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OMG: The AVE debate (again!)

AVEs are tosh. They tell you nothing about the success of the campaign and provide you with no insights to enable you to improve your planning and strategy. What do you do if you generate coverage on the BBC? Take the ITV advertising equivalent and double it – to allow for the objectivity of the BBC. This was a model that was common when I started in PR in the mid 1980s and is as alien to the modern PR as the typewriter on my first desk or the fax machine in reception.

But AVEs are one of the metrics that are ‘understood’ by many management teams so they are often requested by clients and so provided by agencies. I’ve spoken at many conferences on the importance of evaluation and when asked if I used AVEs I was always honest – if the client requests them I provide them, along with the usual caveats. I was after all running a business and the piper does call the tune.

Commercial agencies and good in-house teams are pragmatic and provide AVEs if the client or management team are insistent, and of course alongside they run an evaluation process that provides actionable insights which they use to inform, improve and construct the next campaign strategy and tactical programme.

So for the CIPR to suggest it is going to ban their members from using AVEs just doesn’t reflect the reality many agencies and in-house teams are working in. Plus, for the life of me, I can’t see how it would be policed. Do we envisage a CIPR mass hack of PR reports to check for the use of AVEs?

It's over two decades since I was the PRCA representative on a joint association project with the then IPR to create the first recognised ‘PR Planning and Evaluation Toolkit’. Over the last 20 years I’ve seen our sector grow in professionalism across the board, especially in the use of evaluation. This improvement has been fuelled and supported by the CIPR, AMEC and PRCA and we should all be grateful for – and use – the many guides, toolkits and manuals that they provide for free online. This is what trade associations are best at. Bringing together top talent and experts to create models that can be used globally to improve the quality of public relations in both consultancies and in-house.

Back in 2010, whilst president of ICCO, I sat on the stage signing AMEC’s original Barcelona Principles, hoping that we were entering a new stage in the evolution of and the use of evaluation. And we were. But at no point did I feel that we should add to Principle number three (which addressed AVEs), the words ‘we know better then you’ or ‘we don't trust you to be professional’ – which is what the CIPR seems to be saying to its members with this announcement.

In summary, this is an ill-advised initiative that sits poorly with the role of a trade association. We are making good progress on driving the use of evaluation throughout the sector. Now is not the time to use the stick, but for continued strong and tenacious leadership.

Richard Houghton is a specialist management consultant, former ICCO president and PR commentator

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