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AVEs have finally died, is social next?

Years ago, back in the dark ages of marketing and public relations, coverage was often measured by AVEs or Advertising Value Equivalency. This archaic method of measurement effectively equating the column inches of coverage with what it would cost to advertise on that area and quantifying the return on investment of a press release or feature that way. Thankfully, given today’s metrics, monitoring and measurement tools, AVEs (with the exception of a few isolated dwindling pockets of life) have died. Just.

I sit as a judge on the CIPR awards and instructions still have to be given to entrants not to include AVEs as a measurement of campaign effectiveness. So stringent is this rule, and so negative the perception of such an outdated construct that, as judges, we are instructed to automatically score zero for measurement if the term AVE is even referenced in a submission.

In the last few years, there have been a number of articles covering the (not so) sad demise of AVEs, and how this is totally understandable. But I suspect there are still some PR dinosaurs who wistfully (and secretly) work out the AVE benefit of their team’s latest cross-platform campaign, while quietly mourning the loss of long boozy PR lunches, but thankfully they are few and far between. Although the lunches sound quite good.

What I think will be the next realisation for the measurement boffins of the PR industry, is that social media reach – and more specifically engagement – is not necessarily the golden bullet that influencers would have us believe. And that’s because of the 90-9-1 rule.

I only heard about this rule recently, but it makes a lot of sense. The theory is that 90% of social media users don’t regularly post; they simply aren’t active – they are ‘lurkers’. The next 9% like or react to the occasional post and engage a little, but not often or regularly. The remaining 1% are the users that post regularly, comment on other posts, like things, react – engage with the majority of content and account for most of the activity you will see in your news feed.

For me, this highlights a problem with social media engagement being taken as a form of measurement. Social media reach is purported to be a good measure of success – and even more so engagement rates, but if engagement with your content comes predominantly from just 1% of users, how representative is that ‘audience’ of your target demographic? Granted, for some brands or campaigns, that 1% will be the primary target market… but that’s not always going to be the case, and when it isn’t, that means 99% of a potential audience are in effect an unknown factor. Did they appreciate and agree with your post, or did they read it, disagree and move on? Without a measure of engagement from this silent majority, who knows?

So how can PR and marketing professionals measure their campaigns? ROI has always been a hard concept to grasp for PR as much of what we do is either intangible, or works by raising awareness of a brand, product or service over a longer time period. A campaign is not one implementation; one press release or feature or a single interview in a single media outlet. There is a lot to be said for link building, but that relies on generating content that will drive traffic, but not necessarily result in direct purchases or clients. Yes, the increase in domain authority gained from links from highly ranked sites will increase organic visibility in search results, but again, directly linking that to a campaign is not an exact science.

There is no easy answer to what equates to value and ROI, but in reality it should be driven by the clients, acting under advice from you. By listening to what their objective is, what success looks like to them and designing a campaign with strong content that has a good chance of delivering that, or resonating with the target audience, results should follow.

So I think that the most important thing to focus on is content – content really is king. Quality content that engages and sticks is more valuable than column inches or social engagement. Don’t get me wrong, they both have their place and value, but not as stand-alone indicators of success.

Success should be a combination of multiple factors that result in delivery against objectives. A quarter page editorial that grabs attention can be more effective than an in-depth feature that rambles and is poorly executed. The important thing in all implementations is that the content is where it should be – on point, on message and engaging. That’s what we do at Kava – make sure that messages reflect objectives and work together across all media to deliver on our client’s objectives. Get in touch if you’d like us to do that for you too.

AVE is dead, long live the (Content) King.