Why you should question use of AVEs in your PR monitoring data

George Oliver

Dec 10


min read

A version of this article originally appeared in the 1284 monthly newsletter. You can subscribe here.

AVE is used remarkably frequently to measure PR campaign outcomes - yet is a discredited measure of ROI.

AVE was invented to put a pounds and pence value on the outputs of PR campaigns. 

Obviously, this enabled clients to calculate the return on their investment.

The problem was that the data going into the calculation was often wildly inaccurate. 

The AVE concept is simple: calculate how much it would cost to buy the same amount of advertising space as was gained in editorial through ‘earned’ media coverage (ie PR).

By measuring column inches, placement, or airtime in this way, comparison could be drawn with the equivalent price on the advertising rate card. 

In some cases, a 'multiplier' was applied to factor in the perceived added value of editorial content over advertising.

This could then be presented to the client as the monetary value of their PR activity: 'This is how much you would have paid for this type of coverage’.'

Easy. Except it doesn’t measure up.

The outlawed metric

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) takes a clear stance against use of AVE.

Its guidelines state: ‘AVEs do not measure the value of PR or communication, outcomes, or the business results achieved through them.

‘They don't take account of the quality of coverage, the credibility of editorial compared with advertising, or the negative as well as positive effects of PR.’

There’s a number of reasons why the CIPR took the position it did.

They range from the fact that readers engage with editorial content differently to ads, to the fact that advertisers rarely pay what’s listed on the rate card.

In 2017, the UK public relations industry body announced that it was outlawing the use of AVEs

Today, for example, CIPR members are immediately disqualified if they include AVEs as a success measure in award nominations.

Yet monitoring software still offers AVE figures. And some practitioners still use them.

In fact, some clients still insist on them.

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The Barcelona Principles are seven voluntary guidelines established by the global PR industry to measure the effectiveness of campaigns. 

The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) considers it to be the international standard for public relations and communications measurement.

Barcelona Principles 3.0 came from a committee convened by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC).

It is a best-practice guide to measuring how well PR efforts are working, helping connect PR to real business outcomes, and moving away from outdated metrics like AVEs.

  1. Setting goals is an absolute prerequisite to communications planning, measurement, and evaluation.
  2. Measurement and evaluation should identify outputs, outcomes, and potential impact.
  3. Outcomes and impact should be identified for stakeholders, society, and the organisation.
  4. Communication measurement and evaluation should include both qualitative and quantitative analysis.
  5. AVEs are not the value of communication.
  6. Holistic communication measurement and evaluation includes all relevant online and offline channels.
  7. Communication measurement and evaluation are rooted in integrity and transparency to drive learning and insights.

Our approach

As two of only 58 Chartered PR Professionals in the Midlands region, we actively advise clients that AVEs are an unreliable measure.

And as former media professionals, we know exactly what the real reach and engagement level of media coverage looks like - and tell them about that too.

We plan KPIs and metrics into comms strategy at outset. Progress measures depend on the objective, but may include:

  • Awareness metrics. These can include funnel metrics such as media impressions (the number of times an article or post is potentially seen), increases in website traffic, social media reach, and survey data on brand recognition.
  • Engagement metrics. These look at how audiences interact with your content. This might include likes, shares, comments, retweets on social media, time spent on your website, or click-through rates on emails.
  • Sentiment analysis. This involves evaluating the tone of media coverage or social media conversations — whether they're positive, negative, or neutral.
  • Leads, sales and conversions. You can track how many leads or inquiries were generated from a PR campaign, especially in digital PR where links and calls-to-action can be tracked easily.
  • Crisis management. In case of a PR crisis, effectiveness can be measured by how quickly the situation was contained, the tone of coverage, and any changes in public sentiment.
  • Quality of coverage. Rather than just counting the number of articles or mentions, consider where they appeared. Coverage in a top-tier national publication or a key industry blog could be more valuable than multiple mentions in less relevant places.

So, next time you see that a PR campaign was worth tens of thousands (or millions) of pounds, ask yourself: ‘’Yes - but where has that number come from?’

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