Olivia Parker
Jun 19, 2019

Why AVEs are a "bullshit" PR measurement tool

Asia is behind the rest of the world in abandoning this metric, which has been proven worthless for years, says AMEC's Richard Bagnall.

Bagnall wants to end the industry's reliance on 'output metrics'
Bagnall wants to end the industry's reliance on 'output metrics'

Richard Bagnall called for an end to the use of AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalents) as a measurement of PR success in Asia, labelling them a “bullshit metric” that the rest of the world has already decried.

Speaking at CampaignComms in Hong Kong, the chairman of the global communications effectiveness trade association AMEC (and CEO of Carma Europe and America) told the audience of PR and comms professionals that there has been no research, ever, that has shown there is any merit to this metric.

The use of AVEs, which purport to put a financial value on PR work, has been challenged by campaigners for years. In 2010, when the industry came together to create the original Barcelona Principles, providing seven guidelines on the measurement of PR campaign effectiveness, one of these stated “AVEs are not the value of public relations”.

Then, 80% of people were still using AVEs; according to the most recent research, said Bagnall, that number has dropped to 13% worldwide. It isn’t lower because of regional disparity: “Regions like Asia and India and those kinds of markets are still using it much more so than the rest of the world,” Bagnall pointed out. He urged agencies to “get on the front foot” and stop using AVEs before they are caught out by a discerning client.

Bagnall also made a plea for the PR industry to shift from only measuring ‘output metrics’—or ‘vanity metrics'—such as number of mentions, likes, re-shares or other social-media engagements, to also factoring in ‘outtakes’ and ‘outcomes’, which include the response of the audience to the content and the effects of this response, making for a more accurate picture of a campaign’s results.

Richard Bagnall at CampaignComms

Only measuring outputs is the equivalent of rating a sales person’s performance by the number of calls they have made, Bagnall said, rather than by how much they have sold.

Joining AVEs in Bagnall’s slop bucket are Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms that also claim to be able to measure the total worth of a PR campaign, but are really only counting “what’s easy to count”—output metrics. These vendors are proliferating, thanks to their founders’ (not inaccurate) perception that there’s a quick profit to be made from building a platform and selling it multiple times to different PR companies.

“This can be very confusing to PR people because gosh, it looks like measurement, doesn’t it?" he said. "There are portals, and charts! But if it’s just counting stuff that's not relevant, there's no point in doing it.”

He gave the example of a brand being named in a positive tweet on the BBC Breaking News Twitter account, which currently has 39.9 million followers. An agency measuring the success of this might be tempted to quote that figure as the number of people who had seen the tweet. Use a tool like Status People, however, and you discover that 17% of these accounts are designated ‘fake’ and 58% as ‘inactive’. Of the latter, some might have seen the tweet, but there’s no way of knowing how many. Even if you only take the ‘good’ accounts (assuming that Status People has made an accurate assessment of these), tweets typically only reach a small percentage of a users’ overall followers.

Bagnall cautions against confusing popularity with influence, a problem that goes to the heart of the influencer industry. “I think there is a real problem with influencer marketing because you’ve got the top, genuine influencers but then you've got this massive group of wannabes... who are doing things like buying followers because they know your brands are vulnerable and they want to make money and be famous.”

There are, of course, plenty more problems with such output metrics that are grabbed by SaaS platforms and served up in charts. Bagnall quoted a few, including the figure announced in an Incapsula study in 2013 that 61.5% of online traffic is generated by bots, not humans, and P&G’s estimate that 10-20% of the world’s mainstream media is now subject to bot fraud

Having laid bare the problems, Bagnall’s challenge to the industry is to bring measurement back to the beginning of the campaign planning process, defining with the client what success will look like and determining together whether those objectives are realistic. He pointed to a free planning resource on the AMEC website, a seven-step process that brings outtake and outcome measurements into the results story, as well as outputs.

“I used to fear and hate measurement,” concluded Bagnall, “but if you do this you will stop fearing it and learn to embrace it.”

Campaign Asia

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