The specter of the AVE has been casting gloom over PR-measurement effectiveness for… well, as long as there’s been PR measurement. The approach, which a battery of industry experts has been decrying for years, was at one time considered the most tangibly trackable way to assign a value to earned media coverage—but over time measurement pros figured out that comparing earned media to paid advertising was not an apples-to-apples scenario.
Although the practice lost considerable luster as years went by, using AVEs for PR has continued to be the go-to comparison for many because of the simple “calculable quantifiability” they provide—even if the concepts don’t quite match up. Distinguished industry orgs like the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) have fought long and hard to get rid of PR’s use of AVEs, notably with AMEC’s implementation of the Barcelona Principles in 2010, and as recently as its AMEC Measurement Month global conferences a few weeks ago. But despite all this opposition and good sense, the use of AVEs continues. It has the experts pulling their hair out and wondering—will we ever be able to get rid of them once and for all?
“AVEs will only disappear completely when all parts of the industry work together and speak with a consistent voice,” AMEC wrote in its Definitive Guide: Why AVEs are invalid in 2017. “Educators, academics, in-house practitioners, PR agencies, communications trade associations and the monitoring and analytics vendors all need to work together with unified messaging to make sure that this latent demand dwindles and dies.”
The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has most recently taken up the onus of ridding the industry of AVEs, seeking to put the final nail in the coffin by declaring “the use of AVEs in public relations as unprofessional” and going on to issue an ultimatum to its members—giving them one year to make the transition to “valid metrics,” or risk being subjected to “disciplinary action.” And that deadline is steadily approaching, with CIPR planning to launch a new professional standard for PR measurement in the summer of 2019—and many UK holdout members may find it’s time to pay the piper.
In the meantime, the Institute is making its intentions clear by highlighting in its PR-measurement classes and coursework that it will explain why AVEs have been discredited, and in its recent campaign awards program that any mention of the use of AVEs as a tool would ”guarantee a zero mark” in the measurement scoring section—implying that it is fully serious about making good on its threat and levying the discipline of which it has warned. Could the death knell for AVEs finally be sounding?
While the move seems to be in the industry’s best interests, not everyone agrees with CIPR’s strong-arming methods—one expert criticized the org’s decision, claiming that while he did not personally use AVEs at all, he felt this “over-the-top CIPR approach” was wrong because it victimizes a certain class of PR pros as “different practitioners have very different objectives, and…a measurement that might be wrong for one purpose can have value for another.” But in an age where other more viable and valid measures exist, does this argument really hold water? Besides, shouldn’t the measure of PR be universal and applicable in toto?
The fact is, AVEs were the accepted industry standard for many years because nobody had a better way of quantifying the impact of earned media on the bottom line. But in today’s data-rich environment, there’s just no point in settling for another industry’s standards. PR is not advertising—and it’s time for PR pros young and not-so-young to learn that our apples should only be measured against other apples.