The Great AVE Debate

In thinking about measurement, there is perhaps only one mirage that shimmers more than the illusion that communicators make more money for their employers than advertisers (the great AVE debate) — and that is the slightly posher, more upmarket version of the same argument, namely that an ROI (Return on Investment) can be calibrated in money terms for what we all do in this industry of ours.

In thinking about measurement, there is perhaps only one mirage that shimmers more than the illusion that communicators make more money for their employers than advertisers (the great AVE debate) — and that is the slightly posher, more upmarket version of the same argument, namely that an ROI (Return on Investment) can be calibrated in money terms for what we all do in this industry of ours.

The chief difficulty with this long-standing, exhaustive and still unending search for a ROI in corporate communications is that… there isn’t one. If you invest £100 in the Nationwide at 5%, the return will be £5 which is an unequivocal, fixed and proven financial return. Yet the ‘return’ in most communication projects is usually to do with a change in corporate positioning and the desired changes in attitude/behaviours, brand profile/awareness, or perhaps certain revenue-generating activity in the market which may or may not be directly attributable to the communications initiative. Most attempts to quantify a financial ROI in communications end in tears.

Manifestly there is considerable value in what we communicators do, but the acid question is “what is that value?” Paul Walsh of Diageo got it right when he said that in essence good communications enhance the license to operate. Good communication makes other things easier to do and is not an end (or a ‘Return’) in itself. Good communication is a catalyst. Good communication makes the difference. Good communication is not a money return in the bank and can’t be seen on the balance sheet.

Last year, in co-operation with PRSA, ICCO, PRCA, CIPR and the Global Alliance, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) forged together the Barcelona Principles (http://tinyurl.com/3ck226f) which seek to codify for the first time a more coherent approach to some of the complex issues involved in quantifying achievement in reputation management in global media.

Good communication is a serious business. Let’s not invent spurious, ambivalent illusions. Let’s take it seriously.