A bit of a history lesson to start us off – back in the late 1990s PRs were struggling to find ways to prove the value of their work to their organisation. Even then, while grudgingly accepted, the use of AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalency) were being discredited as they failed to define the actual business value of the PR function. Twenty years later, we find a communications function operating in very different media landscape, blurring the boundaries between paid, owned and earned media. In 2016, we now have the data to accurately define value. This month, however, prompted by a white paper from Meltwater, measurement supporters were back on discrediting AVEs, some quite ferociously.
Robert Wynne’s white paper seems to work on the premise that AVEs are the only way of defining financial value. The paper takes us back to the 1990s and follows the school of thought that because advertising and public relations are part of the marketing function they should be treated the same and advertising metrics should be used for PR. It also defined a rather new formula for PR Value: (AVE x 5) + (Social Media Measurement) = Public Relations Value. No method to calculate the Social Media Measurement dollar number is provided (nor is any reasoning for why AVE should be multiplied by five), so it seems this score is unlikely to succeed.
The reaction to the white paper and subsequent Forbes article has been strong by measurement standards. The wide condemnation of AVEs shows the PR industry has moved on over the past twenty years. However, Meltwater is a fast-growing company and unlikely to willingly wholly sacrifice it’s reputation among its core PR clients.
Heidi Myers, Meltwater’s EMEA Marketing Director stated: “[Meltwater] don’t support, or constrain our customers to, one metric over others for measuring PR value and make sure our technology gives communications professionals powerful and simple tools tailored to assess their own work, and gather intelligence and insight from the world around them. PR is constantly evolving, and the ways to measure ROI will evolve with it. We encourage open and passionate debate about the best way to evaluate the effectiveness of PR and the merits of various measurement tools.”
In other words, Meltwater provide a variety of data to its clients. While the company helps PR professionals on their reporting objectives, it is ultimately the client’s decision on what metrics best fit their needs. This is true of many measurement suppliers, where AVEs are still provided as part of a broad data mix. While the final demise of the AVE is almost certain, some PR professionals clearly still see a need for them. Further education is needed to ensure we are not still having this conversation in another 20 years.
UPDATE: 19 February, Meltwater response added.