30 alternative public relations metrics to AVE

Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) is a lousy form of public relations measurement. In this blog post I’ve set out a list of alternative metrics.

Return on investment seeks to link the investment in public relations activity to the outcomes that it generates.

Defining a measurement framework for a campaign is hard. Practitioners use AVE because it’s easy. But it’s also wrong.

The objectives of a public relations campaign should be tied as closely as possible to organisational objectives.

Just as no two organisations are the same, no two objectives can be the same, and no measurement frameworks for a campaign will be the same.


When you’re planning a campaign you should be able to define the outputs of your activity and map these again intermediary and organisational outcomes.

There will be challenges in decoupling the contribution of public relations activity from other activities but it is achievable. My tip would be to focus on your publics and not on the media.

You need to understand the relationship between intermediary outcomes and organisational outcomes, and track both as part of your campaign.

The closer that you can tie the value you deliver to an organisation to the objectives of the organisation the more you’ll be valued. The dividend will pay out in budget and salary.

Intermediary outcomes

1. Article – volume of earned third party branded articles or posts. Link to outcomes, useful for benchmarking against previous campaign.
2. Attendance – consumers or citizens attending an event such as a conference, roundtable, or public meetings.
3. Branded search – increase in search activity around a brand as a result of public relations activity.
4. Conversation – link to an organisational outcome otherwise it’s a vanity metric, like so much of the social media measurement business.
5. Download – a form of lead that results from a call to action. Capture data for ongoing engagement or remarketing.
6. Dwell time – time spent on a web page. Useful to distinguish between raw traffic and whether a visitor has read the content on the page.
7. Email click through – used to determine whether an email recipient has received and acted upon a call to action.
8. Followers – building an audience or public as part of a branded community. Rate of growth is also a useful indicator.
9. Hits or views – an indicator of a visit to a web page but beware of fake or irrelevant traffic. Use in conjunction with dwell time as an indicator of actual engagement.
10. In-bound links – quality and volume of inbound links to a predefined URL. Relate to traffic. Frequently used in search campaigns.
11. Like – this is frequently a vanity metric of social media but useful as an indicator if there’s a correlation to another intermediary or an organisational outcome.
12. Referral traffic – traffic from third-party websites, typically used downstream in conjunction with inbound links.
13. Reviews – a form of third party validation that is finding its way from the hospitality and travel sectors into other industries.
14. Sentiment – good or bad is usually all you need to know unless you working on shifting opinion on an issue over a period of time.
15. Share of voice – volume of conversation in social or traditional media for an organisation vs competitive organisation.
16. Sharing volume – rate of sharing on social media via different channels. Link channels to behaviour and outcomes.
17. Unbranded search – uplift or contribution to search activity around a term as a result of public relations activity.
18. Footfall – how many people have travelled or visited a location, frequently used in travel, tourism and hospitality.

Organisational outcomes

19. Attitudinal change – a variety of pre and post survey techniques are used to test for change in opinion. Popular in political polling.
20. Awareness – engagement of a public that was otherwise unaware of an issue, product or service. Tested via a variety of survey techniques.
21. Behavioural change – social economic improvements such as reductions in antisocial behaviour, tested via longitudinal tracking.
22. Business process – improvement in productivity, typically due to internal communications, and training.
23. Conversions – typically sales, but also applies in other organisational activities, that can be attributed to public relations activity.
24. Financial performance – track the role of public relations in supporting a financial metric such as shareprice or valuation.
25. Internal – a series of metrics including improved recruitment, retention and productivity, and reduced absence and sickness.
26. Recommendation and referral – the basis of Net Promoter, which tests the likelihood of a third party recommendation or referral (see also satisfaction).
27. Retention – applies to customers or staff where public relations is focused on relationship management.
28. Satisfaction– related to recommendation, used to benchmark the strength of a relationship between a citizen or consumer and an organisation.
29. Unique triggers – dedicated coupons, phone numbers, or URLs that test the relationship between activity and outcomes.
30. Votes – the harsh reality of political campaigns where the ultimate test of the success of a campaign is in the voting booth.

Further reading

I’d urge you to check out the following documents and web sites for further information.

Thank you

I shared an early draft of this blog post with my network. Thanks to Caroline Black, Adam Cranfield, Ged Carroll, Katy Howell, Adam Parker, Emma Rodgers, Rafal Salak, Laura Sutherland and Kevin Taylor, who all made really useful contributions.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.


  1. Hi Wadds,
    Congratulations on this list of 30 alternative PR metrics to AVE!
    I studied and obtained one of the first Bachelor of Arts Degrees in Public Relations at the University of Canberra, in Australia, back in the 1980s.  That course drummed into the students the importance of research based strategy, with measurable objectives, and the need to understand whether we were aiming for awareness, attitude, or behavioural change. I am delighted that you and others are continuing to drum home this message to our public relations colleagues.
    Our profession has such a key role to play in shaping the future of organisations – locally and globally, in both the public and private sectors. Professional public relations practitioners must be highly skilled at our jobs. And, like any profession, we need to be able to prove our worth. 
    Thank you again.
    Anne Howard, CIPR (Global Affiliate)

  2. There’s an additional, fundamental problem with ‘AVEs’ as although the name is “advertising value equivalence” they are not actually based on the value of advertising.
    So even if you buy this as a sensible comparison to try to make (which I don’t), AVEs are flawed because they use cost of placing adverts, which is neither the value of the advert nor the total cost of an advert (as there’s much more to an ad than just the cost of running it): http://www.markpack.org.uk/137690/the-real-problem-with-aves-is-something-that-doesnt-get-mentioned/

  3. Hi Stephen,

    In retail, it is store operations that drives strategy and determines the key performance indicators used across the business. PR has a role but only as an advisory support function.

    Retail PR teams use many of the metrics you have listed, but store ops measure a campaign’s success or failure using metrics linked to sales eg: net till receipts (gross sales minus refunds), product unit sales, customer footflow, average transaction spend per customer, ‘like-for-like’ sales (excluding new stores opened during the past year) and sales vs budget. 

    This often leads to an honest and frank conversation about PR’s worth in a retail business.

  4. MGreer_PR
    Hi MGreer,

    Thank you for your thought provoking comment. I think you raise an interesting relationship here between marketing and public relations. I agree that the biggest, and most pressing KPI measure of success in retail is sales. Therefore, store operations (including all facets of marketing – promotion, pricing, the products on offer, how they are packaged and offered, service, signage, etc.) are all critical to success. 

    Public relations (meaning the retail organisation’s relationships with its many different publics, not just its customers) would, I believe, operate at a more subliminal level, influencing perceptions, generating goodwill, and helping to position the organisation within its overall operating environment in a way that is favourable to the retail operation concerned.

    This gets back to the old chestnut of the difficulty many organisations complain about when trying to measure the true worth of public relations. But if an organisation is going to invest money and time in a public relations activity, it should not be undertaken without a well articulated strategy – with clearly defined (and measurable) objectives. 

    For example, the objectives may be to support a marketing campaign to increase sales – and that is fine. But, in this case, the public relations activity needs to be very clear about HOW it will support sales – and in that way, the activity’s success can be measured, and directly related to sales.

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