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Custom Scoring: The Debate on AVE

Violet Zhang

May 19, 2020

AVE — a determinant for PR value?

If you’re in the PR industry, you definitely know what AVE is. AVE, or Advertising Value Equivalency, is a metric that is often used as the basis of PR value. Put simply, AVE determines the value of earned media placement by comparing the cost of buying the space used for it with the cost of an advertisement of a similar size or placement. 

As the assumption is that an editorial piece will draw more readership than an ad of the same size and is therefore more valuable, PR value is obtained by multiplying AVE with a representation of this perceived value, usually 3. This method of calculating PR value helps PR professionals justify their work — with a clear dollar value attached.

However, equating AVE with PR value is problematic. Quantifying the impact of PR efforts through its supposed financial value simply doesn’t justify the increasing strategic weight that PR is gaining in the boardroom. 

Why is AVE widely used?

First of all, AVE is relatively easy to calculate. As long as you know the number of articles published, the size of the articles, and which publication they appear in, you’re pretty much good to go. 

Second of all, AVE helps PR professionals explain PR value to management. Not only can you assign an overall AVE to your earned media within a stipulated time frame, this figure also oftentimes looks great. In more traditional management circles, AVE is still regarded as an easy and straightforward means of linking PR efforts to Return-on-Investment (ROI).

In addition, print articles may still hold a degree of prestige over online or social content. Print coverage is oftentimes regarded as more consistent and reliable as compared to online news.  As such, aggregating the value of media coverage through a largely print-focused metric can still be appealing to clients. 

As the media landscape shifts, so must PR measurement

PR value isn’t just a spot in the papers

As great as PR value derived from AVE sounds from a management perspective, C-Suite executives are becoming increasingly aware that the PR landscape consists of much more than just editorial content.

In addition, as the usage of print media wanes and that of online media increases, PR professionals are also recognising the need to find measurement metrics that can support equally valuable online coverage such as reviews, social media posts, and online news.

PESO Model (Spin Sucks)

The traditional PESO model, which merges paid, earned, shared, and owned media, has become increasingly complicated. Drawing eyeballs through quality content and link building has become more and more difficult, and positive content centred around your brand is more likely to be the result of an advertorial, influencer partnership or sponsored post. In addition, the now widespread usage of social media means that organic content creation often comes hand in hand with boosted posts and ads. 

As such, C-Suite executives are now more conscious of the differences between their paid, earned, shared, and owned media channels. This means that they are also more conscious of how PR value is being calculated and are aware of the need for PR value to reflect the effectiveness of these different assets.

Why AVE should not be used as the the sole means of measuring PR value

AVE has long been condemned for its weaknesses. In calculating AVE, PR professionals ignore the placement of the article, the key messages addressed in the article, as well as the tone of coverage. These three factors make a huge impact on the value of earned media. 

For one, whether your article is front-page news or simply a filler makes a huge difference to your audience. Furthermore, even front-page articles may differ in significance depending on whether the article is above the fold or not. 

Second of all, front-page news isn’t always good news. Equating a full-page spread lambasting your brand with an advertisement of the same size — which can never provide negative coverage — isn’t an accurate judgement of how valuable the article is to your brand. 

As such, while AVE can be useful when calculating a single or very specific set of articles, it simply isn’t a fair metric when assessing a brand’s coverage in a holistic manner.

While the weaknesses of AVE are clear, the path towards standardising PR metrics isn’t as straightforward. Currently, a number of rubrics and recommendations exist to help steer PR professionals in the right direction. However, the plethora of options available makes choosing the right ones for each campaign a daunting task. This complicates the search for metrics that can easily replace or support AVE.

Next Steps

PR organisations like the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) have been advocating for a shift away from AVE for years. However, with a degree of reliance on the metric and the absence of an easy solution to the problem, the debate about AVE continues. 

In our next article, we highlight alternatives to AVE, including Meltwater’s approach to helping PR professionals find a more robust means of measuring their earned media value. Meltwater’s Custom Scoring tool is our answer to complicated PR metrics. By providing six key metrics that are fundamental to the aggregation of earned media, Custom Scoring helps PR professionals to obtain a tallied score that better reflects the value of their coverage.