Are you a space grabber?

Did you know that using advertising rates to measure publicity dates back some 80 years?

According to Professor Tom Watson of Bournemouth University in England, the use of advertising value equivalency (or, AVE) coincided with the rise of press agents after World War I.

At the time, newspaper owners and advertising agencies alike were alarmed at the sudden emergence of what they called, ‘space grabbers’ and ‘pufflicity’ agents.

Press agents were the forerunners of modern-day media strategists, and placed feature articles about their clients in newspapers and magazines. This was a seminal change in the Roaring ’20s, and caused two immediate reactions:

cbadv2– Alarm on the part of media owners (Watson says, “One estimate was that if a press agent could deliver equal lineage to an advertisement at one-third the cost of paid space, advertising would end and with it newspaper revenue and reader confidence.”). Now there’s a far-sighted quote if I’ve read one.

– The need for press agents to devise a measurement system to justify their fees. Enter the AVE. And, exit any sound, methodical method for media relations measurement.

AVE, at least among professionals with whom I rub shoulders, is the bane of PR’s existence. That’s because measuring editorial coverage by the cost it would take to buy an advertisement in the same publication is 100 percent bogus.

As we know, with advertising, one pays money for space. That enables the advertiser to say what he wants, where he wants and when he wants. It’s a great way to create awareness, but not to build trust.

Editorial coverage occurs if, and when, a publication decides an article or feature is newsworthy. There’s no telling when or where it will run. Nor is there any guarantee it will be positive. Which is why, Virginia, editorial is far more powerful than advertising and should never, ever be measured by AVE. And, yet, as Professor Watson notes in his paper, it continues to be the currency of the realm in many corporations.

I think that’s because many in-house marcom types believe senior management only understands the cost/benefit ratio of advertising. So, rather than muck around with such important metrics as share and tone of voice in an article or, heaven forbid, the number of qualified sales leads attributable to an article, many CMOs and CCOs continue to push for AVEs.

I hope that one day soon, the Institute of Public Relations, the Arthur W. Page Society, the Council of PR Firms or some other august body, finally draws a line in the sand and declares AVE the bogus metric that it is.

Until that day occurs, many of us will continue to be seen as little more than space grabbers by senior decision-makers.

6 thoughts on “Are you a space grabber?

  1. Thanks Tom. I am aware of the various industry initiatives in the past but, clearly, they haven’t resonated with many current decision-makers on the client side. As I noted in my original blog, I think it’s because some CMOs and CCOs are more comfortable explaining PR ROI in terms a CEO or CFO will understand. And, sadly, that remains AVE in far too many cases. This is a subject that should be added to MBA curricula.”

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  3. I believe IPR has taken a stand on this and has clearly come out as opposed to AVEs. As a former member of the IPR Measurement Commission I know we spent hours trying to figure out how to slay this beast, yet it continues to be used because it is easy to do and provides the novice with something to hang their hat on. Better measures exist, yet they take planning, time and investment to generate credible numbers which can be used to improve public relations plans. When I was executive director of Arthur W. Page Society we also frowned on AVEs, but felt the IPR Measurement Commission was in the best position to publish position papers on this issue. Here is a link to the IPR Measurement Commission paper on AVEs:

  4. hear, hear. thanks for sharing this once more, Rep.

    also, i dig the new design of the site. looking sharp.