Addicted to AVE? Here Are 5 Time-Tested Alternatives


AVE (advertising value equivalency) is a simple, single number that marketing folks and many others love. They think it translates PR into something they understand how to measure, like advertising. Guess what? It doesn’t. (Read more about AVEs at “How to Spurn the Siren Call of the AVE Succubus” and “How to Explain AVEs to Your Dad.”)

AVEs are primarily used to show how much more cost-effective PR is than advertising. The fallacy is that PR is generally not intended to sell or communicate the same things that your usual advertising program does. Worse of all, most AVEs are calculated based on all media coverage, when in general very little earned media contains all the messages and other elements that actually contribute to a sale.

But we get it: AVE seems like a simple and easy way to measure. The fact that it is inaccurate, misleading, and rejected by the industry somehow pales when you’re confronted by a short-tempered executive who just wants his or her number.

But we would argue there are better numbers, and many of them are fairly simple to come up with. Below we offer 5 AVE alternatives that you and your CMO will understand, appreciate, (and hopefully use):

Caveat: You are not going to find a magic wand or bullet here. Part of the easy thing about AVE is that you don’t have to even think about what you are measuring. Real measurement means you’ve got to think carefully about what you really want to know, and then make an effort to express it in terms of data you have available. The key to making it simple is to use data you already have or data that’s very easy to get.

1.  Define acceptable proxies

Many times you wish you had certain metrics, or that you could measure a certain action, but the necessary data simply are not available. This is where your creativity comes in: Choose as a proxy something you can measure. An acceptable proxy is a metric that everyone agrees is representative enough of the desired action to be acceptable to senior leadership.

Here’s an example: One nonprofit communications team wanted to know if their programs increased donations, but they couldn’t get access to donor data. After a little thought they realized that Google Analytics could tell them how many times the “Thank You for Your Donation” page was served up—and the only way anyone saw that Thank You page was if they made a donation. In other words, unique sessions on the Thank You page became an acceptable proxy.

If your goal is to increase awareness or preference, then the only way you can accurately test whether you are meeting that goal is to conduct a pre/post survey of your audience. Do not let anyone tell you that social engagement is the same as awareness unless you are sure that every member of your target audience is actively participating in social media (see “A Wink Is Not the Same as Saying “I Do” — Social Engagement Is Not the Same as Awareness”). However, if people are signing up for an email or signing a petition, then it is a pretty safe bet that they’re aware of your brand or issue. So one of those actions might be an acceptable proxy.

2.  Gamify your research

If your goal is to educate the public on an issue or to communicate a specific message, then in order to know if you are being successful you need to find out whether those messages have been received and believed. That’s hard to do without an expensive and time-consuming survey.

A possible option is to gauge people’s awareness by building a quiz into your website or during your next event. Ask visitors to take your quiz, then give them a prize for getting three right answers. Or create a “passport system” that allows access only after they answer certain questions and get their passports “stamped” to signify that they know one of your messages.

3.  Compare cost effectiveness

For years, cost per thousand (CPM) has been commonly used in advertising to judge the efficiency of one medium over another. There is no reason why PR can’t use it just as easily. Let’s assume that getting exposure for your key messages is the goal. To measure the effectiveness of one launch tactic over another, you take the budget for each event and then divide it by the number of messages communicated for that event. This metric is Cost per Message Communicated. You can use it to compare programs or events, or to track the effectiveness of one program over time.

If you are a nonprofit, count your new donors each month. Compute Cost per Donor Acquired (CPDA) by dividing that number into the total amount (including salaries) that you spent trying to communicate with those donors. Compare CPDA to that from last year, or between different tactics.

4.  Engagement

While you can’t use engagement as a proxy for awareness, it is an acceptable indicator for the extent to which people have responded to your outreach efforts. You just need to be very clear on your definition of engagement and set expectations correctly. According to The Conclave on Social Media Measurement Standards, engagement is defined as the percent of your followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook who have taken some action you define as engagement. Total engagement from earned media efforts will generally be significantly smaller than from paid, so you should report and compare cost per engagement rather than the raw numbers.

5.  Quality scores

Last month, we wrote about how to create a custom quality score (what I like to call a Kick Butt Index) for your earned media coverage (see “How To Define Your Kick Butt Index”). A KBI enables you to compare the amount of on-message, high-quality media coverage you have received in any given time frame or about any given product. If you know what your budget is you can calculate a cost per quality story. Calculate the total number of quality stories (those with Media Quality Index score over 7) and divide that into your budget. Track the number over time. ∞

(Thanks to TaableNote for the image.)

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