The Biggest Hoax in Public Relations

Posted by: Norman Clements

Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE)  – an explanation of a confused measure.

ad-value-eqPR practitioners who place a value on their work by providing AVE figures to their clients or bosses are not only fooling themselves, but are using false and confusing data to justify their efficacy.  That the PR industry relies on a metric that belongs to another discipline discredits an industry that strives to be taken seriously. It is like using rugby rules and scores to determine the outcome of soccer matches.

This is not an observation from afar, but a reality that I have dishonestly promoted in the past… and still one which most public enlightened public relations practitioners admit is nothing short of a sham. Of the ten or so media monitoring RFP’s I have perused recently – all asked for AVE’s. Invariably the excuse for using AVE’s is … “we provide AVE’s because our clients or bosses are accustomed to this metric. It is convenient because it’s difficult and expensive to otherwise prove the value of what we do.” Some practitioners will even admit that it is easy to manipulate and inflate AVE figures because the methodology is so mystical.  

Before I justify such controversial statements I need to explain: Advertising Value Equivalencies (AVEs) or Estimated Advertising Value (EAVs) are an attempt to prove ROI (return on investment), by placing a monetary value based on advertising costs to editorial coverage. Here a value is calculated based on the size of a news item and the what it would cost to place an advert of the same size, in the same position, in the same publication.

How exactly that concept works in practice varies enormously between different monitoring and evaluation providers and different PR agencies. The variances occur for the following reasons.

  • Advertising rate card data supplied by the publication is used. Advertising rates are determined by the publication depending on their circulation and efficacy in reaching target markets.  The hidden implication is that it costs more to reach niched, educated, and wealthy LSMs
  • Up-to-date data is costly and expensive to keep accurate across some 2000 media titles in South Africa alone.
  • At any one time, despite operational variables, data would be different from vendor to vendor depending on their frequency of update informed by costs and infrastructure.
  • Not all vendors update data regularly or at the same point in time.
  • Some vendors and PR practitioners apply multipliers to further inflate AVEs based on the theory that different publications should be ranked in importance to the client and multiplied accordingly.
  • Results vary depending on whether automated methods are used to arrive at AVEs or whether it is a manual process using a ruler and calculator.
  • Automation is cheap, counts words and applies space calculations and is only as accurate as its algorithm and rate card data. Each vendor makes up their own system.
  • Manual measurement with ruler and calculator of the client mention and not the entire article may be more accurate, but also relies on up-to-date advertising rate card data. However this is rarely used as it takes forever to do and is super expensive.
  • An undue emphasis is placed in finding every clip – no matter how small, insignificant and void of qualitative content. Its all about quantity not quality.

These variables account for the differences in data from vendors but this does not address why AVE as a measure of performance, is widely discredited. Although the process is automated it is still costly because those reliant on AVEs must find every clip that has been published – and then a value put to it.

This premise makes for a flawed proposition as no monitoring company can find every mention. Clients therefore pay extra for finding and processing passing and insignificant mentions which do nothing but muddy the waters for advanced analysis. This is a great business model. Automate and promote AVE’s to ‘satisfy’ a gullible market and then charge extra for finding, processing and reporting useless information. More of this in my next post.

Consider the following:

  • To provide such data on time and on budget an automated process is used which is largely accepted on trust as it is NOT a transparent process.
  • AVEs that are automated generally do not consider tone of the article. Stories which are either negative, balanced or positive get equal value.
  • Automated AVEs consider length of article and not length of client mention within the article – resulting in highly inflated values.
  • AVEs do not recognise qualitative aspects and resulting impact of articles
  • AVEs do not consider the favourability, positioning, dominance, exclusivity, mention length, quality, and impact of an article.
  • AVEs use a value from a completely different marketing discipline (advertising) to justify its own value which in and of itself negates the value of PR.
  • Whereas the Advertising industry has available established universally applied and audited criteria i.e. ABC circulations, the public relations industry using AVEs relies on un-audited information.

There is a better way used by enlightened PR agencies and organisations worldwide: look out for my next post.

About the writer:

Norman Clements has been involved in the media industry for over thirty years, having served as a journalist, editor, publisher, public relations executive in South Africa and latterly pioneered advanced techniques for media relations and intelligence in South Africa, UK and the USA.

Clements recently returned to South Africa from Chicago USA after serving for seven years as senior vice president of global analysis for Cision – the world’s leading media intelligence company. He was responsible for project managing complex international assignments, project co-ordination, presentations of results and C suite consultation for international companies like; McDonalds, Procter @ Gamble, Kodak, Starwood Hotels, Oracle, Amgen, Trend Micro, Motorola, Boeing, Gates Foundation and United Nations World Food Programme.

He has been published extensively on the topic of media intelligence and online communications and has presented keynote papers and participated as a speaker at industry conferences in London, Brussels, Rotterdam, Toronto, New York, Chicago and New Orleans. He also served for three years (2002 -2005) as a board member of AMEC (International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) headquartered in the UK.