AVEs are not PR evaluation

SimonCommunications26 Comments

I’ve been reviewing a fair few CVs this week for a communications role. One that I read sticks in my mind particularly – and not in a good way.

This particular CV trumpeted loudly in several places about how they had evaluated the effectiveness of their PR work by achieving some ridiculously large advertising value equivalent (AVE) figure in the media.

Once I’d reminded myself that it was 2013 not 2003 and lifted myself out of a pit of despair about the state of the PR profession, I read the rest of the CV which was fine and showed some good examples of creative PR work (evaluation aside).

This particular applicant had revealed a lack of understanding about current practice in communications evaluation through their use of AVEs.

Last time I judged some PR awards it was the same – with some entrants still quoting AVEs as proof of their success – although thankfully some awards have now specifically penalised AVEs in their award entries.

For anyone that’s still using AVEs, check out the Barcelona Principles on PR evaluation. They’re pretty clear on AVEs and on how communications evaluation can be done.

The rest of the AMEC website is a good resource for learning more about the subject too.

In particular I’d highlight the valid metrics guidelines as a practical resource that gives a sound theoretical framework for communications evaluation and some practical ideas on what’s worth measuring to demonstrate the impact of PR activity.

The principle of the valid metrics guidelines is that PR evaluation should be about measuring outcome – what happens as a result of PR – rather than output. Historically the profession’s been too focussed on measuring outputs and history is just where AVEs should be left.

And when we’re measuring outcomes we need to use a range of measures depending on the purpose of the PR activity. There’s no single measure that works across all PR activity – the aims of communications activities are too diverse for that.

The basic model behind the guidelines presents PR as three steps:

    1. Public Relations Activity – the process of producing or disseminating the desired messages
    2. Intermediary Effect – those messages being disseminated to the target audience via an intermediary – which could be a traditional media outlet or a node in a social media network
    3. Target Audience Effect –the target audience receiving the communications and doing something as a result

Ideally we’ll be able to measure across these three steps, with the target audience effect being the best place to measure (but in practice usually the hardest too).

So if you’re still dealing in AVEs, please stop now. Read the Barcelona Principles and start using the valid metrics guidelines from now on!

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