I’ve said for a while that my tombstone will read “She killed AVEs,” but clearly I need to live for a very long time because the AVE zombie just won’t stay dead. When the IPR Measurement Commission condemned AVEs back 2009, and the Barcelona Principles followed one year later, many of us thought the hard part of putting measurement on a higher plane was done. However, measurement vendors and practitioners continued to offer the dreadful metric. Last year on the fifth anniversary of the Barcelona Principles, once again the industry reiterated its rejection of them, and I found more and more clients were eschewing them in favor of more meaningful metrics.
Then just when you thought it your safe from silly metrics, a monitoring vendor (you know the one, it’s got the really annoying salespeople) hired a PR flak from L.A. named Robert Wynne to put together a white paper justifying AVEs and the world went a bit nuts. (Google it if you must, I intentionally did not put a link to the paper in this post since the last thing I want is to generate anymore AVEs, clicks or hits for it.)
For the past few weeks I’ve been receiving links to it daily, all essentially saying: “WTF? I thought we were beyond this!” The PRCA, ICCO, and AMEC registered their ire with fierce denunciations – even more impressive since they were issued by Brits who are normally so much more polite than we are on this side of the pond.
Many refused to even respond, choosing to stay silent rather than fuel the fire. I thought of doing that too, but then I thought of Donald Trump and realized that a little more publicity might generate a lot more awareness of just how wrongheaded this notion is.
So, I fact-checked Wynne’s white paper and realized that he essentially used the same tactics to promote AVEs that David Daleiden used to discredit Planned Parenthood — selectively editing quotes from research papers even though the research says nothing like what he’s trying to prove. Most of his arguments are based on decades-old data which bears no relevance for today’s communicator.
Wynne bases his bogus principles on a body of custom research (i.e., not available to the public) that was conducted between 1998 and early 2005. Let’s remember that in 2005 Twitter hadn’t been invented yet, Facebook was only available to college students, and no one had ever posted a video on YouTube. In other words, the media landscape was entirely different, rendering his research irrelevant.
Wynne also cites Tom Watson’s paper on the history of AVEs, as proof that AVEs have value. But if you actually read Watson’s paper, you’ll find that it actually says, “Although widely used by practitioners, it has never been considered to be a valued research method in academic literature.”
But what I found to be the most egregious act of all, he uses my own writings in his arguments. So I had no choice but correct the blatant fallacies, and point out all the ways reading this paper is a waste of time (despite how many dollars the author was paid to write it).
Fact# 1: PR Measurement is NOT “one of the great mysteries in life.”
Wynne’s starting premise is that proving the value of PR is one of the “great mysteries in life.” He goes on to state that, “No one can definitely pinpoint toe overall or specific value of public relations in dollar terms,” Procter & Gamble, AT & T, Miller, and Disney might beg to differ. They were all putting very accurate and precise values on their PR efforts back in the 1990s. Today, most marketing departments have sufficient research to know what makes people buy their products because they design ads around those elements and it’s no great stretch to track the same elements in earned media. As far back as 1999, companies were starting to feed earned media results into their marketing mix models and predicting PR’s impact on sales. Disney was doing the same thing for movie ticket sales. The point is that measuring PR is no more a mystery than measuring any other communications activity as long as you are measuring against the stated objectives.
Fact # 2: There is no principle behind his “Principles.”
Wynne advocates for something he calls the “Manhattan Beach Principles” which is based on nothing more than his experience and some stale data. Experience is not the equivalent of academic or scientific research and Wynne ignores the inconvenient truth that there is no academic or scientific basis for his equation, despite his assurances to the contrary. In fact, there’s quite a lot of research that says that multipliers are a fallacy and AVEs are based on factious values.
Fact #3: The cost of an ad is not the “return” that most companies seek.
Wynne cites two examples of his own work in getting placements for his clients. One for a Hong Kong tailor, the other for a school. He measures their success by what it would have cost to buy ads in the same publication. But was the objective to get more placements or get more suit orders and/or applicants? My guess is that if the placements yielded zero leads or zero upticks in consideration or clicks, it won’t matter what an ad might have cost.
Fact #4: People don’t necessarily sing your praises.
Wynne justifies his 5x multiplier by suggesting that “with advertising, you tell people how great you are, with publicity, others sing your praises,” except they don’t. In fact on average over 30 years of analyzing media coverage the vast majority of media coverage is neutral – and doesn’t sing anyone’s praises. Another significant percentage is likely to be negative, but Wynne conveniently forgets this in his formula. I wonder what value he’d assign to this post? If I follow his calculations correctly its 12 inches times “priceless” since you can’t buy ads on our blog.
Fact #5: All media sources are not “credible.”
Wynne’s magical thinking also assumes that all media coverage conveys credibility, this despite the fact that newsrooms are shrinking and much of the media scene today could be considered click bait. And speaking of credibility, he bases the assertion that “an article is between 10 and 100 times more valuable than and advertisement,” on a book first published in 1993 and last updated in 2008.
Fact #6: There are accepted standards.
After the Barcelona Principles were agreed to, many of the same academics and practitioners that crafted them went to work to define standards and best practices. Most have since been written, approved, and published. Click here to read them.)
Fact #6: If you are going to create an index, it must be based on proven assumptions.
Wynne says that just because social media is blurring the lines between traditional and internet media social media ROI should be 50% of the equation. There is of course no evidence that for all, or even a majority of companies that social media is responsible for 50% of the revenue or sales or any other outcome. Social media may have an enormous impact on presidential campaigns, celebrity status, and sales of video games, but it probably carries very little weight if you’re selling to the defense or banking industries.
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. Wynne and his supporters are dinosaurs, trying to make an argument for a spurious metric based on out-of-date references and an antiquated perspective of PR. His “Manhattan Beach Principles” are based on no evidence whatsoever, propped up by studies that were done in media antiquity. Those who follow them, will go the way of the giant lizards, slowing dying off in an environment that will no longer support them.