How to Spurn the Siren Call of the AVE Succubus


Succubus: (noun) A female demon or supernatural entity in folklore and medieval legend that appears in dreams and takes the form of a woman in order to seduce men, usually through sexual activity. The male counterpart is the incubus. Religious traditions hold that repeated sexual activity with a succubus may result in the deterioration of health or even death.
Syn: AVE, Advertising Value Equivalency, Earned Media Value, Impressions

Like the mythical succubus, AVE (advertising value equivalency) and other bad metrics suck the strength out of your PR campaigns. They reduce your value to the “equivalent” of advertising by reducing your efforts to the “value” of a column inch. In the case of impressions, often you are measuring your value in terms of random “eyeballs” that may or may not be ones that help your business.

Our theme for this month is True Love, Relationships, and Engagement. So, to better measure your public relationships, we offer a few tips on how to avoid the tempting-but-destructive call of AVE and false metrics:

1. Focus on the business results, not the promotional results.

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 not you will need to define the connection between your activities and the business objective — 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. Measure those. Ignore the siren song seduction of impressions, likes, and AVE.

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

If your program’s goal is to increase awareness, then to accurately 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 simply pre/post survey using a tool like Google Forms can be done for free.

Alternatively, if you use Google Analytics 4 (GA4) you can create an “event” that is triggered when a visitor arrives at your site via organic search or a known URL.   If the goal is to generate sales leads, then you can use internal CRM systems or GA4 and tag whatever content you create so that sales will know the origin of each lead.

If the goal is to increase preference over a competitor, then you can either:

  • Do pre/post surveys, or
  • Analyze social media and web analytics to see if there has been more engagement in your digital properties as a result of your efforts.

3. Customize your metrics based on your business goals.

If the goal is to change perceptions or the 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. These can be just as dangerous and misleading as any dark-of-the-night demon.

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.

If the goal is increased engagement with your brand, set up conversions in Google Analytics to reflect the desired actions and behaviors you want you audience to take.

4. Calculate cost efficiency, not AVE.

If management is insisting that you put dollar figures on your metrics, focus on cost efficiency instead of AVE. 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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