PR isn’t dead – but AVE is

Robert Phillips famously pronounced in 2015 that PR is dead. Whilst I’m only a fledgling PR professional (and trust that my future in PR isn’t threatened by the imminent demise of the industry), it has been apparent that there exists a long and controversial discourse about what PR is, how valuable it is and more importantly; how that value is measured.

If you’ve ever had a conversation about PR measurement, I’d hedge my bets that AVE was mentioned. AVE, or advertising value equivalent, is a monetary value attributed to PR coverage that estimates how much the piece would be worth if it was paid for – how big the piece is, its prominence and the readership figures of the publication. In real terms, a front page piece is worth more than a three-inch column towards the back.

To most people, this measurement is obsolete. In an industry where advertising rates fluctuate, are over-sold to bring money into struggling print publications and under-sold in a desperate attempt to fill pages with paid content, AVE is utterly meaningless. With the sharp rise in brand collaborations with the 21st-century phenomenon that is the social influencer, how can you possibly calculate AVE? When bloggers/digital publications dominate and a two-paragraph press release is entered into the same web template as an exclusive interview, it has very little to do with inches and page numbers.

For one, I doubt many reputable publications would place paid advertorial on their front page and for two, by essence of it being a piece of organic coverage it is worth inherently more. It’s a sad but true fact that a lot of publications will publish just about anything if the word ‘advertisement’ disclaims their responsibility for the content. When a journalist feels that a story is genuinely interesting to the audience they are writing for, that brand advocacy holds infinitely more weight and influence.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has recently announced that it will be supporting an initiative to eradicate the use of AVE, as well as ‘disciplining’ members using the archaic metric. The initiative comes from the Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) to ‘create conversation between professionals about the measurement of public relations activity’.

Members of the CIPR using AVE will have a year to transition to ‘valid metrics’, which the CIPR will support with resources. What those valid metrics are, however, remain to be clearly communicated, and PR Week has found that more than a third of UK firms still use AVE. Interestingly, around half of these professionals still use AVE because clients expect it.

Many agencies will have a significant client who still requests, nay – insists, on them providing AVE figures for reporting within the company. Whilst our professional duty to push back on this request for AVE may cause an issue in the short term, it is a conversation that must happen. As an industry, we need to put our foot down and ensure that our value is seen and measured in a way that promotes a healthy future for the profession.

Public relations officers, by nature, are often unseen and misunderstood. As Rich Leigh discusses at length in Myths of PR, we have few public role models extending beyond Ab Fab’s Edina Monsoon and political PRs with questionable moral integrity. Ask a lot of people outside of the marketing industry what PR is and they’ll potentially think you’re a PA or that it’s an acronym for press release.

When there’s a certain pressure – especially working in an agency – for PR results to appear organic, the legwork and role of the PR is glossed over. It’s a mark of a job well done, a silent smugness when you deliver a campaign that achieves its objectives of high-profile coverage or rocketing social reach. Having said that, it’s important for us – at least in the context of a boardroom – to stand up and claim that responsibility and offer some proof as to the impact it has had on the business.

So the golden question remains – how do we measure PR? A simple alternative to AVE isn’t available, but how could it be when PR is so complex and varies so much between industries and individual businesses? Digital platforms offer a multitude of tools, from Google Analytics to Facebook Insights, which offer detailed analysis to measure how many people have seen a piece of content, who they are, where they come from and what they do next. For example, it’s relatively easy to see whether a visitor to your website came from social media or from an online news outlet, and whether they go on to purchase goods or enquire about services.

However, what becomes of non-transactional websites? What happens when the user journey takes them offline? What happens if you’re marketing something that a consumer/business may not want or need for another year? What happens with print publications when you can’t use cookies and data to follow someone’s every move? After all it’s not all about digital, and printed publications still play a vital role in the media landscape.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, which is why Mobas has made progress in proving our value to clients with the creation of bespoke monitoring dashboards. These offer detailed insight into achieved coverage that goes far beyond a weighty clippings book, allowing us to plug in our outputs and measure outcomes by publication types, story types and more, as well as map trends and predict future results. Contact the PR team today to chat about the value we can bring to your organisation.

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