The majority of good PR practitioners recognize how weak AVEs (advertising value equivalencies) are as a form of measurement. Unfortunately, they’ve been used for so long by so many agencies and companies that they are considered a standard. Bosses still ask for them and clients still ask for them—and PR pros are left with the unenviable task of either complying and providing them, knowing they aren’t considered an acceptable measurement standard, or trying to come up with some alternative that sheds some light on what the value of PR efforts are worth.
One of the main reasons AVEs took such quick hold is that it’s a relatively simple calculation: step one, determine how many column inches a story covers; step two, find out what the advertising rate is for that page and column inch block is, and there you have it, a dollar value for that chunk of space. Easy…but flawed.
The problems are:
- Advertising rates are anything but standard. Not only do they vary from one publication to the next, they are also highly negotiable. There is no “standard advertising rate” and rates also vary from print to online.
- An advertisement is not the same thing as a news article.
- News articles cover a story, and even if the story is covered in more than one article over a period of time, the content of the article changes. Advertising, on the other hand, is designed to repeat in its same form, over and over, for a set campaign period.
- News articles are written by an objective journalist; advertising is written and paid for by the company itself.
- Advertising (unless you really mess it up) is positive; news coverage can be positive, negative, or neutral.
In an effort to address the very real problem outlined in point 2(b), PR practitioners took to using a “multiplier” that attempts to quantify the level to which media coverage that is earned is more valuable than advertising space that is paid for. When a multiplier is applied to an AVE, it’s sometimes called a “PR Value.” This is still a pretty squishy way to measure because the underlying principle is flawed.
What AVEs/PR Values are trying to do is quantify the impact of news coverage, and there are other ways to crack that nut.
Impressions: While some will argue (vociferously) that impressions are almost as sketchy as AVEs, I’d argue that they are a (tiny) bit more useful. The number of people who will see a client mention on a local paper’s website is going to be different than the number of people who see that mention if it’s in the New York Times. If increasing awareness is a business objective for your measurement, impressions are a valid choice.
Share of voice + tone: Share of voice looks at your coverage versus competitors as a part of total coverage. Layering tone on top of that matters—BP had a dominant share of voice of oil industry coverage during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but I don’t think they would consider that PR an objective they were working towards securing.
Message Identification: Identifying and scoring the presence of key messages within a news article and determining the dominance or location of messaging is a solid way of demonstrating the value of PR. Dominance (how many key messages are included) and location (lead paragraph, middle, or end) could mean that an in-depth piece that has a high score in these areas in a smaller publication has more PR value than a passing mention in an article with no messaging points repeated in a much larger publication.
Surveys: Although these can be expensive and time-consuming, they are a very valid measure of determining how effective PR efforts are. Costs may be reduced by conducting online surveys versus phone polling.
Although these methods aren’t quite as quick as calculating AVEs, they’ll give you a better and more accurate picture of the actual impact of PR efforts and news coverage than an AVE could ever hope to. Finally, if you are looking for a dollar value of any PR effort, your measurement must be tied to a business objective that can be measured in dollars, like sales.