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AVEs – a necessary evil?

Helen Cotton

AVEs – a necessary evil?

The credibility and validity of AVEs, or advertising value equivalents, is a debate that has been raging in the PR industry for years now and it shows  no signs of being resolved. AVEs seek to provide a monetary value to media coverage, and have existed for nearly as long as PR itself.

In the days before computers AVEs would be calculated by someone measuring with a ruler the column inches of a piece of coverage and giving it the value of an equivalent sized advert. As you can imagine, the world of PR has moved on somewhat since, yet AVEs remain a commonly used measurement technique.

The problem with AVEs is that they are just not representative of the success of PR campaigns. For example, they don’t take into consideration the sentiment of a piece of coverage, with an equal value being given to an article singing the praises of a brand or product to one condemning it. The same goes for readership, with no change in value if the publication is read by the client’s exact target market or a completely different demographic.

Also, online publications inherently have a far lower advertising rate than their print counterparts, meaning a significantly lower AVE, even though an online article in the Telegraph for example is likely to be read by far more people than a print piece.

And potentially most important of all, editorial content is not advertising, and consumers are more aware of this than ever. With changes in consumer behaviour and the content they value, editorial is significantly more powerful than advertorial and should not be given the same value.

With the rise of the social media influencer, and the vital role they play in many consumer PR campaigns, mentions and engagement should be measurable. But how can you give an advertising equivalent for a platform such as Twitter that doesn’t have adverts on it?

So the question remains, with all its faults, why are AVEs still such a widely used measurement for coverage evaluation? Ask anyone in the PR industry and you will most likely get the same answer –some clients want them.

From a client perspective, AVEs are tangible, giving the work of the PR team a monetary value that can be taken to the CEO or CFO to prove the return on investment of a good campaign. Giving coverage a monetary value makes the results easy to grasp for those that don’t understand the true power of PR.

There seem to be endless suggestions for better alternatives to AVEs and a lot of them have merit, offering ways to address all the areas where AVEs fall short. However, we are yet to be presented with a solution that offers a monetary value for coverage while taking into account all the factors that are missed by AVEs. This is really what the industry needs.

It’s all well and good coming up with creative ways to measure the outcome of PR activity that the  PR industry feels properly represents its work. But as long as clients want a monetary value, which they probably always will, AVEs are sadly likely to remain.

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