The PR world is constantly evolving. New methods and technologies allow us to generate in-depth insights about the quality of coverage. By analysing sentiment, audience and messaging for instance, we can now report on how well a company’s message is perceived by its target groups. That’s powerful information for any PR or marketing professional. Surprisingly however, Advertising Value Equivalences – or AVEs – are still very persistent in PR. But the metric is as out-dated as it is useless. Here’s why.

At VCA, we’re true fans of the Barcelona Principles, endorsed by AMEC. The 5th Principle states our point of view very clearly: “AVEs do not measure the value of communications”. But AVE is still a popular thing in the world of PR. That makes no sense at all.

It’s too easy

Measuring AVEs is simple: you value editorial coverage by multiplying its surface with the respected advertising rates or the cost of advertising. But what does an AVE of 10 million euros mean? Not much. You could just as well measure the square meters of the coverage to get exactly the same amount of insights: none.

Of course, some PR measurement agencies go further. They determine the AVEs via an algorithm that also considers the number of readers, the unique visitors, the circulation figures or the visibility of the business in the editorial coverage. More correct, sure, but still a purely quantitative metric, and in my opinion a bad measure for the total PR value.

It’s just a number

Saying your company has an AVE of 10 million euros might look very impressive. You might assume that it generates a fantastic PR value. And your PR department might get an approving nod from your management. But what if the coverage is primarily negative? And what if you didn’t want to reach any attention at all with a particular topic?

Also, the advertising rates are rarely the price advertisers really pay. On the contrary: rates are always being negotiated, and advertisers generally get a discount of at least 30%. However, the AVE only takes into account the ‘official’ rates. Meaning there’s an extra biased interpretation.

It’s not advertising

Editorial content is fundamentally different from paid content. That’s because advertisements are paid for, and always have a positive overtone. However, editorial coverage could be positive, but also neutral – or very destructive. And that’s exactly our point: a high AVE says nothing about how it supports your brand, and your business.

It says nothing about your audience

Is your audience well targeted? AVEs don’t give us any clue whatsoever. An article in Het Laatste Nieuws might generate an AVE that’s 50 times higher than an article on a long-tail website that specifically reaches your target audience. That’s not rational, is it?

There’s a slightly better alternative

A few years ago, we developed the Weighed Advertising Equivalent. That considers tone, target audience, and visibility of the customer – both on an article and on a publication level. Although this equivalent was enriched by qualitative data, the advertising cost still is its core parameter. And a negative weighed AVE – when the tone is generally negative – will never be able to grasp the true impact of bad press on a company’s reputation.

But there’s only one solution

You need to analyse the impact of your PR actions on your business performances and your market. As we stated in our previous blog posts, you need to measure outcomes instead of output, and see whether you achieved the goals of your organisation.

Therefore, we suggest a mixed-methods approach – a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures. You still need to know which media are covering your brand, but you also need insights in what they are saying, and how they say it.

The main question for every evaluation of your PR activities should be “Is what you measure relevant to your goals?” So please step away from the hollowness of the AVE concept.

We’re curious

We’re working on new ‘standard’ reports that we’d like to include in our offering, like a visibility report, a credibility report and a reputation analysis. I’d love to hear your opinion about AVE, and about other ways of measuring the success of PR. So don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.