Barcelona Vs. AVE – the PR Measurement Game Without a Winner

No matter what business you’re in, measuring your efforts is essential, if you want to do your job better – and who doesn’t? However, in the world of PR, measuring the value of your work sure isn’t easy. The debate is raging between the infamous AVEs and the so-called Barcelona Principles. But they both fail the test in PR measurement – here’s why.

For many years, the PR industry have measured their outcomes using a metric called AVE – Advertising Value Equivalent. AVEs are measured by multiplying the size of a press clipping with the price rate for a full-page ad in a particular medium. Often a multiplier is added – frequently in the range of 3 to 10 – to allow for the integrity factor of news copy over advertising.

They refer to how much an advertisement of equivalent size and circulation would be worth. But in recent years, marketers have shunned AVEs as a valid tool for measuring PR value, for many reasons. The two essential reasons are these:

1. AVE’s values are often unrealistically high
The strength of AVE as a measuring method is that it offers an indication of how much cost your PR department saves you on advertising, and that it is very easy to apply. But, when calculating AVEs, professionals often end up with values that are way too high. The official price rates for advertising don’t necessarily reflect the price rates – because agencies often negotiate much lower prices. Add the multiplier, and you will end up with a metric that is simply too inaccurate.

2. AVEs don’t distinguish between good and bad press
Since AVEs are purely quantitative, they cannot measure the of each press clipping. They don’t take into account the character of the coverage, whether or not the media’s readership fits in the brand’s target group, or if the mentioning is just secondary. Thus, negative or irrelevant press might still add positive values to a company’s overall evaluation of their PR work.

In other words, AVEs can be highly misleading. Consequently, they have been termed by “Measurement queen” Katie Paine, for obvious reasons: they’re good for making PR outcomes look fantastic – without really being so.

The Barcelona Principles
But let’s quit the name-calling for a moment and look into what alternatives PR pros really have. AMEC, the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, published their 7 Barcelona Principles in 2010 as a new approach for better and more valid ways of measuring PR value, according to the organisation.

1. Importance of goal setting and measurement
Apart from setting clear goals (which should be a part of every PR strategy), the people behind the Barcelona Principles value a approach to measurement. That means including representative media, as well as changes in awareness among key stakeholders, comprehension, attitude, and behaviour in the analysis.

2. Measuring the effect on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs
To AMEC, measuring outcomes means to measure shifts in awareness, comprehension, attitude and behaviour regarding products and the company itself, in addition to the stakeholders’ own beliefs and behaviours.

3. The effect on business results can and should be measured where possible
AMEC puts emphasis on market mix models when measuring PR’s effect on business results. That means including every parameter you can think of that might be influencing your results. They also state a need for developing these models among PR professionals, as it is still an undeveloped field in the business.

4. Media measurement requires quantity and quality
According to AMEC, professionals should take into account the impressions among stakeholders and target audiences in particular when measuring media – not just the general numbers of impressions. They should also look into the actual content of clippings – the tone, credibility and relevance, message delivery and relevance to the specific medium.

5. AVEs are not the value of public relations
AMEC rejects the use of AVEs as a metric for evaluating Public Relations, as mentioned above. They are only accepted (although in a revised form) in cases where there is a particular need to compare the cost of space from earned versus paid media.

6. Social media can and should be measured
There is no ‘single metric’ for measuring social media, AMEC states. They recommend measuring through several different channels, such as web and search analytics, sales and CRM data, and survey data. No completely reliable sources for this type of measurement is accessible at this point (as user accounts are still relatively private), and must be experimented with and developed according to the company’s goals.

7. Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement
AMEC underlines, in true academic manner, that the sources of data, interview methods, and analysis methodology should be stated loud and clear, and included in the measurement reports.

So far, so good.

Does it work?
The question is, however, if PR professionals can really measure PR value on the grounds of these principles. First of all, to live up to the principles, it would be necessary to develop your own models of measurement, and developing them as you go. Being generally qualitative, an approach like that is more time consuming than what many companies care for.

Second, what the Barcelona Principles seem to evolve around is in fact companies’ – which is great, though something completely different than measuring the concrete value of concrete PR performances.

Third, we would argue that these principles are more of an academic statement, than it is an actual operational measurement method – AMEC want to demonstrate that AVEs are pointless, but they’re not presenting a genuine alternative.

To sum up, the answer to the question in the headline is this: Neither AVE or the Barcelona Principles will measure your PR value.
So what are PR pros to do, you might be asking, evaluate their efforts ad hoc?!

The Next Generation
Fortunately no. Measuring PR value is complicated. Both AVEs and the Barcelona Principles have major issues that are hard to overlook for companies that want to improve by measuring the value of their PR performances. That’s why we, at Hypefactors, have worked so hard with developing a metric for measuring real PR value. A metric that balances both quantitative and qualitative data by including factors like the type of media and number of impressions, as well as the tone and relevance of press clippings – while still being simple and user-friendly.

Hypefactors lets you compare markets, benchmark, and keep your PR strategy on track in an easy and operational manner.

Though there’s no perfect way for professionals to measure the outcome of their PR, this might still be the one that comes closest. With a minimum of efforts, it can paint a quantitative picture of whether your hard work is moving pebbles or mountains, and thus be a valuable assistant in reaching your PR goals.