Carrot not stick on AVE

The CIPR has shifted its position on AVE from education to legislation. It’s a bold move but it needs a rethink.

PRWeek called me out this week for being critical of the CIPR’s new position on AVE.

PRWeek needs to recognise the difference between plain speaking and a row but notwithstanding it’s an important issue and one that I’ve frequently spoken out on.

The CIPR tightened up its position last week stating that practitioners have 12 months to stop using AVE.

It said that any member continuing to use AVE after this date “may be liable for disciplinary action.”

It’s a bold move but I fear that it will stigmatise up to a third of the CIPR’s membership.

According to AMEC use of AVEs has fallen from 80% in 2010, to 18% this year.

An agency survey by the PRCA published in February reported that 35% of respondents were still using AVE. Almost half of these were at the client’s request.

Here’s the issue. You don’t need a licence to work in public relations.

While the CIPR is a standard bearer for best practice in public relations in the UK and further afield, it is not a watchdog and has no regulatory authority.

Members benefit from being signed up to a Code of Conduct, optional continuous professional development and a professional network.

The CIPR’s story is one of an organisation that has spent 70 years helping improve practice.

Along the way it has sought to drive up professional standards through education and qualifications, creating a career journey for practitioners, and promoting public relations in the public interest.

The announcement last week means that in the CIPR’s view the use of AVE’ as no longer just bad practice but unethical.

It means that members found to be using AVE in 12 months time will either be kicked out or have to leave.

I would love to add a long list of industry ills to a list of unethical practice such as spamming journalists, lack of planning, gender pay inequality, and unpaid internships, but without creating a licence to operate it’s unrealistic.

AVEs are deeply embedded in the public relations workflow.

AMEC has spent a decade campaigning on the issue and has made significant strides in shifting practice to robust measurement standards but there’s still some way to go.

Every conversation about measurement at Ketchum starts with the Barcelona Principles and Valid Metrics Framework.

But as AMEC and the PRCA’s data shows, AVE continues to used at the highest levels within organisations that have yet to modernise their measurement practices.

CIPR members that are employed by these organisations are now in a vulnerable position.

AVEs are also supplied at the other end of the public relations supply chain as a default metric by almost all media monitoring companies.

CIPR members who use these tools will need to ensure that AVE data is switched off.

People hate change, and public relations practitioners especially so, but as any organisational psychologist will tell, banning something isn’t how you change behaviour.

The CIPR needs to support practitioners to make the case for alternative forms of measurement to clients and management.

I’d urge the CIPR board and council to reevaluate its position otherwise its disciplinary committee is set to be very busy in 2018.

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Stephen Waddington

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


  1. One of the first lessons in my PR degree of nearly 20 years ago now was the importance of ‘tone of voice.’ I can’t see how this hectoring, aggressive tone of the CIPR helps support colleagues. Am not sure why choose this soapbox to stand on and use to threaten practitioners when there are so many issues in our profession where the CIPR uses much softer tactics e.g the lack of diversity, failure to deal with low pay for new entrants, press cuttings licenses, as well as all the other issues you mention, Stephen. I have used AVEs in the past, admittedly when very junior and was bullied for raising concerns with my organisation and the client department which had requested it. And so yes I did it. I never forgot the experience which was a professional nadir for me and I very nearly walked away from PR and so would hope that the CIPR will look again at how it supports (not beats) practitioners on this.

  2. Also my organisation refused (as is common) to pay my CIPR membership fees which were not a cheap outlay when living in London on a less that living wage salary. So I was funding myself and would have faced being kicked out of the profession…….

  3. What is a realistic alternative for AVE to show a meaureable value/KPI?

  4. All that will happen is that people will leave the CIPR. As it is, I don’t think it provides value for money as an organisation so the threat of disciplinary action will make many people’s minds up to not bother being a member.

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