Opinion: Gut feel and AVEs should be extinct by now

Many years ago, before I jumped ship for a career in the media, I went through a comical ritual with one of my PR clients who would compare the weight of the cuttings file that month against the previous one.

Never mind the content – the heavier the file, the more satisfied he felt that he had managed to extract maximum value from his consultancy.

Given the sophistication of evaluation tools now on the market, I presumed that this kind of farcical scenario was a peculiarity of an earlier phase in PR’s development. So it came as something of a sobering surprise when a recent PRWeek survey unearthed the fact that much of the industry is still relying on that old standby, gut feel, to assess effectiveness.

It was equally depressing to discover that 30 per cent of respondents also make use of advertising value equivalents (AVEs). That’s a rise of 21 per cent since PRWeek ran its ‘Proof’ survey in 1999 – with the aim of, among other things, banishing AVEs from the PR lexicon.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised. The downturn had a pretty dire impact on budgets, and let’s face it, weighing monthly reports is a much cheaper option than commissioning comprehensive media analysis. And there’s nothing like the threat of redundancy or account loss to focus the mind on cut-price post-justification as opposed to more costly pre-campaign research and benchmarking.

The received wisdom is that the backslide that has taken place in the industry’s commitment to evaluation has been entirely driven by clients. Most PROs I speak to protest indignantly that they would never use AVEs/column inches/scales unless forced to do so by tyrannical clients and CEOs who demand proof of effectiveness without being willing to pay for it.

Which makes even more puzzling the complete disconnect that the survey revealed between the tools that PROs use and what they seem to think their clients and board directors want. Gut feel appears rather redundant when only 12 per cent of PROs think CEOs believe their hunches. Likewise, only 22 per cent of PROs believe AVEs are convincing, calling their use into question.

PR spend on evaluation does seem to be on the rise, and PROs are vocal in their commitment to evaluate. The tools are out there and continue to attain greater sophistication. But before the profession can attain that quasi-scientific status it so desires, it must stop using such unreliable techniques and better understand client expectations.

kate.nicholas@haynet.com

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