If one thing unites communicators and the media metrics industry that measures the effectiveness of their efforts, it’s the statement that the much-derided measure of advertising value equivalent (AVEs) has had its day.
Yet many public relations executives admit that clients will keep asking for this metric until somebody invents an alternative series of numbers behind a pound sign.
Measurement experts, meanwhile, acknowledge that nobody has come close to doing so. A recent PRCA Leaders Panel found that one in two PR consultancies still use AVEs while three in ten in-house communicators also rely on the metric.
It’s a backhanded compliment to AVEs: an age-old method of totting up the notional value that editorial column inches would have cost, had it been advertising.
This information is used to justify public relations budgets. However, it involves no qualitative input or analysis of whether media mentions are favourable or critical and takes no account of tweets or Facebook likes.
‘AVEs remain the bane of my life. I’m flabbergasted when I speak to agencies that still see AVEs as a primary way of evaluating success or otherwise,’ complains Andrew Brown, communications director of flexible offices group Regus.
‘Marketing people when they see PR people using AVEs just laugh at us. The 15 to 20 year search for the Holy Grail of media measurement is precisely that. It doesn’t exist’.
There have certainly been lots of acronym-laden attempts to find alternatives, from OTS (opportunities to see) to the VMF (valid metric framework) devised by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) in 2010.
Now comes AIM, or article impact measurement, from NLA Media Access, the organisation formerly known as the Newspaper Licensing Authority.
Launched in October, AIM captures the number of views of articles on ten national newspaper websites, the numbers of related tweets and retweets and total reach in terms of follower count, plus the number of times an article is republished on third party websites.
NLA Media Access managing director David Pugh says: ‘AVEs were originally designed for print and are not the strongest tool for measurement of online coverage impact. They have been under question by measurement experts in the PR industry for some time.
‘AIM combines, for the first time, page-view data from newspaper websites and social media republishing data in one tool. It marks a big step forward in assessing the real value of individual articles.’
Barry Leggetter, chief executive of AMEC, the global trade body for communications measurement, welcomes the new metric.
‘It provides a more rounded measurement solution than has ever been possible before,’ he says, ‘because the NLA have obtained permission from publishers to share information that we’ve never seen before.
‘AMEC member firms like Gorkana, Prime Research and Precise will integrate these new statistics in their own measurement analytic systems. This moves measurement on’.
Marcus Gault, managing director of insight at Precise, also believes AIM is ‘a tremendous step forward’, adding: ‘The ability to accurately measure the size of audience of a particular article is a real first in the industry across all media channels.’
Others are less convinced. ‘I welcome anything that will kill AVE and is better than AVE,’ comments Brown. ‘But, like any evaluation model, AIM will have its own flaws. For example, something might get retweeted 1,000 times by people who I don’t want to target and therefore have no impact on my business, whereas if it was retweeted 100 times by people I need to get hold of that would have a much greater impact. AIM does not measure that.’
Ed Watson, global director of communications at catalogue retailer N Brown, finds fault in AIM for not measuring the sentiment behind the social media impact it picks up. He says that N Brown uses a measurement called media value equivalent (MVE), which builds in a score for the sentiment of an article or media mention.
‘With MVE, a full page berating the organisation is given no score or value, whereas with AVE it would receive the same score as a glowing endorsement,’ he notes.
‘Without sentiment, figured into the equation – and the NLA offering doesn’t appear to – my advice would be go back to the drawing board and take aim again as it doesn’t look like they’ve hit the jackpot.’
Another weakness is that two national newspapers – the Daily Express and Daily Mail - are not participating and the scheme does not initially cover the regional or trade press. ‘It’s being done on quite a small subset in the first instance,’ says Jeremy Thompson, chief executive of Gorkana. ‘It’s a great start but we need to get it on a broader data set.’
Pointing to a Gorkana survey of 350 communications professionals which revealed that PR people are still way behind their advertising counterparts when it comes to showing results from their activities, he adds:
‘Most PRs are not linking investment to outcomes. Most of them are still not measuring true outcomes and linking them to metrics and business objectives. Our mission has to be to make that happen once and for all and to supply them with numbers and data to support those programmes.’
The reason AVEs persist, adds Thompson, is that chief executives still want to see cuttings, while finance directors want a figure in pounds and pence.
‘AVEs haven’t gone because we haven’t given the industry something tangible with which to replace them,’ he says. ‘We hear people saying time and time again that all these media evaluation scores are great but what they really need is a number or set of numbers with a pound sign at the beginning.
‘That’s the challenge to the measurement industry – to come up with credible metrics for use in different scenarios that answer the age-old question of whether a campaign has been successful or not or whether a story has changed perceptions.’
Watson agrees. ‘AVEs are dead or dying,’ he says. ‘However it’s vital in these times that we assert some sort of monetary metric to the coverage we generate, be it in traditional media or in social media.’
In the absence of an off-the-shelf solution that meets such requirements, companies are either working through measurement agencies or constructing their own.
Banking group HSBC relies on global media analysis through Precise that denotes favourability and coverage in 70 markets and Radian6, an off-the-shelf product from Salesforce.com, that tracks mentions on social media but does not measure sentiment.
Head of corporate media relations Morgan Bone says: ‘Our global media analysis is done on a subjective favourability score with somebody literally going through every article and deciding whether it is positive, negative or neutral. It works well but is quite labour-intensive.’
‘If we could develop a global tool that would track all print and social media, that would be superb but it doesn’t exist at the minute, as far as I am aware.’
Gault has a different view. ‘The end goal of measurement is many and various with different objectives from different clients,’ he says, ‘so I think the concept of a universal one-size fits all measurement is a misguided ambition.
‘Media measurement needs to develop as a custom-built approach, depending on what an organisation is looking to get out of it.’
Regus, meanwhile, has worked with Kantar Media, which recently merged with Precise, to build evaluation tools to produce its own impact score.
The company defined what sort of coverage was important to it and the desired quantity and quality, both online and in print. It then constructed an engine that produces a media score, which it is now combining with indices that measure what customers and other stakeholders are saying about the company to produce an index of reputation.
Brown says criteria that could be measured in such a way could include whether articles raise awareness of a company against its competitors, combat negative coverage, target specific audiences or raise the profile of certain products, operations or executives.
‘You have to find what works for you,’ he says. ‘There’s no Holy Grail. Stop searching for it. You have to work it out for yourself.
‘This is hard. The reason people use AVEs is because it’s easy to do so but it is lazy and poor thinking. Marketers have so much data at their fingertips.
‘They go to board meetings and produce all this data, manipulated to show trends and potential outcomes from actions.
‘Then you look at the poor PR person who just asks for money to do some press releases and talk to journalists.
‘We have to be able to speak the language of business and justify our impact at a business strategic level.’
This is where AVEs tend to be produced and Gault can’t see that ending. ‘For as long as AVEs come for free as part of media monitoring services, I can’t see them dying,’ he says.
Leggetter puts it differently. ‘You’ll always come across some people who will use AVEs,’ he says. ‘If a client says that, whatever you do, they still want an AVE figure, it would be commercially suicidal not to give it. But everyone is moving on and really leaving AVEs behind.’