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Why AVEs are a fatally flawed measure of PR effectiveness

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

The concept of advertising value equivalency (AVE) has been used as a way to measure the effectiveness of media coverage created by public relations activity, especially marketing communication activity.

AVE is calculated by measuring the column centimetres (or column inches) of coverage in a publication and multiplying the publication’s advertising rate per column centimetre (or column inch) to reach a dollar figure. A column inch is the number of columns in an article multiplied by the number of inches or centimetres of text on the subject in each column, including the headings (most columns are of equal length).

A television or radio AVE is calculated by measuring the number of seconds of news coverage and multiplying by the advertising rate per second or minute to reach a dollar figure. For instance, a TV news item on a new medical breakthrough might run for 1 minute 15 seconds. The TV advertising rate on that station might be $1,200 for 60 second ads and $350 for 15 second ads, totalling $1,550 for one minute and 15 seconds = the AVE for the news coverage.

By aggregating the AVEs for all the news coverage in a marketing campaign, a total figure can be reached. The total can be compared with the cost of actual advertising in a campaign to show its apparent effectiveness.

In this way various publicity activities have been ‘compared’ with advertising to measure their effectiveness. (“Our media coverage in the past month was worth $126,000.”)

But never be pressured to accept this crude attempt at PR measurement. Accepting an AVE as a measure requires accepting that a news item of a particular size can have equal impact to an advertisement of the same size in that publication, or the equivalent in radio or television. This is fatally flawed logic and is condemned as an invalid measure of public relations effectiveness by every public relations body around the world.

There is no way the exposure generated by publicity can be directly compared with advertising; they are two different concepts. Advertisements are standardised, controlled messages usually shown repeatedly for maximum impact, while no news item is the same (except, perhaps for the news ‘updates’ that may be repeated on radio or TV programs).

Major news items are written in markedly different ways in different news outlets. Even though several articles may be written about a product or company, each article will have different length, content, emphasis, timing and context, and the extent to which it is favourable will vary. There is no known way that the value of a diverse range of messages delivered by news coverage about a product or company can be compared with advertising.

Some people have gone further with AVEs and have applied multipliers ranging from 1.5 to 6 to take into account the assumption that news messages are more credible than advertising messages and are therefore more persuasive. They have called this the “PR value.”

Advertising guru David Ogilvy once said news items are six times more effective than advertising, but his claim isn’t proven – and in real life the research can’t be simplified in this sweeping way.

The multiplier concept is flawed even further because the allocation of a multiplier to the use or value of each news item is quite subjective. The same multiplier can’t be used for every news item.

All the same, it has to be conceded that AVEs have some value. AVEs in one campaign can be compared with another because this compares like with like. Comparing AVEs from one period to another can give a broad measure of magnitude – and can be used to compare the AVEs of a competitor for a similar period.

More information can be found on AVEs at

The difficulty with measuring the effectiveness of media coverage is that the coverage itself isn’t the end result – it is only a means of reaching the target audience. And even then, we don’t know how many of the target audience may have read, heard or seen the coverage of each news item unless we engage in costly, detailed market research.

The ultimate end result is the changed behaviour of individuals caused by the media coverage. The media coverage is extremely hard to isolate as a cause of changed behaviour because usually the PR activity doesn’t happen in isolation – it is part of an overall communication campaign that also involves other methods of communication such as advertising, direct mail or email marketing. The target audience response has to be measured in other ways – through other forms of market research such as audience surveys and through quantifiable means such as sales and attendance at events.

Media measurement can indicate:

  • which publicity activity worked best in obtaining media coverage (media release, interview, media conference, pitch email etc)

  • where geographically the best coverage was obtained

  • generally how favourable or positive the coverage was in each news channel in each area

  • how prominent the media treatment was (eg lead story or buried at the end)

  • how the planned messages compared with those that actually appeared


About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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