Does size really matter? Why counting column inches is a dying art…

Absolutely size matters! The bigger the better. Those extra few inches make all the difference y’know. And yet…do they though?! Before you go on, it’s worth clarifying at this point that we are of course referring to the perennial PR measure of counting column inches.


Ever since the dawn of the newspaper, marketers have burdened themselves with an unhealthy obsession with counting column inches. Whilst we may have consigned that relic – the ruler – to the stationary graveyard, the continuing trend for measuring Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) remains alive and well.

Printed media - newspaper press

In layman’s terms, measuring the size of a published article and cross-referencing how much that equivalent space might have cost had that been an advertisement, has until recently been one of the few concrete analytics that in-house and agency PR teams have had in their arsenal. What better way to prove the worth of countless hours spent planning and executing clever campaigns?

But just because we’ve always historically done something, is that just cause to carry on doing it? And what, if any, modern measurements can we lean on instead for greater insights?

The case for traditional PR metrics…

Two words for you; tangible and cost-effective.

According to PR Week, “Going back to a board of directors and saying a PR agency secured coverage with an AVE of £5m, on a budget of £5,000, makes the client look good”. Being able to compare PR directly, and favourably, with advertising makes the entire industry look good!

In the budget-ravaged  years of the recession, clinging to the comfort blanket of AVE – with its straightforward and easily understandable metrics, not to mention relative affordability to engage a press coverage agency to do your legwork – seemed not only sensible but essential.

Chief Executives, directors – they needed a simple yardstick to sign off those precious pennies. After all, to them the Marketing and PR activities of the organisation are all just a bit of fluff aren’t they?! But now that we seem to be lurching slowly back towards an economic recovery, can we still excuse archaic practices?

The case against AVE’s & column inches…

Measuring the value of PR campaigns

In a word, no, we can’t accept such simplistic measurements. In 2010, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) presented seven new voluntary guidelines for measuring PR campaigns, to a global summit of communications exponents from 33 countries. Known collectively as the ‘Barcelona Principles,’ after the host city, principle five debunked the value of AVE once and for all.

According to AMEC, “Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) do not measure the value of public relations and do not inform future activity; they measure the cost of media space and are rejected as a concept to value public relations.” If they have to be used, then they recommend validated metrics that reflect the true negotiated advertising rates (as opposed to the standard rate card), quality of the coverage (including the negative stuff), and the portion of the coverage that’s relevant.

So there is the debate…where do we go from here?

Stay tuned for our next article which covers PR metrics which really do measure the value, success and ROI of PR campaigns.

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