Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts – Albert Einstein.

Measurement has been a hotly debated topic in Public Relation (PR) and communications for many decades. Central to this debate has been the use of Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) as a metric to measure the success of PR and communications efforts.

For many years, conventional wisdom upheld AVEs as the measure. It had its critics but they weren’t taken seriously until AMEC (International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) was founded in London in 1996, with only seven members.

By 2010, AMEC had grown to encompass PR professionals from 33 countries, and they met in Barcelona, Spain where they declared the Barcelona Principles that stated unequivocally that “AVEs are not the value of PR.”. In 2015, in a nod to social media, AMEC came up with Barcelona Principles 2.0 in which the wording of point five was amended to “AVEs are not the value of communications.”

Nine years on, today, many companies in the West have stopped using AVEs as a metric but many in Asia are still clinging on to the historical albatross. Why is this so?

Using advertising cost as a basis for some kind of value for editorial space had become a practice from the early 1940s. Then, the marketers reasoned that an editorial piece should be more credible, and therefore more valuable, than advertising. So, they introduced a multiplier to the equivalent value that a similarly placed and sized advertising copy would get. They then called it PR value so that it looked like something unique to PR.

The logic of how this value was computed was in question from the outset. For starters, advertising and PR are simply two totally different things. Advertising is ‘paid’. This meant that its messages can be controlled. PR, however, is ‘earned’. This meant that its messages are written by third-party. It cannot be controlled but earned, hence it is more valuable because it is more credible.

The persistent use of AVEs has also because there has been a confusion between ‘cost’ and ‘value’. AVEs are based on cost – how much is involved if you were to buy X number of articles and Y number of publications. The ‘value’ of a PR campaign, however, is in its effectiveness to achieve the objectives.

No amount of news clips counting will give you that ‘value’ since quantity becomes the target when using AVEs.

Every piece of coverage counts, the higher the number of articles, the better it is. It takes no account on the placement in the media, nor whether the media is relevant or not. As a result, the high numbers will drive the wrong activities as they are not targeted to achieve any objectives.

Rather, this approach encourages what in our industry are vanity metrics – numbers that look good, sound good, easy to justify and makes the bosses happy, yet it is totally meaningless.  When you take a closer look, people who use AVEs often report astronomical figures of PR value that dwarf the costs of the campaign itself.

The list of reasons is endless. Check out The Definitive Guide: Why AVEs are invalid.

It was time to tell the Emperor that he had no clothes on.

Today, AMEC has more than 160 members in 86 countries worldwide and formed strategic partnership with international PR organizations such as CIPR, ICCO, Institute for Public Relations, PRCA, PRCAI, PRSA.

Together with its partners, AMEC has been very active in taking the lead in educating the industry about measurement and evaluation. It has developed a Definitive Guide: Why AVEs are invalid. As part of its initiative they have launched a major global ‘Say No to AVES’ campaign “to help eradicate the declining demand for the much-derided AVE metric” according to Richard Bagnall, Chairman of AMEC and a senior global communications effectiveness consultant.

The campaign has been successful. Based on a global business survey of PR professionals and communicators conducted by AMEC in 2008, 80% of them said that they used AVEs as a metric for their clients’ campaigns. By 2018 this number had dropped to 13%.

That picture, however, holds true mainly in the West. In most of Asia, including Indonesia, many clients still insist on using the AVE-based PR value and trying to enlighten them is a bit like tilting at windmills.  The conversations would normally start quite positively where clients seem to understand that PR value is a wrong metric. Then they tell you that their bosses still insist on it and they have no choice but to comply.

At Maverick, we take measurement and evaluation very seriously. We believe that in the digital era, where communications occur across paid, earned, shared and owned (PESO) media, we can no longer hang on tightly to vanity metrics. They either need to measure and evaluate what matters or they will sooner or later cease to matter.

It is because Maverick is out to make a difference for our clients that we continue to try to educate the industry on the right metric for measuring communications success. For this reason too, Maverick has been a member of AMEC since March 2018. In the middle of this year, I have completed the AMEC International Certificate in Measurement and Evaluation for communications.

It is not an easy task to get clients to move out of their comfort zones and to measure what matters but we are committed to share the knowledge. We continue to urge clients and industry to measure beyond outputs and to start measuring what really matters, that is measuring the outcomes against the objectives and evaluate accordingly.

This month is declared as The Measurement Month as part of AMEC Global Education Program. Check out the full events list that take place globally from 1 – 29 November 2019. If you like to find out more on how to wean yourself of PR value and AVEs to metrics that will help your company perform better, just let us know.

Written by Felicia Nugroho, Director of Monitoring and Analytics.

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