It’s time we replaced AVEs with ROOs

Recently, I attended the ‘PR is Changing’ conference organized by PRmoment India on the latest developments in the industry and the use of PR measures by companies to review their goals. It was really good to learn about innovative PR ideas and their successful implementation. But I was quite disappointed to see that one particular method is still being used for analysing the success of PR campaigns. I am referring to AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalents), which people refrain from discussing but use nonetheless. The standard reasons cited in favour of AVEs can be any/few of the following: If not AVEs, then what? How do I justify to my board our success? How do I measure the ROI of my campaigns?

I won’t get into a debate on why AVEs should not be used as a measure of PR success, as enough material is available online, and discussions at almost all industry events dissuade the usage of AVEs. I also believe that everybody in the PR industry understands that AVEs are not the right measure of PR efforts.

Therefore, we need to understand why AVEs, despite their drawbacks, are still used as a measure of ROI and for showcasing the success of campaigns. I am listing below some reasons that I could find out from my interactions with clients and those shared at various industry fora:

  • My board only understands numbers.
  • I understand AVEs are not the right measure of the success of PR. Yet, what options do I have if I do not use AVEs?
  • AVEs help me measure how well my PR agency is delivering. This gives me a quick ROI on how much I paid versus the value for the payment made.

I feel these are valid points, and it would not be wise to continue cursing AVEs without providing answers to the above issues.

I would also like to highlight a point made by one of the PR industry stalwarts during the same conference. He asked why PR professionals keep talking about measurement. He said, “We ourselves are degrading our profession by talking about measurement. Does a lawyer or a doctor ever talk about measurement of performance?” With due respect, I would really not agree with this observation, as a doctor or lawyer is also judged on the basis of his/her success rate. It is the measure of success that determines a doctor or lawyer’s increasing/decreasing clientele. To the person’s credit, he later clarified, and rightly so, that measurement is important in the PR industry, but it has to be driven by the clients’ objectives. A standard one-size-fits-all solution cannot work. This was like music to my ears and I interpreted this to mean that standard AVEs cannot be answer to the above questions.

This brings us back to the same question: if not AVEs, then what? The answer to this question is ROO or Return on Objectives. The very first Barcelona Principle also advocates the importance of goal setting in measurement.

How to use ROO

Before launching/starting a campaign, certain objectives are set down. If it is a product launch, the objective at the beginning of the campaign could be to drive awareness about the product, with the ultimate objective being to increase sales. Similarly, if you are handling a crisis, the objectives could range from less media attention at the beginning to increased favourable coverage towards the end. One of the objectives could even be to look at the trend of key influencers’ perceptions over a period, which is an important objective in several crisis situations. Once the objectives are clear, the campaign can be run efficiently and measurement becomes more effective.

Measurement is not expensive

I would also like to break the myth that measurement is expensive. It will be expensive if you do not know what you are trying to measure. It is just like filling your plate with everything on the menu at a buffet, as you are not sure about what to eat. However, if you decide in advance what you would like to eat, you will avoid wastage. Similarly, if you define your objectives well in advance, the measurement programme can be effectively planned around those objectives and it can also be cost-effective. You may not even need an external measurement agency in several cases. For example, if your end objective is to increase awareness of a new product, it can be achieved by just looking at the number of articles published, coupled with Target Media Penetration. Another important measure is Reach, which gives an idea about the potential number of readers/viewers that you were able to reach via the campaign. This can be easily done in-house or by your PR agency without getting into the nitty-gritty of a detailed measurement programme. However, sentiment, influencers’ perceptions, key messages-analysis and other qualitative measures can be better evaluated by an external measurement agency to ensure objectivity and transparency. Still, all of this has to be driven solely by your campaign objectives.

So, what do I say to my board that understands only numbers? I firmly believe that we need to make a start by organising our board presentations around ROOs and not AVEs. I am sure the board will understand if we can clearly articulate our objectives and share our success stories around those objectives. Yes, board members are more adept at and comfortable analysing numbers. However, the numbers do not necessarily need to be about AVEs but success metrics and ratios around the objectives. A measure like ImpactIndexTM (developed by Impact Research & Measurement) can be handy, as it assigns a score on a scale of -100 to 100 to your media coverage. It can be used effectively to measure your performance over time, as well as in competitive benchmarking.

At the same time, we need to continue educating people, who matter, about AVEs. Unless this is done, we will keep using AVEs, while also denouncing them at various industry platforms.

Durgesh Garg has over 17 years’ experience in Media Measurement and currently works with Impact Research & Measurement Pvt. Ltd. as GM – Operations. He also holds an International Certificate in Measurement and Evaluation from AMEC. The views expressed here are personal.

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