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Meltwater White Paper Promoting AVEs for PR Measurement Unleashes Barrage of Criticism

Advertising value equivalencies (AVEs) simply refuse to die, no matter how hard the public relations industry tries to exterminate the metric as a valid measurement.

A recent Meltwater white paper, written by Robert Wynne, a PR commentator and Forbes contributor, recommended AVEs as a PR metric and prompted a backlash in the PR community. AVEs measure the value of PR by comparing earned media mentions to advertisements of similar size. Wynne argues that AVEs are accurate and convenient since advertising costs are well known.

Associations Condemn White Paper

The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) and the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) issued a joint statement condemning the support the white gives to AVEs as “surrender of the worse kind.”

“We are astonished that any credible measurement and evaluation professional would make the case for AVEs,” stated Francis Ingham MPRCA, PRCA director general and ICCO chief executive. “AVEs measure absolutely nothing other than the vanity of those reporting them. I had hoped that the evaluation community had condemned them to the rubbish bin of history years ago.

“To say that clients are used to them is to miss the point utterly. Some clients are indeed – but more enlightened ones know how meaningless they are, and have embraced the proper analysis of outcomes instead. Yes, there is further work to be done here, but accepting a broken system simply because some people are used to it is surrender of the worst kind.”

The Barcelona Principles, the industry standards for PR measurement, explicitly state that AVEs are inappropriate PR metrics. Glean.info has endorsed the Barcelona Principles.

Criticism of the white paper from PR professionals was widespread.

One of the Stupid Metrics

AVEs are one of the “stupid metrics” and one of the reasons why PR lacks respect among high-level executives, according to Katie Paine, CEO of Paine Publishing LLC. “The standard reason for using AVE is something like ‘clients demand it, or ‘it’s easy for clients to digest.’ To which the smart alec in me invariably responds: ‘If clients demanded heroin would you provide that as well?’”

Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich, called AVEs irresponsible on her Spin Sucks blog. “It’s irresponsible to our clients (internal or external), it’s irresponsible to our industry, and it’s irresponsible to your career,” she wrote on her Spin Sucks blog. “Before we had the Internet and access to immediate data, AVEs were one of the only ways we could show validity in our work. But even then they were flawed.”

Substantial Disadvantages

AVEs have many substantial shortcomings, say PR measurement experts.

First, no credible study has ever equated the value of advertising with the value of earned media.  Assigning a multiple of advertising cost to earned media content has no plausible rationale. PR practitioners have proposed multipliers ranging from 2.5 to 15. None are remotely defensible, according to the recognized PR measurement experts. The wide range of multipliers would cause widely disparate measurement results.

Measurement of advertising value equivalents in no way account for the true value/consequences of the earned media content. Editorial content in earned media is not always positive; it may in fact be negative, thereby diminishing corporate or brand reputation. In addition, earned content seldom delivers all the marketing messages, and may include mentions about competing products, Paine explains, reducing the value of the media mention. On the other side, a positive brand mention by a well-known columnist in a highly regarded publication may have far more value than the cost of an equivalent amount of advertising space.

Space itself is a misleading metric. There are cases in which an enthusiastic one-line endorsement by a well-known influencer – think Walter Mossberg or Oprah Winfrey — can be far more valuable than a full-page advertising spread.

Reach and circulation are not enough to determine the quality of media coverage or readership targeting. Just because more people see an article doesn’t necessarily make it more valuable. The value is in the content and the audience match, not in the space it takes up.

AVEs don’t report business outcomes, such as increased website or store visits, downloads of the company’s content, blog subscriptions, or sales. That’s where PR measurement aligns with corporate goals.

Finally, AVEs certainly can’t measure the value of keeping a client out of the media spotlight, in which case a lower AVE would actually be beneficial.

Organizations that want valid PR measurement for news and social media mentions do not use AVEs as a metric. Organizations that do use AVEs as a PR metric for earned media have meaningless measurement results.

Bottom Line: A white paper recommending advertising value equivalencies for PR measurement has drawn multiple condemnations from PR associations and professionals. AVEs were long ago discredited as a viable PR metric, they stress.