Could it finally be the end of AVEs?

by | Jun 1, 2017 | Measuring Impact, Public Relations

At the 2017 AMEC Global Summit in Bangkok last month, AMEC Chairman Richard Bagnall announced an initiative that might spell the end of AVEs.

It includes a pledge that would see members cease providing AVEs by default to any client, as well as have them send educational materials and alternative metrics to any client that requests AVEs. Furthermore, AMEC intends to work with PR award organizers to introduce “a zero-scoring policy if awards entries include AVEs as a metric,” and elicit a pledge from AMEC members that they will not include AVEs as a metric in any award competition entry.

Not to be outdone, a week later, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) took an even tougher stance, announcing that current members will have a year to transition away from AVEs, after which they may face disciplinary action. In the statement, CIPR President Jason MacKenzie called AVES “a fantasy metric”.

As I’ve written before, I believe that AVEs will be the death of our industry. In fact, it’s been three long decades since I’ve been pushing to see the end of AVEs. I’ve therefore been watching these developments with equal amounts of enthusiasm and skepticism. Obviously, I applaud the stances of both organizations, and truly believe that, when organizations act in concert, change can happen; it’s how standards get written and best practices change.

My skepticism comes from the knowledge that until AVEs are no longer a source of revenue, and indeed start to cost companies money and clients, they won’t go away. I know from experience.

When I was chair of the IPR Measurement Commission two decades ago, we launched a similar initiative, calling on all PR award programs to reject AVEs as a valid measure of success. Last I checked, they were still being accepted.

And yes, when I judge such programs, any entry using AVEs (or, for that matter, any reporting metrics that do not reflect the goals) is immediately tossed into the trash. But that doesn’t stop people from paying the entrance fee.

Which is the reason for my skepticism. It’s all about the money. Because the AVE calculations are built into the software platforms, it’s an easy added benefit to offer. For newbies in the PR world, the wonderful lie of being able to show ROI is too seductive to resist. So, they sign on the bottom line.

The reality is that in terms of valid measurement today, AVEs are the equivalent of a Russian spammer. They are made-up numbers based on a myth that PR and Advertising accomplish the same thing, and that the numbers reflect stories someone would have been willing to pay money to place. They are intended to deceive bosses and clients into thinking that a program is successful when in fact the quality and substance of the placement is not taken into account – and may actually be damaging the business.

I worked with an insurance company that was using AVEs to judge and compensate the efforts of the PR department. It took me about 10 minutes to point out that the previous quarter’s jump in AVE value was a result of a huge increase in coverage given a customer issue that positioned the company as evil and cruel to its customers. They needed no more convincing.

But there may be reason to hope. If organizations like CIPR and AMEC fine or, better still, ban from their meetings and awards members who continue to use AVEs, the vendors who proffer them will lose out on those opportunities. And if the associations don’t act, clients may even take up the mantle. I’ve been privy to many RFPs for major clients that require a pledge to adhere to the Barcelona Principles – ie. not offer AVEs. It makes for an easy way to reject a vendor.

To those who say that punitive action is too extreme, I would suggest that inaction does more harm to their own industry. Every communicator worth his or her salt will tell you that actions speak louder than words. How many of those who are bashing CIPR’s action have advised clients in crisis to act rather than talk if they want to rebuild trust?

If we are to see the end of AVEs, now is the time for action. I don’t want to have to fight this fight for a fourth decade.

AVEs are a contentious issue. Where do you stand? 

Katie Paine
Katie Delahaye Paine, aka the Measurement Queen (@queenofmetrics), has been a pioneer in the field of communications measurement for three decades, having founded two measurement companies and written multiple books on the subject. Her latest book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World, is the 2013 winner of the Terry McAdam Book Award.


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