Public Relations: to measure is to know — and the pitfalls of AVE

How do you prove the effectiveness of your PR?

Fierce debate over the measurement of PR outcomes has been ongoing since the early 2000s. PR theorists have concocted schemes to calculate the value of PR activities, but no one has found a single standard system, as measuring PR is much more complicated than analysing sales or advertising. Yet it is crucial for companies of all sizes to find a way to evaluate their PR activities – so in turn is crucial to understand the right way to do it.

The Wrong Approach to Measuring PR

In the time when we had only traditional media to worry about, the work of a PR team was judged based on the number of press-releases and articles published in newspapers and the space that they took. Using a pencil and ruler, account executives physically measured the size and space that their coverage took up. Combined with consideration for the number of publications distributed, these calculations provided what is called the Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) – a measurement of how much the PR piece was worth by considering how much an equivalent-sized advert would cost.

PR analytics have evolved greatly since literally measuring the size of publications, but the use of AVE to evaluate PR publications is still reasonably commonplace. For example, a PR agency may report they secured annual coverage with an AVE of GBP 2 million, while the cost of running the PR team was GBP 40,000, which appears to demonstrate value in the eyes of a small business owner.

The return on investment (ROI) is important, but can PR really be quantified this way? A PR team, after all, is responsible for building a brand, defending that brand and developing your identity and reputation – as well as downplaying your competition and forming valuable relationships for your company. Such things make all the difference for a business, but nearly impossible to assign a simple monetary value to.

Faced with concepts of brand awareness and “intangible” reputation, smaller businesses may roll their eyes, believing only the largest of companies have the resources to analyse such things. Meanwhile AVE is easily quantifiable, but narrows the role of PR to the scale of publications. It says nothing of the impact of those publications. AVE ignores social media, media events (briefings, conferences, sponsorship, press tours) and, crucially, the results of the publicity. It causes many PR managers to become hostage to spectacular numbers, forgetting where the real value of PR lies.

The Right Approach to Measuring PR

 Some companies, such as Gorkana, create complicated evaluation systems for PR-campaigns, but such tools are designed for large companies. Small and medium-size businesses require a more comprehensive understanding of their business objectives associated with value, not just money.

The key point is to assign the goal and then measure the achievement of this goal. And the goal should not simply be a publication — even, let’s say, in Forbes. For example, If a company wants to change the public’s attitude to the whole industry, and communicate the company’s values to the people, a publication is only one step towards that goal. Consider the vast range of PR work that has been successfully carried out for companies promoting healthy food or organic cosmetics. For a small business the goal may be less ambitious but still should not rely on simply having a publication appear in a particular newspaper.

What must be measured, therefore, is the degree to which the PR has successfully impacted the public’s perceptions – and consequent behaviour. The most concrete measurement is inevitably in sales, if they can be traced to the PR activities – otherwise shifts in behaviour can be measured through focus groups or customer feedback. The outcome, however it takes shape, is the only basis for a meaningful measurement and the only measurement that carries value in a company’s ongoing strategic planning.

We live in a time where PR covers a very wide area — from pitching press releases to dealing with reputation management and crisis communications. It’s important to work with PR professionals who understand that value is about more than simplified numbers.

Polina Kuleshova, Link and Share:

As an owner of a boutique PR consultancy, I often explain to clients that we do not deal with publishing advertising texts, paying journalists to write articles about the company or giving free samples of products at exhibitions. Yes, we promote our client’s company (through its project, product or service), but using a different approach. Nowadays in PR, we do what we can to place the final decision of whether or not to buy the product or service in the customer’s hands – not the sellers. Unlike an advertiser, we convince audiences to make the right decision through methods which create trust and appreciation towards the brand. We use traditional media, social media, events, etc. to demonstrate the value of the product or service — and it’s worked very well so far.