Followers of best practice for measuring and evaluating the impact of PR will not have been surprised to see the wave of criticism recently directed at Meltwater for publishing a white paper extolling the virtues of ‘advertising value equivalence’ (AVEs) to measure the value of media coverage secured by PR.
Not surprised because AVEs have – thankfully – long since fallen from their perch and instead are now widely viewed as discredited, with – for example – industry award entries ruling out using AVEs.
However, what’s missing from much of the criticism is a detailed critique of the case in favour of AVEs published by Meltwater beyond ‘hey, everyone knows AVEs are duff’. In some ways this is understandable given all the past effort put into debunking AVEs, but it is worth remembering not everyone is familiar with the history. And, indeed, there’s one major flaw with AVEs even that past debunking almost always misses out.
Consider the definition of AVEs, such as this taken from an academic research paper cited in the Meltwater white paper: “AVEs are calculated by multiplying the column centimetres of editorial print coverage and seconds of broadcast publicity by the respective media advertising rates”.
Note that “media advertising rates”. Yet the cost of placing an advert is neither its cost not its value.
It is not the cost. Just look at the offices for your nearest advertising firm to spot that there is rather more to the costs of running an advert than paying for the advertising space. There’s paying for the copywriting, the design, the management and the advertising exec’s car.
Nor is the cost of placing an advert the value of the advert – because if it were, the value would be less than the cost and so no-one would run adverts.
So using AVEs to ‘value’ PR coverage, even if there was no problem in principle with equating PR coverage with advertising, is still nonsensical – because AVEs are based on neither cost nor value but a number somewhere in-between. Which makes them useless as a comparator.