ANALYSIS: PR Measurement - The pros play a game of inches and dollars. A new product called ClipValue.com has brought the age-old vexing issue of ad value equivalency into sharp focus. Some PR pros think AVE is an arbitrary measurement and of little value

In a world where numbers count, ad value equivalency (AVE) has been widely used to evaluate PR programs almost since the birth of PR.

In a world where numbers count, ad value equivalency (AVE) has been widely used to evaluate PR programs almost since the birth of PR.

In a world where numbers count, ad value equivalency (AVE) has been

widely used to evaluate PR programs almost since the birth of PR.



Yet in spite of its popularity as a measurement tool, it is widely

discouraged by the PR research community. It’s too simple, they say.

It’s inaccurate.



It’s like measuring apples and oranges.



Whether it’s for want of a better solution, however, or because its very

simplicity helps to win over busy CEOs and marketing executives, AVE

continues to be used across the country. And ClipValue.com, a new

venture by TrakWare and Publicity Valuation Research, (PRWeek, February

7) has brought this vexing issue once again into the limelight.



Is ClipValue.com the answer we’ve been waiting for? Practitioners have

long taken issue with the way AVE has been derived, using standard ad

rates rather than the actual prices paid, which invariably involve a

good deal of haggling.



Many practitioners have simply calculated AVE themselves by calling

media outlets. The result has been a confusing array of prices that has

cost ad equivalency a good deal of credibility among PR practitioners.

Even those who use it often admit they do not believe the product

provides an accurate measure of PR.





Determining value



To address this weakness, ClipValue.com provides calculations of AVE

based on price information collected by Nielsen, Arbitron and several

other research companies. Unlike other products and clipping services,

AVE calculations are done by section of the publication or by hour of

the broadcast, better reflecting the variations in ad prices.



’People may disagree with the methodology behind AVE, but we are trying

to develop a standard in an area that has had little consistency,’ says

Matthew Siegal, chairman and CEO of Publicity Valuation Research.



But even with the improvements ClipValue.com has introduced, AVE is far

from an ideal measurement. For example, it cannot be calculated for a

front-page story in The New York Times, where no ads are sold. For

online news outlets, where most ads appear in the form of small banners,

an AVE based on space would produce an inflated value.



Some opponents have argued that AVE does not provide a strategic

measurement of media placements. ’Measurements should be used to

evaluate the effectiveness of a campaign over time and determine where

adjustments need to be made,’ says Steve Lundin, director of marketing

and communications at Holleb & Coff.



Industry heavyweights CARMA and Delahaye Medialink discourage the use of

AVE and only provide such numbers on request. ’AVE is not statistically

valid,’ says Delahaye Medialink president Katie Delahaye Paine. ’No

research has been done that proves 20 column inches in a news story is

equal to 20 column inches of an ad.’



Paine raises an issue at the core of the AVE debate. There seems to be

no way of incorporating the qualitative elements of media placements,

which give PR a different value than advertising. ’A good hit is

disproportionate to its AVE,’ says George Simpson, president of George

H. Simpson Communications.



’If Oprah reads from your magazine placement on TV, how do you calculate

its worth in dollars?’



PR pros such as Simpson have resisted using AVE, while others have tried

their hand at quantifying the subjective. One tactic has been to

translate AVE into a ’publicity value.’ In this scenario, a number that

represents the placement’s degree of success is multiplied by the AVE to

determine its PR value. These numbers are decided on by PR practitioners

and have no grounding in objective research.



’AVE is certainly not a justification for PR’s existence,’ agrees Angela

Jeffrey, VP of TrakWare and Publicity Valuation Research. ’It is a tool

that should be used along with other measurements and qualitative

analysis.’ No one has yet found a way to assign monetary value to such

things as the number of message points a radio interview communicates.

Getting the full picture requires other measurements, such as audience

impressions, the amount of product sold, Web site hits and the slant of

the placement.



Claire Spencer, director of planning and evaluation for Manning Selvage

& Lee, views AVE as a comparative tool rather than a measurement of

media placements. ’Alone, AVE devalues PR,’ she claims. ’It is only

relevant if clients want to compare advertising and PR in their

marketing mix.’ In fact, PR practitioners working in integrated

marketing departments are the strongest supporters of AVE.



Competing directly with advertising for their budgets, many PR pros find

AVE an excellent weapon because PR campaigns usually cost significantly

less than the AVE figures they generate. ’AVE is the old- fashioned way

of showing what PR does,’ says Travis Jacobsen, PR director at Nu Skin

Enterprises. ’But it cannot be thrown away when working in a corporate

environment because management understands dollar values.’



But small agencies and non-profits have also found AVE to be an

excellent tool for gauging progress on media campaigns. ’PR has long

been thought of as a soft numbers business,’ says Brad Bawmann, founder

of Denver-based Bawmann Communications. ’Ad rates cannot reflect

everything, but they can provide a yardstick for showing clients a

comparison of cost.’





In search of a standard



However, advantage in the short term should not take precedence over

accuracy in the long term. Ad value equivalency brings to light a larger

problem: the lack of consistent, thorough evaluation within the

industry.



Larger agencies normally invest in their own in-house research

teams.



For example, Ketchum does not provide AVE figures but relies on a

variety of other measurements to provide hard numbers to clients. ’At

Ketchum we feel that PR and advertising are so different they should not

be compared,’ says Graham Hueber, VP & director of research.



For small and mid-size firms, however, hiring research companies to

evaluate every client’s media coverage is prohibitively expensive. ’We

recognize a need for a series of low-cost alternatives for smaller

agencies,’ says Bruce Jeffries Fox, director of PR research for AT&T and

chairman of the Institute for Public Relations’ commission on PR

measurement and evaluation.



Fox’s commission is busy working to create new and accurate options for

small practitioners.



But even if affordable measurement tools are produced, it is unlikely

AVE will disappear. Client demand has only increased as PR makes its way

into more boardrooms. ’Defining AVE and publicity value will be more

important as PR professionals take on a larger role in corporate

strategy,’ says Jacobsen.



AVE has provided a bridge between the complex workings of PR and the

corporate world, however shaky that bridge may be. Until more education

and stronger standards of measurement are in place, AVE will continue to

play a sizeable - albeit highly disputed - role in the evaluation of

PR.





THE PR INDUSTRY WEIGHS IN ON AVE



’We are trying to develop a standard in an area that has had little

consistency.’ Matthew Siegal, chairman and CEO of Publicity Valuation

Research ’A good hit is disproportionate to its AVE. If Oprah reads from

your magazine placement on TV, how do you calculate its worth in

dollars?’ George Simpson, president of George Simpson Communications

’Alone, AVE devalues PR. It is only relevant if clients want to compare

advertising and PR in their marketing mix.’ Claire Spencer, director of

planning and evaluation for Manning Selvage & Lee ’AVE is the old

fashioned way of showing what PR does, but it cannot be thrown away when

working in a corporate environment, because management understands

dollar values.’ Travis Jacobsen, PR director at Nu Skin Enterprises.



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