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 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.
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
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
Larger agencies normally invest in their own in-house research
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
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
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.