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What are AVE and Vanity Metrics and Should We Measure Them In PR?

“We don’t want much, we just want to be in all the papers, on the front page of the internet – oh and if you can grab us that spot on Newsnight, too…”

We’ve all been there. Clients want to meet a business goal and bring on an agency to help them, but all too often, somewhere along the line they get distracted with the glitz and glamour of grabbing headlines or being on TV and coverage becomes the be-all and end-all. Bottom line? What bottom line…?

Hence the success of PR then becomes almost impossible to measure and, as an industry, we can fall foul to picking the headlines that paint us in the best picture and that the client understands: vanity metrics. (It’s not just a PR thing, either, marketing, web and design agencies all do it too).

What Is A Vanity Metric?

Essentially, they’re metrics/measures that are easy to digest and explain the surface level state-of-play pretty easily. They’re things like Facebook likes, registered users, Twitter followers or page views.

Sure, there are many pros of using vanity metrics. For example:

  • they’re unbelievably easy to understand because they’re very ‘what it says on the tin’
  • non-PR pros understand them, which means board members, directors, wider marketing teams and indeed consumers, can all buy into them
  • they make great headlines (and let’s face it, isn’t that what we’re all really after in PR?)

On the flipside, however, all is not as it seems:

  • they can be easily manipulated
  • they don’t really tell us much about what is actually going on (a billion Twitter followers is fab, but so what?)
  • they don’t correlate with bottom-line goals

What is AVE?

In PR, a big vanity metric we battle with is AVE (advertising value equivalent), where we say, OK, we’ve got you this much coverage in this publication, and if these column inches were an advert, it would have cost you X amount of pounds to buy this space. It’s a simple way of documenting the return-on-investment and, on a very basic level, it seems like you’re getting a great deal from your PR agency. Drill down a bit deeper though, and the water becomes a bit more muddied.

AVE doesn’t account for context, content or sentiment. To use a very crude example: let’s say you’re trying to flog lip gloss. Your PR strategies aim is simply to shift more units. You get a full page write up in the Financial Times talking about your business model. Your AVE would look incredible. Your bottom line? No different.

AVE is a bit of a poison chalice for PR. Sure, on a good year, we’re all winners. Advertising costs rise, so our coverage looks even better on paper. But what about when they fall – what then? For the same amount of AVE we’re expected to get even more coverage, for the same retainer price? Surely not?

Worse still, there’s very little we can do about this because we’re essentially relying on an entire industry to provide our analytics for us. Are advertising agencies relying on PRs doing well to provide them with better figures to report back to clients? Absolutely not. So why are we doing it the other way?

So, how should we be measuring success in PR?

Good question. Vanity metrics aren’t the answer; not on their own, at least. AMECs Barcelona Principles state that “measurement and evaluation should be transparent, consistent and valid”. This means we need to, as agencies, ensure integrity and openness, and act ethically. From a reporting point of view, it means calling on qualitative and quantitative data that takes into account the sources we’re collecting content from, the deep analysis of the briefs and methodologies we use to garner coverage and being honest and realistic about any bias or broader social contexts.

In fact, this method for measurement doesn’t just apply to PR. Marketeers industry wide could benefit from stepping back from the vanity-only approach to analytics. Go beyond app download figures or Facebook shares and evaluate what they really mean, and we can all create and execute better comms plans.

There isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ option, but if you’d like to chat to us about how we report on PR, or would like to know more about bringing a new PR strategy to your business, get in touch.

With metrics in mind, we also recommend taking a look at the AMEC website. As the world’s largest media intelligence and insights professional organisation, they campaign to highlight the importance of efficient measurement in communication!