by Luke Paskins - Digital Lead at Spink
Applying effective measurement and evaluation to communications campaigns is vital in the field of public relations. It provides justification for why an activity was carried out, allowing marketing professionals to assess whether the campaign achieved the objectives that it set out to meet. Of equal importance, evaluation provides insight to help shape the future activity of a particular organisation, service, brand or product, leading to better decisions and improved outcomes.
Advertising value equivalents (AVEs) are a metric that claim to provide practitioners with insight into the value of earned media coverage, allowing easy comparison between earned and paid-for media. It is a technique that has long been criticised, but has recently received a particularly high level of attention within the communications and public relations arena, and for good reason.
In 2015, one of the Barcelona Principles – a widely recognised set of seven principles that provide an overarching framework for effective public relations measurement, produced by the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) – outlined that the AVE metric “does not measure the value of PR or communications”.
Following this, AMEC launched a major global initiative in early 2017 to eradicate the use of AVEs. AMEC state that they are “committed to a long-term campaign to eradicate this meaningless metric and educate professionals on better and available alternatives” and their initiative has received widespread support from a number of leading influencers, trade associations and organisations. In May, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) released a statement in response to AMEC’s initiative, stating that it will publish a new professional standard on public relations measurement in the autumn which would outline an expectation of members that the use of AVEs will cease. The CIPR has pledged to ban AVEs from industry awards and has also specified that members found to be utilising the metric may even be liable for disciplinary action.
With this in mind, education on the importance of metrics that truly reflect the value of our work must be provided for media relations practitioners and information should be provided by industry associations on suitable alternatives to AVEs that always relate back to the original objectives of each media campaign. The development of digital technologies has revolutionised marketing and has provided a number of new ways in which performance can be measured within public relations and communications. Traditional media and offline metrics outside of AVEs, such as an increase in awareness or a change in attitude, should be combined with new web and digital metrics that relate to the digital boom. The number of click-throughs, the volume of web traffic, the levels of social media engagement and the understanding of a customer’s journey are all appropriate methods to measure the success of online campaigns.
Effective metrics provide clients and budget holders with the assurance that they are receiving a high return on their investment. However, if public relations agencies and in-house media teams wish to receive a higher proportion of marketing budgets, we need a comparable metric across ALL marketing principles, allowing for a quick comparison on the return on investment across different channels, including traditional media relations, digital marketing and advertising. New tools, such as AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework, which provides an integrated approach to measuring campaigns, have been introduced to allow organisations to combine traditional and new evaluative techniques to communications, but there is still some way to go in finding an adequate solution for comparison across the whole marketing industry.
Measurement is central to our business discipline and, whilst the vast majority of public relations professionals would agree that it is time to stop the use of AVEs once and for all, it’s imperative that this metric is suitably replaced by other evaluative techniques.
As industry professionals, we need to embrace this transformation and follow guidance set by leading associations, influencers and organisations, who must set the standard by providing universal education and accessible frameworks on metrics that can be applied across all areas of marketing. It is only when we are all on the same page that we can truly prove the value of public relations, without the use of AVEs, in the evolving communications environment.