Why and how the Barcelona Principles revisions are hurting PR

Mere wordsmithing doesn’t address the essential puzzle of how to measure the efficacy of campaigns, the author asserts.

Not long ago, Fred Cook, CEO of Golin, floored me on our monthly author Q&A by saying that if it were possible to measure PR, someone would have figured it out by now.

Of course, I believe differently (and run my agency differently and advise all of you differently), but I can’t really blame him. There isn’t an ironclad way to measure the effectiveness of our programs, and metrics are all over the board.

As well, the official “definition” of public relations is about as clear as mud:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.

I used to fight Arthur Yann (God rest his soul) on this issue nearly daily. To his point, it is better than the original definition from 1982, but it still tells no one what the heck we do, yet it’s the guiding light for the industry.

Now the guiding light for the industry’s measurement is the Barcelona Principles. This set of seven voluntary guidelines established by industry professionals to measure the efficacy of PR campaigns has been revised to more accurately depict metrics for our field.

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Do those revisions really do that, though?

Changes to the Barcelona Principles

Let’s look at each of the Barcelona Principles and at each of their changes, so you can decide for yourself.

This is directly from the AMEC site:

Principle 1

  • From: Importance of Goal Setting and Measurement
  • To: Goal Setting and Measurement are Fundamental to Communication and Public Relations

Though the Barcelona Principles were intended to provide a foundation for PR programs, the updated Barcelona Principles recognize that they can also be applied to the larger communication function of any organization, government, company or brand globally. Measurement, evaluation and goal-setting should be holistic across all media and across paid, earned, owned and shared channels.

Principle 2

  • From: Measuring the Effect on Outcomes is Preferred to Measuring Outputs
  • To: Measuring Communication Outcomes is Recommended Versus Only Measuring Outputs

The updated principle is more encompassing of the role of qualitative methods. The original principle stated quantitative methods of measuring outcomes were “often preferable”; the updated version recognizes that the use of qualitative methods (along with quantitative approaches) should be used as appropriate. The updated principle also specifically calls out advocacy as an outcome that can (and should) be measured.

Principle 3

  • From: The Effect on Business Results Can and Should Be Measured Where Possible
  • To: The Effect on Organizational Performance Can and Should Be Measured Where Possible

The updated principle emphasizes that communications affect more than just business results; rather, communications can affect an organization’s overall performance. To do this, organizations must have, and practitioners must understand, integrated marketing and communication models. The PR channel does not exist in a silo, nor should PR measures.

Principle 4

  • From: Media Measurement Requires Quantity and Quality
  • To: Measurement and Evaluation Require Both Qualitative and Quantitative Methods

The updated principle recognizes that qualitative measures are often needed in order to explain the “why” behind the quantitative outcomes. In addition, the updated principle reminds practitioners that to be truly objective, we must focus on measuring performance (positive, negative or neutral), and we must avoid assuming that results will always be positive or “successful.”

Principle 5

  • From: AVEs are not the Value of Public Relations
  • To: AVEs are not the Value of Communications

The updated principle continues to underline that advertising value equivalents (AVEs) measure the cost of media space or time and do not measure the value of PR or communication, media content, earned media, etc.

Principle 6

  • From: Social Media Can and Should be Measured
  • To: Social Media Can and Should be Measured Consistently with Other Media Channels

The updated principle recognizes that social media measurement tools have evolved to a point where there is greater potential for consistent measurement on engagement, as well as quantity and quality.

Principle 7

  • From: Transparency and Replicability are Paramount to Sound Measurement
  • To: Measurement and Evaluation Should be Transparent, Consistent and Valid

In the spirit of integrity, honesty and openness, the updated principle includes more specific guidance on valid quantitative and qualitative methods in an effort to ensure that quantitative methods are reliable and replicable and that qualitative methods are trustworthy.

Where are the metrics?

As far as I can tell, the only things that have changed in each of the Barcelona Principles are words.

We now define the “metrics” this way: Public relations are communications, AVEs are not real metrics, social media can be measured, and we should be transparent.

Those are not metrics. That is not how you measure the effectiveness of a public relations program.

If we can’t get it straight for the industry, how do we expect to be taken seriously by the outside world?

What we should be measuring

A little more than a year ago, I wrote a complete guide on PR metrics. It includes everything from awareness and reputation to lead generation and conversion.

That is the conversation we should be having—not simply changing the wording of our industry’s principles from “Importance of Goal Setting and Measurement” to “Goal Setting and Measurement are Fundamental to Communication and Public Relations.”

That is simply wordsmithing; it means absolutely nothing to the success of a business.

Until we can all agree that we absolutely can—and should—measure our effectiveness against the business goals of an organization, we will always be fighting the perception that we offer only a fluff tactic in a larger marketing puzzle.

You should track site traffic and page views and increased fans, followers and viewers. You should measure leads generated, leads nurtured and leads converted.

That’s how PR metrics are done.

A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.

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