Measuring PR: why AVEs are invalid

Jacque Seaman / September 10, 2019

Unless you work in marketing or public relations, you probably have no idea what an AVE is—AVE stands for Advertising Value Equivalent. It’s an equivalency tool that estimates PR’s financial value—meaning if it were paid for instead of as an earned media placement. It sounds great, right? A solid metric to show a company that its free PR was just as good or better than paying for a similar ad.

Of course, nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems. The reality is that AVEs are incredibly flawed as a metric. There is no standardized formula or method to determine the financial value of a media story. As a result, each agency or PR professional will have their own philosophy and approach to determine that value. Add in incredible variability in advertising rates used as a baseline, and the complication continues. In agencies across the country, your AVE mileage may vary – and widely, at that.

At the heart of all this complexity lies a simple truth: PR and advertising are hard to equate. They are entirely different beasts. You pay for an advertisement because you want to control the message and grab the attention of a target audience. PR tactics and editorial efforts are reliant on reader, listener or viewer’s engagement. You pitch a story because you know the outlet’s target audience will listen, will care, will want to learn more. If your story is not engaging, an editorial staff won’t even consider it. And once they do find your pitch compelling, it’s up to them to tell it in a way that fits their publication. You don’t have any control on the final write-up.

So, this raises an important question: why are AVEs so frequently associated with PR?

Associating AVEs and PR perpetuates a false association between cost and value. Cost does not equate to value. Have you purchased an ad that resulted in no response? Where’s the value in that? And how many times did you pay full price for an ad? Sales teams are constantly lowering prices to get organizations to buy, buy, buy. But AVEs are often based on advertising rate cards, so using them causes an instant inflation if you didn’t initially pay the price determined for the space’s worth. Furthermore, AVEs do not translate to digital or social media, which is where media is going.

Bottom line: AVEs are not sufficient in highlighting the true value of PR, and they are out of place among other PR metrics. Below are a few sample metrics that better indicate the value of your PR efforts.

Reporting Metrics You Should Focus On in PR

  • Key message pull-through: Is your article communicating your key messages and points you set out to communicate? How many are included? How can you solidify these points even more in the next story?
  • Target audience reach: Is your article reaching your target demographic? How much of that target demographic is it reaching exactly? On a related note, do you think being in The New York Times will help you reach potential customers in Montana? Be realistic and smart about your audiences.
  • Spokesperson quotes and photos: Does the coverage include quotes from your spokesperson(s)? Did it include a photo that further illustrates your messaging? These assets strengthen what could be a less thoughtful article and are a good indicator that your PR tactics are reaching the right people to earn placements.
  • Share of voice: How do you stack up against your top three competitors? Are you in similar publications? If not, develop strategies to penetrate those publications and raise your visibility and authority.