For many years, some public relations professionals (and their bosses) have been enamored with measuring success through the use of Ad Value Equivalency (AVE). In a desperate attempt to quantify the ROI of communications programs, these well-intentioned individuals attempt to compare earned media coverage with paid media placements.
Countless thoughtful people have spent many years explaining why AVE as a measurement construct is at best highly flawed and at worst actually damaging to the public relations profession. Nevertheless, it is a topic that comes up frequently. In today’s world where computers automate so many things and spit large volumes of numbers out at people, AVE has a certain appeal.
The topic of AVE came up in this week’s #solopr chat on Twitter, so I thought it appropriate to revisit the issue here because too often the discussion is about why the AVE methodology does not work. But that’s not the most important part of the story.
The fundamental premise of AVE is flawed. It assumes that advertising spending in itself is a victory. The C-suite would not judge the marketing department to be successful because it spent a lot of money on advertising. To measure the public relations folks on the equivalent metric (literally), makes no more sense.
It has been famously said, “I know 10% of my advertising works, I just don’t know which 10%.” It is repeated so often because there is an element of truth to it. Measuring the impact of specific messages is hard. And that’s the rub. Even if we were to accept the AVE methodology to be an accurate way of translating earned media into paid media, it fails because it doesn’t measure something useful.
Assessing the success of public relations and marketing programs are both matters of equal parts art and science. Tracking measurable outcomes provides a degree of useful quantitative data, but there’s still part of the analysis that relies more on gut feel. Or as Justice Potter Stewart might have said, “I know good PR when I see it.”
The next time your CEO or client asks you to do an AVE analysis of your work, ask her if she would judge the marketing team based on how much money they spent on advertising – or instead on what those ads accomplished.