It’s Time to Replace AVEs with a Credible and Robust Alternative

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There were two big issues in media evaluation in 1993, which was when I founded Metrica, the company that now forms the global media analysis, media evaluation and PR planning consultancy of the Gorkana group.  The first was the use of advertising value equivalents (AVEs) and the second was a call from the PR industry for a standard metric for measurement, which has subsequently become known as ‘the magic bullet’.  That was 25 years ago.

As I write, hundreds of people from all over the world have gathered in Barcelona for the AMEC summit.  25 years ago things were very different.  As a founding fellow and very early member of AMEC I would join four or five other members for a sandwich lunch at a basement in London, where one of Metrica’s competitors had an office.

When I later became chairman we started the AMEC awards, the AMEC College and tentatively spread our wings to welcome international members.  One of my first hires at Metrica, Richard Bagnall, is now the AMEC chairman and a very dear old friend and colleague, Barry Leggetter, is the CEO.  They’ve done a fantastic job, with help from others along the way, at taking AMEC from where we were all those years ago to where AMEC is now, in Barcelona.

So here is my dilemma.  Much as I love AMEC and, especially, its people, I have a problem with it.  The problem is that I simply cannot reconcile AMEC’s position on AVEs or the standard metric for PR measurement, ‘the magic bullet’.  Regarding AVEs, 25 years on from AMEC’s earliest days, which have seen it grow from an acorn into an oak tree, still it allows members to provide something it accepts is deeply flawed.  This cannot be right.

The counter argument is that the use of AVEs is declining.  Well, yes and no.  First, it depends on which piece of research you look at; and, second, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard that AVEs are declining over the past 25 years.   According to the PR and Communications Census 2018, around one in eight (12%) PR practitioners still use AVEs, down from 16% in 2016.  That remains a remarkably high number given there can be few people, if any left in the PR industry who do not understand that AVEs are deeply flawed.  This begs the question of how many people are even prepared to admit they use AVEs given the pariah status they now hold.

That brings me on to the second issue, ‘the magic bullet’ of PR measurement.  A few years ago my colleague, Karen Williams, and I at Crescendo asked ourselves a simple question.  Given that AVEs are so deeply flawed why do they remain so stubbornly in use?  The answer, of course, was also simple – everyone understands what value means, right up to the finance director and CEO.

The problem is not that AVEs use a financial value but how that value is arrived at.  After all, media coverage does have financial value.  Anyone believing otherwise simply has to look at the impact of media coverage as either an asset or liability to reputation value.  Address and replace the flaws of AVEs with a credible and robust financial value metric and the PR industry would have what it’s been craving for the past 25 years; and so the PR search value, or PRSV, was born.

The PRSV is remarkably simple and makes use of Google search, which is by far the most powerful platform for consumer and business decision-making across the world, in any language.  A good analogy would be the property market.  Just as a property’s value is determined by what people are prepared to pay for a good position within a location, so the open market value of a search result depends on its position within the search results page.  PRSV works by combining this open market value, determined by where it appears in search results, with the likelihood it will engage audiences by being opened and read.

While AVEs use an equivalent value based on extraneous criteria, which themselves are wide open to interpretation, PRSV provides a clear and specific value based on the effectiveness of media coverage in its own right.  PRSV can also be used for any PR activity with an assigned URL, not just media coverage, as well as with social.  In fact the PRSV meets all the requirements of AMEC’s very own Barcelona principles.  Furthermore, the strong relationship between PRSV and search, which is used in up to 90% of consumer and business decisions, means PRSV is strongly aligned with business impact and consumer behaviour.

Does PRSV work?  Yes, it works very well.  During the 12 months since launch, the take-up now means we now have sufficient data to be able to release standard PRSV values.  The PR industry can use the PRSV values and engaged audience data entirely free of charge as a credible and robust alternative to AVEs.

In addition, standard PRSV values and engaged audience data are being published under the Creative Commons ShareAlike 4.0 International open source initiative.  This enables anyone to use and work with PRSV values and engaged audience data providing they do so under the same open source initiative.  This enables the whole PR industry to benefit from them, including media evaluation companies.

PRSV offers the PR industry numerous benefits.  First, a key component is the ‘engaged audience’, which as the name implies estimates the number of people who have engaged with media coverage.  This is a very powerful metric in its own right, which can be used to determine the business impact of PR by testing correlation with search data.

PR programmes that deliver true business results will see remarkable correlations with search, which is involved in the decision-making process across key stages of the consumer journey, including purchase.  This is the case for all audiences, B2B as well as consumer.  The greater the value of PRSV the more likely it is that business benefits will increase.

Second, PRSV enables PR activity to be compared with search engine optimisation (SEO).  This is especially important as SEO continues to push the PR industry, not least because media coverage now plays such a key role in top search results.

Third, PRSV offers a credible and robust alternative to AVEs.  A financial value of PR activity the industry craves without the flaws of AVEs.  This matters enormously for the future of PR as it has to fight for every pound, dollar or euro spent on marketing.  We are planning to open discussions with industry accounting bodies regarding the possibility of PRSV being used to measure intangible assets and liabilities on balance sheets; and we also believe this will become standard practice in company valuations as part of merger and acquisitions in years to come.

In summary, AVEs will never die unless replaced by a credible and robust alternative.  That alternative is already here, with users ranging from small businesses to global companies.  It’s called PRSV and you can find out more about it here.


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