The numbers just don't add up

Posted on 10/09/2014


Over four years ago, the global PR industry united to declare the death of AVEs – advertising value equivalents of PR coverage.

But recently, they’ve been creeping back in (I now even get a coverage alert from a well-known cuttings service telling me the daily ‘value’ of coverage).

The industry needs to, once again, ensure that we stamp down on numbers that just do not add up.

Here’s why:

1. AVEs are like measuring space in the Mariana Trench

AVE is the value of space. It says that all space has value. But this is very far from the truth. You could secure space down in the depths of the ocean. It would probably cost billions to secure it too. The problem is that no-one (apart from a few spineless echinoderms) would see it, but by the argument of the principle behind AVE, you’d still have generated a number.

If you want to measure the output of the space generated, a better measure is to talk about the number of people who could have seen this message (Opportunities to See (OTS) / Impacts / etc). Still not perfect, but better than pound signs.

2. AVEs have zero digital value

You can never create a value for positive tweets or LinkedIn posts (which do generate OTS) and you also can’t count for engagement in an article or a Facebook comment thread. And how AVE is valued for online media (i.e. compared to a banner or pop up) is fundamentally flawed. Digital advertising values are based on eyeballs – so cost per thousand impressions served – if you have an article on the Daily Mail home page, you would be reaching so many millions of people, the AVE becomes so huge that it becomes meaningless.

3. Editorial is not the same as advertising

The Institute of Public Relations enquiry concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that advertising and editorial space hold equivalent value. It takes no account of credibility differences between editorial and advertising – but don’t even start trying to create a “PR multiplier.” And AVE also takes no account of the quality of coverage. You should be looking for weblinks, tonality, key message delivery or spokesperson involvement in a piece. Unfavourable PR coverage typically does not discount AVE, nor does neutral coverage get rated as zero AVE.

So instead, the PR industry must focus on how it reports on real measurables and evaluates based on the outcomes of communications activity.

From a communications perspective, this could be seen as falling into three main areas: The level and quality of content created, the change that consumption of this content creates and the conversion of audiences to meet a business / organisational objective.

Proving an impact against these numbers really does add up to an effective PR campaign.

Posted in: Change, Strategy