Die! AVEs! Die! Die! Die!

I’ve been telling the PR industry for some time now that things can’t go along as they are…. business as usual while mainstream media goes to hell in a hand basket.

This week it hasn’t been business as usual because AMEC (the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications) and the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) both announced the death of AVEs (advertising value equivalency).

I’ve ranted, raved and used subtle persuasion to try and kill AVEs for almost as long as I’ve been in public relations. When AMEC published its Barcelona Principles in 2010 I was astounded that principle five was “AVEs are not the value of public relations” (amended to communications in the Barcelona Principles 2.0). Seriously! It was 2010 and AVEs were even worth mentioning. I started my first PR job in 1989 and serious PR professionals then knew that AVEs were nonsense. Why the heck were we still even talking about them in 2010?

The usual excuse is “but our clients/boss ask for them”. I’d love to reply “are you a man or a mouse”, but I bite my tongue and instead engage in subtle persuasion and education. But the fact is that you’re paid for your expertise and for what you can achieve. Being a professional isn’t about tugging your forelock and saying “yes sir, three bags full sir.” However, the biggest problem in explaining to bosses/clients why they shouldn’t use AVEs was a lack of leadership from professional and trade associations.

If AMEC truly is the global standard for best practice in the measurement and evaluation of communications then it makes your case as PR professional much weaker when it has a principle that says “AVEs are not the value of communications”, but then allows its members to merrily go selling something it has said is effectively a fraudulent metric. Likewise how can a PR professional working with accountants, engineers, lawyers or a host of other professions say that AVEs are wrong if the CIPR, our own professional body, has an ambiguous stance?

AMEC’s initiative is all AMEC members must now sign an undertaking that they will not provide AVEs by default to any client. Any client that requests AVE as a metric will receive standard educational material explaining why the metric is invalid and should not be used. They will be offered alternative metrics instead. This is what I’ve been counselling clients, and people who come on my training courses, for years. Arguing with the boss or client about why AVEs are wrong doesn’t always succeed. It’s human nature to dig your your heels in and insist on getting your way. I’ve found if you provide something better alongside the AVEs and combine it with an explanation of why the alternative is good and the AVEs are bad then overtime the boss or client will make the right choice themselves.

The CIPR announced plans for a ban on the use of AVEs by CIPR members. It will publish a new professional standard on public relations and communications measurement in the autumn which will identify the use of AVEs in public relations as unprofessional and set out an expectation of members that their use will cease. The new guidelines will warn the public about the use of misleading metrics and highlight the role of the CIPR Code of Conduct in raising standards of practice. Members currently using AVEs will have a period of one year to complete a transition to valid metrics, which the CIPR will support with resources. Members found to be using AVEs thereafter may be liable to disciplinary action.

CIPR measurement group

I’m delighted that CIPR president Jason MacKenzie has asked me to chair the CIPR measurement group that will lead on introducing these changes. It’s essential that we take members with us on this journey and provide lots of support and resources to help the transition and to ensure that the final professional standard we publish is one that works for all members.

Some members might view this announcement with trepidation as they work for organisations or clients that are still demanding AVEs or because they are uncertain what alternatives might be acceptable to the people they work with. Rest assured that this is something the measurement group is aware of and we will take all these views on board during the process of creating the new professional standard. My personal intention is that the standard will be one that gives members the security and reassurance they need to finally be able to stop using AVEs. Members will be supported, not only with guidance and tools, but also with robust policy that we will be sharing with other professional and trade bodies so they understand and support our stance.

The other members of the measurement group are Andrew Bruce Smith (Escherman and my fellow trainer on the CIPR’s measurement and evaluation course), Michael Blowers (Media Evaluation Research) and Kevin Ruck (PR Academy). We will be adding a couple of extra people to this group so let me know if you’re interested or if you know someone who you think should be part of it.

AMEC, the PRCA and ICCO have also announced a series of initiatives aimed at creating a broader understanding of measurement within the PR and communications industry. These include updated guidance and a new UK-based conference in London in September.

If you’ve got a sense of deja vue reading the headline and first sentence it’s because I’m citing Tom Foremski’s seminal blog post ‘Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die!’ from 2006. Tom’s post didn’t kill off press releases, but it did lead to some innovations. Not enough innovations, but some innovations. Hopefully the AMEC and CIPR initiatives will finally kill off AVEs.