value: Is the coverage in the right medium? Does it contain the key messages? Is the right person quoted? What is the overall sentiment of the piece? All of these can give you a sense that your communications should be working.

  • Which method for evaluating the effects of PR efforts is, in your opinion, the most reliable and efficient, and what the final assessment of these measures should be based on?

There’s unlikely to be one catch-all method, but some approaches might include surveys, market research, interviews with stakeholders to benchmark sentiment and behavior and then repeating those to determine the impact of the campaign.  This can demonstrate what change has been effected by the activity. With digital coverage, there are countless analytical tools that can be employed, such as Google Trends and Twitter Analytics that can give insights into public behavior, and by extension, changes in that behavior brought about by communications campaigns.

  • How is the effectiveness of content and influencer marketing efforts currently measured in public relations?

We need to work on making media coverage evaluation closer to the measurables that can be applied to social media activity—the number of impressions, how many visitors looked at the coverage, for how long, did they indicate that they liked the content, how deep was the engagement, did people click through and comment? Then those to whom we report will have a clearer picture of whether their message is getting through.

How are you measuring PR?