This month’s Measurement Menace award goes to Dr. Phil Schubert, president of Abilene Christian University. Now I know we all need something to cheer for these days. I don’t blame the folks in Abilene, Texas for being inordinately proud of the Abilene Christian Wildcats basketball team’s progress in the NCAA championships. They should be. But they should also be ashamed of how Dr. Schubert reports the value of the team’s coverage.
In his op-ed column in the Abilene Reporter News Dr. Schubert called the school basketball team’s presence in the tournament “transformative.” Which, given the University’s small size and recent success, is no doubt true. But Dr. Schubert yields to temptation when he uses Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) to calculate the public relations value of his team’s efforts.
AVEs are the devil’s work
According to Schubert,
“…in 2019, the total advertising value equivalency (AVE) of more than 10,000 media mentions during our first March Madness run was the equivalent of $74.7 million, had we been required to pay for the broadcast, online and print coverage we received. This March, with one team playing first- and second-round games on national television, the AVE has soared to more than $200 million, and counting. It’s an astounding number and representative of the momentum that benefits all.”
Alas, Dr. Schubert, those AVEs you so gleefully cite are the devil’s work. They are seductive, but empty of meaning. They lure you away from true understanding of the value of your communications’ efforts.
That $200 million? It’s based on false assumptions and false data. Think about it: if you actually had that much of the University’s money to spend, you wouldn’t waste it on the expensive media purchases that go into AVE arithmetic. Like the kind of sports broadcast advertising which mostly serves as a timeout to relieve oneself, or at best to wander into the kitchen and refill your nacho plate. Or the kind of ads that reach millions of people who are never going to apply to, attend, work for, or give money to your university. And the ad fees that go into AVEs? They are based on inflated rates that no smart advertiser ever actually pays.
An unholy collusion between the media, your PR team, and your own vanity
AVEs are exaggerated and empty; an unholy collusion between the media, your PR team, and your own vanity. Those numbers you quote are fictitious at best, gleefully reported to you in all their overinflated glory either by whoever is monitoring your media or whoever is taking credit for your great “PR success.” And of course the Abilene Reporter News is very pleased to help you tell the world how much their articles are worth.
The true value of your coverage awaits your discovery
The most evil thing about AVEs is that they tempt you away from the truth. You’ll never know what your PR is worth because you’re so busy drooling over “more than $200 million.”
There is truly great value in your team’s coverage, and it lies in how the public actually responds to increased name recognition for your school. All that good coverage will get you, (at least):
- More attendance at Wildcats’ events.
- More applications from more talented students and faculty.
- More alums willing to donate and/or come back for homecoming and bolster the coffers of your local restaurants, bars, and hotels.
- Increased retention of teachers, students, and other talent.
- Improved relationships with a community that shares pride in your team’s accomplishments.
All of this value you could easily track, if you had the proper metrics in place. (It’s actually not much more difficult than calculating those AVEs.) Talk to your PR people. With a little nudge, they will get you much more valid and useful numbers.
Like so many before him, Phil Schubert took an enormous accomplishment and boiled it down to one big fat fake number. Sadly, by not using meaningful metrics, he probably devalued his team’s success among the people he would most like to appeal to. We congratulate him on earning Measurement Menace of the Month, and hope he sees the error of his ways. ∞