AVEs and AVE Nots: Major PR Awards Programs Will Reject Entries Using Questionable Measurement Practice

Planning to enter your work in one of the major PR awards programs?

Then you’ll want to acquaint yourself with an important change in the rules, encouraged by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation (AMEC), which has been endorsing the 2010 Barcelona Principles, new measurement standards for PR and social media.

Now that we have measurement standards, how do we get them adopted? That’s the question PR/social media measurement expert Katie Delahaye Paine posed in her most recent The Measurement Standard newsletter. Like the sponsors of some of the industry’s leading awards, Paine believes the answer is to bar AVE measurements from award programs.

The only way to prevent PR practitioners from falling back on bad measurement habits – like Ad Value Equivalency – is to use “fear, greed, or force,” says Paine in her post.

She was half-joking about force (I think…there is a reference to inventing a drone that could deploy “Shame on You” stickers when someone uses AVEs), but she talks tough when it comes to recommending that clients “shun firms that offered them” in measurement reports and “pushed for a rejection of any entry to an awards program that included AVEs.”

PRSA, AMEC and PRWeek now “categorically reject” entries that include AVE as a metric, she notes. Some refuse to give them up, but other distinguished programs, like the Cannes Lions Awards banished AVE measurement this summer thanks to AMEC.

Should AVE Known Better

AVEs (Ad Equivalency Value), like impressions, are considered by many leading PR and measurement experts to be an outmoded form of quantifying the success of a public relations campaign. Although AVE relies on a mathematical formulation – measuring the media coverage garnered on behalf of a client, frequently using a multiplier, and then calculating the value of coverage as if it were paid advertising – the data derived is viewed as unscientific and specious.

Why remove an established albeit old-fashioned measurement from an awards program?

In the past decade, the major PR industry awards programs having been moving toward a standardization of their own. It’s a lot harder to win an award just because the CEO liked your meeting-in-a-box. Judges review entries for quality of work and quantified successes, for content as well as results that link directly to the original objectives for the campaign.

The drive toward standardization is about promoting professional standards of practice in the PR industry, from accreditation to ethical behavior, measurement, and rewards.

If I Can’t AVE You

Now to the important part – what it means for you if you plan to enter 2012 work in a PR awards program that has disallowed AVEs. The good news is that you still have time to “measure what matters,” as Paine puts it.

This means gathering data about the program’s impact on the audience. You should be able to draw a straight line to the measured results from the original communications need through the strategy, objectives and tactics developed for your program.

Doing this kind of follow-up should be simple for corporate and institutional communicators (who tend to have direct access to the audiences they’re communicating with), but even agencies may be able to survey their clients’ audiences with the goal of gathering metrics on campaign effectiveness. There’s certainly an incentive for clients who want the kind of third-party endorsement that accolades offer: Spending a little extra on an audience survey could turn an unacceptable program into an award-winner.

I’ll AVE What She’s AVEing

Paine, CEO of KD Paine & Partners, a PR, brand relationships and social media research and measurement company, is a tireless advocate for accuracy and standards in measurement.

If you’re a “you do the math, I’ll do the words” kind of PR or communications person, you’ll love her take-no-prisoners approach to writing and talking about data. (“Clearly there are still a lot of PR pros clinging to AVEs as a measure of their success,” she writes in her post on adoption. “The best we can hope for in their case is early retirement, since sooner or later the C-suite will see behind the façade and fire them.”)

In just a few years, with the arrival of social media, we’ve witnessed the upending of industries and practices. Paine’s efforts – and those of the measurement brigade – are just as exciting and transformative.

“In reality, AVEs and multipliers won’t go away until clients demand a better solution,” says Paine. “The good news is that it is starting to happen. More and more clients are waking up to the silliness of a chart that indicates that the number of impressions you received last month is three times the population of China.”

We’re about to enter an era when PR measurement is transparent – far beyond impressions, AVEs, Likes, Smiles, and Hits on a newsletter article. Because the tools are already out there, and clients won’t need us to interpret data anymore.

No professional, ethical practitioner should fear this kind of openness. Having these “drill down capabilities,” as Paine calls them, will allow us to demonstrate the ROI of our programs, making our work and thought leadership even more valuable to CEOs and clients. Even more important, it will enable us to refine PR programs so they’re more targeted, effective and meaningful to the audiences we’re hoping to reach and engage with.

For more background:

Katie Paine’s “Everything You Need to Know about the Dublin Summit and the New Measurement Standards” shares tons of links, including one to a glossary of social media measurement terms.

Check out No Bad Language’s posts on writing competitive awards program entries.