You AVE’n a laff?

The findings of a nationwide survey into how PR-generated media coverage is measured and whether Advertising Equivalent Values (AVE) was an appropriate method to do so contain no real surprises but the industry-wide debate generated has been invaluable, say the CAANZ Marcomms Leadership Group.

The CAANZ Marcomms Group, working with the New Zealand Marketing Association, surveyed agencies and clients about their use of AVE* and other PR measures. Interestingly, the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ) was not involved in the survey because of its less than favourable attitude to AVE as a measurement tool and is currently conducting its own survey.

Group chair Claudia Macdonald of Mango Communications says the survey showed real consistency in people’s use and views on AVE, which has been heavily criticised as a measurement tool in many overseas markets, and PR measurement overall (watch a few VIPRs discuss some of these thorny issues, as well as our Dear Leader Vincent Heeringa laying into poor PR in a room filled with PRs on the Ad Show. Apparently, he was scratched and clawed to within an inch of his life following the show).

“More than 60 percent of those measuring PR value used AVE and 68 percent said that it should not be the sole method of measurement. The multipliers used varied widely, from one to six, with the majority using three times advertising rate card value,” Ms Macdonald says.

Comments posted via the survey indicate that while many organisations do not necessarily agree that AVE is an ideal measure, they believe it provides a language that people outside of the communications industry readily understand. One respondent commented: “It puts it into a context our (business) colleagues and management can understand, as all other business activity is presented in a financial format”. And another said: “my clients will only agree to use it for traditional media”, mentioning that it didn’t work for social media or online.

Research into the effectiveness of public relations activity was most often cited as an ideal way to measure it while the need for clients and agencies to set expectations up front was crucial. However, many believed that with the increase in online, social media, experiential and events as part of PR, a single measurement solution was not possible. As one respondent commented: “Sales is the best measure of outcomes but that’s hardly realistic with marcomms as there are so many variables. Even advertising Tarps (target audience rating points), while living under a cloak of scientific respectability, hardly measure the effect of ads on people”.

Macdonald says that while the results are perhaps unsurprising, the debate stirred by the survey has been worthwhile.

“While we acknowledge that AVE is not the be all and end all of PR measurement, it is still the most commonly used tool. Until we have agreed alternative measures in place, CAANZ believes it is important to have a common standard. We welcome the wider industry’s initiatives to develop some guidelines as we have been talking long enough.”

The CAANZ Marcomms Group will be reviewing the results this month with the aim of setting a standard that will be adopted by all CAANZ agency members for client work and in Axis and EFFIE award entries.

*AVE is calculated by multiplying the advertising rate card value of the media coverage achieved by a number (usually between three and seven), chosen to reflect the view that editorial coverage has more resonance with consumers than paid for advertising space. It has been used globally for more than 40 years.

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