Monday, July 25, 2011

The AVEs now AVE nots

Phew! Ogilvy PR has just announced that it's dropping the Advertising Equivalent Value (AVE) measure of PR effectiveness, simultaneously declaring the 'age of spin is dead' (  Am I missing something here? I thought that was abandoned as a metric years ago when something called the internet was invented!

Basically, the AVE looked at the value of editorial space (either column cms or time) relative to what it would cost to purchase that space to drop in an advertisement. Depending on who you talked to, whose hand you were shaking and other variables, there was usually a multiple applied on the basis that editorial space was worth more than advertising space.

But the disaggregation of media with the much greater control it gives to information consumers has long made a mockery of all this. The blunt instrument of circulation, readership, TARP and so-on naturally inflated the estimate of audience reach and, along with it, the value of advertising space. All the multiple did was hyper-inflate the value of editorial space.

That's not to say, high quality editorial in a respected publication that favours your cause is not worth more than its space in gold. It is. But in the age of infotainment and advertorial sections, to generally apply a rule of thumb to the value of editorial relative to display advertising is a ridiculous concept.

Compare the various blunt instruments of audience reach with the more precise targeting and measurement accessible through online media and the shortcomings of AVE and similar are immediately apparent. No wonder we're seeing big shifts in media budget towards online - the accountability for campaign success has never been greater. This, of course, will inextricably also apply to television and, ultimately, print as these channels converge and interact with mobile devices.

And, in the same announcement, here's another revelation from Ogilvy PR that caught me by surprise: "More than ever before, brands must remain authentic as audiences are looking for more engagement that interests, excites, amuses and provokes thought." It's almost like the PR industry is just discovering authenticity and engagement. No wonder it's struggling to define itself. Consumers have been onto this for decades.

If it's taken leaders in the PR industry this long to discover this truth, then it's no wonder PR has failed to own the brand space, as it should have done. With brand tightly intertwined with reputation management, the PR industry was the logical facilitator of brand strategy and implementation. But it's not. Specialist brand agencies have filled the space and are talking the authenticity, cultural alignment and all the other things that should be part of the PR business' bread and butter. Even advertising, graphic design and human resources companies have positioned themselves in this space.

There are PR companies that are engaged in this activity and that are doing it very well. Carrying the legendary David Ogilvy's name would suggest Ogilvy PR is likely one of them. But the PR industry has never effectively positioned itself as the natural provider of these services.

The elite sports in PR have been issues and crisis management, political lobbying and communications that have historically involves some level of 'spin'. But often, spin would not have been required if companies, or politicians, had delivered on their brand promise in the first place and evaluated every decision through the prism of their commitments to, and reputation with, customers and other stakeholders. PR companies could have assisted clients with the alignment of commercial activity with brand promise.

Brand in its broadest sense is where PR should have started its journey. And that journey has always involved authenticity rather than spin.

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