How to Adapt When Your Agency or Vendor Refuses to Provide AVEs — And They Will

Much has been made of the recent commitments by AMEC and CIPR to wipe out AVEs in the next year. Of course we here at Paine Publishing have been trying to do the same thing for about three decades, so we couldn’t be more supportive of their efforts.

In fact, we’re going to put on our eternal optimist hat and assume CIPR and AMEC are wildly successful. So much so that sometime in 2018 one or more of you will encounter a vendor or an agency or a client that will refuse to provide AVES (ad value equivalency) any longer.

At which point there are a lot of bosses, managers, and clients that will probably panic. Here’s the probable scenario:

  1. Word comes down from your measurement supplier that those happy (albeit meaningless) ad dollar values that have been a mainstay of your reporting for decades will disappear.
  2. My guess is that many clients won’t even notice, because anyone with any experience in business stopped believing in AVEs about five years ago. That’s when digital and social media took over marketing and rendered the premise on which AVE was founded (that space is limited and there is a value to a column inch) irrelevant. Hmm… I wonder how many people even know what a column inch is anymore?
  3. Many clueless marketers will scramble to find a digital equivalent. They’ll jump, no doubt, on this even more dubious AVE-wannabe: what it would have cost to pay for a banner ad on the same page. Even though no sentient human has ever clicked on a banner ad intentionally (to quote Bob Garfield). And event though rampant click fraud has rendered most of those values as erroneous as AVEs.
  4. Smart communications and marketing professionals, on the other hand, will jump on the opportunity to replace their outmoded system with a one that truly reflects the value that their efforts deliver.

So this is an opportunity to replace AVEs—and those other old broken metrics you have lying around (like impressions or likes)—with better, more meaningful ones. Here are a few tips and alternative metrics:

1. Give your metrics the business.

Work your metrics over until they work for you. Before you begin any program, have a clear idea of the intended business outcomes. Every communications effort should be designed to increase consideration, preference, sales leads, or some other business outcome. If you’re a nonprofit, those outcomes might include more volunteers, supporters, or donations. In a government agency, the outcomes will most likely be public support, funding, or compliance.

Whatever your organization, define the connection between your activities and your business objective(s)—in other words, the business value you are expected to deliver. Once you’ve defined that business value, work backwards to discover the ways your effort contributes to those goals. There you’ll find your new metrics.

2. Align your metrics to the goals of your program.

  • If your program’s goal is to increase awareness, then to assess its effectiveness you need to do pre/post or A/B studies to determine the change in awareness either between tactics or over time. Awareness studies need not be expensive. A simple pre/post survey using a tool like Survata can be as little as $500.
  • If your goal is to generate qualified sales leads or increase the marketable universe, then you can use tools like Google Analytics, Omniture or Salesforce to track the source of incoming contacts and conversions.
    If you positively must have a dollar sign attached to your results, then sit down with your sales force and agree on an average value of a conversion or a lead. Then make sure you tag your efforts so that your tracking system knows that those leads originated in communications.
  • If your goal is to increase preference over a competitor, then you can either:
    • Do pre/post surveys to measure the level of preference for your brand vs. the competition; or
    • Analyze social and traditional media and web analytics to see how your brand is doing relative to the competition on petitioning and market dominance; or
    • Or use a tool like Unmetric to measure your share of voice vs. the competition.
  • If your goal is to change the perception or image of your brand, you may need to analyze the conversation concerning your brand both in traditional and social media. Do not reduce the conversation to simple automated sentiment numbers.
    Decide what elements of the conversation are important, and what messages or statements are moving your readers closer to the business results you desire. (Frequently your marketing or research team will have data on what is most important to your audience.) Then develop a custom index based on those priorities. See #3 below.
  • If your goal is increased engagement with your brand, set up goal conversions in Google Analytics (it’s easy to do, watch my video) to reflect the desired actions and behaviors you want your audience to take.

3. Create a custom index that reflects your organizational priorities: the Kick Butt Index.

One (bad) reason for AVE’s longevity in our industry is the myth that it can reduce an entire quarter’s worth of PR efforts into a single number. Never mind that the number is irrelevant, wrong, and misleading. If the boss’ attention span is shorter than a two-year old’s, then you need a single number.

We have a better alternative. It’s called the Kick Butt Index, or KBI, for short. It’s the answer you need when the boss says, “Damn, do something, we’re getting our butts kicked!” or “Congratulations, you’re really kicking butt out there!” The KBI is a single number that reflects the quality of your media coverage. The really powerful thing about it is that you define “quality” yourself, by what drives your stakeholders to act, customers to purchase, or minds to be changed. Here’s how to create your KBI:

Step 1: Define the elements that positively or negatively motivate your target audience to purchase, support, donate, or change a habit or opinion.

For example, suppose you’re a tourism destination. Before anyone thinks seriously about planning a trip to your area, they probably need to see an attractive photo, read some pleasing information about what makes it unique, and perhaps hear a positive recommendation from a friend or a travel expert. Those are your positive elements.

Or, if you’re a consumer product company, go talk to your advertising team, which should have years of data on what makes people buy your product(s). Make a list of the most important of those; they are your positive elements.

List your negative elements, too. These are components of stories or posts that leave a reader less likely to do business with or support you. Those might:

  • Perpetuate a myth;
  • Position the product incorrectly;
  • Contain an incorrect message or misleading information; or
  • Mention the competition but not you.

Step 2: Weigh each element based on the degree to which it persuades or dissuades a reader from doing business with you.

For example, a negative headline might be twice as bad as an incorrect message. Or a desirable photo might be twice as persuasive as a positive mention. The total of these scores for each article or post will be your Kick Butt Index score. Put all the criteria and their weights into a chart that looks like the one below (and make sure that all the various weightings add up to +10 and -10):

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Step 3: Analyze the relevant posts and articles.

Now select all the stories that have appeared in key outlets that you know influence your target audience. Examine each for the positive and negative elements, add up the scores for each element in each post, and give each post and article a total score based on the KBI index you’ve developed.

Now take the average KBI for all stories that appear in each month. That is your KBI for the month. Ideally, now that you’re focusing on conversations that contain these elements, your average KBI will improve month after month. When you’re doing something right, your KBI will go up.

You can now use your KBI score to compare campaigns and to easily correlate your results to web traffic and other outcome metrics.

4. Calculate cost efficiency

Another way to put dollar figures on your metrics is to focus on cost efficiency instead of AVEs. For instance, use cost-per-message-communicated (CPMC) to compare the effectiveness of different techniques for getting your messages out. Start with your print placements. How many of the stories that you’ve placed contained a key message? Multiply the message presence by how many members of your target audience they reached. Now divide that number into the PR budget for that effort and you have CPMC for your print PR. That calculation will enable you to compare your efforts to the cost of getting messages out by other means, like direct mail or ads. In my experience, it’s not hard to show that earned media is more cost-effective.  ∞

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