Totaling Up The Value of PR

Over the years, I’ve been asked by numerous entertainment clients to provide “advertising value equivalencies” (AVEs) for my agency’s PR results. AVEs are what your editorial coverage would have cost if it were advertising space or time—basically, they’re a way to put a rough (very rough) dollar figure on the value of PR, which can sometimes seem intangible to clients used to looking exclusively at the bottom line.

To calculate the value of one print clip, you measure the space (column inches) given to a clip; for radio and television coverage, you measure the time. Then you multiply the column inches (or time) by the ad rate for that page (or time slot).

The request recently came up again on several unrelated large projects involving multiple studios and PR agencies. Since I was in charge of collating the various clip reports, I was privy to the ways in which the values were calculated by all the other PR entities. What an eye opener! 



First of all, the AVEs varied greatly. The cost of a USA Today clip in one report was radically less than the cost in a different report; ditto for License! Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and People Magazine. How could this be? Simple. Each person compiling a report could have been given a different ad rate over the phone by the publication’s ad rep (happens all the time); or, perhaps more likely, they all used their own methods to enhance the numbers. 

You see, it’s a common practice to enhance the numbers based on the positioning and content of the clip. If the clip were a particularly stellar review about a movie, for example, it might be given better enhancement numbers than if the piece had been negative. This is all subjective of course. None of it is scientific.

Secondly, some of the clip reports (but not all) included Facebook mentions, Instagram photos and tweets. While none of them included dollar amounts for these entries, just the fact that they were included at all is telling. Literally, one of the Instagram photos included had one follower. Should that one follower be counted in a clip report?

Finally, all of the clip reports were beautifully reproduced. The clips themselves had been cut and pasted into new documents with the publications’ mastheads featured above and the stories laid out in new, user-friendly designs—perhaps even better designed than the way they appeared in their original publications. Oh, the things you can do with Adobe software these days!

So, is any of the above wrong or misleading? Is there a better way to do it? Is the entertainment industry the only one still using AVEs or is it a common practice across all fields? 

I recently read a number of articles and blogs on the topic, all of which came down strongly against the practice in other industries. My favorite was one written by Deboshree Bhattacharjee at Edelman Digital, called “Five Reasons To Look Beyond Advertising Value Equivalency” in which she notes that AVEs are a “crude metric” that…

  • do not consider the quality of the message or whether the content is reaching the target audience; 
  • use random and subjective multipliers (to enhance the value of the article, as I mentioned earlier); 
  • fail to take into account that advertising and editorial have very different levels of credibility these days;
  • have “myopic vision” when it comes to the other purposes of PR, such as limiting negative publicity and establishing trust; and that they
  • ignore the importance of other influencers and social media.

This last point was also made during my conversation with Linda Landers, founder of Girlpower Marketing and an expert on marketing to women, particularly moms and Boomer women.

Landers, who also served as managing partner at PainePR, where she handled both consumer and entertainment accounts like Procter & Gamble and Disney, said the practice of using AVEs is no longer the requirement it used to be.

"There's definitely a lot of creativity and experimentation going on in PR campaigns right now," said Landers. "And with so many social media programs moving front and center, many PR practitioners are replacing or augmenting AVEs with numbers like website page views, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram followers, and the like. In addition, it's difficult to win attention for a message without a visual in today's world. I don't think anyone should have to use AVEs as the extent of their measurement anymore, that's for sure."

I certainly understand the anxiety of some clients who need to see a clearly labeled dollar-value return on the money they invest in PR. But I would rather that clients see PR as working hand-in-hand with advertising and marketing to:

  • build consumer trust in your brand, be it a movie, TV show, video game, or any other form of entertainment; 
  • establish your brand’s credibility;
  • generate excitement about your brand;
  • spur sales of your products;
  • and keep your brand top of mind in the vast consumer marketplace.

That’s the real value of PR.

1 comment about "Totaling Up The Value of PR".
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  1. David Thalberg from The Thalberg Group, April 4, 2014 at 3:31 p.m.

    Alison - you are SO SPOT ON. AVEs are virtually useless. Scratch that. They make wonderful reports for clients to move up the chain of command and then are great for recycling.

    We need to do what we can to maintain a brand's values and message - so it is heard clearly by the public - consumer, customer, reader, etc.

    AVEs should be retired along with the mimeograph.

    But that's just one humble PR pro's opinion!

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