Gini Dietrich

Changes to the Barcelona Principles Hurt the PR Industry

By: Gini Dietrich | September 22, 2015 | 
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Changes to the Barcelona Principles Hurt the PR IndustryBy Gini Dietrich

A couple of months ago, we hosted Fred Cook—the CEO of Golin—on our monthly author Q&A.

During the live session, I asked him why the PR industry has such a hard time measuring its effectiveness.

He said, in a nut shell, that if you could measure PR, someone would have figured it out by now.

I’m not going to lie. I sat there stunned. I wasn’t sure what to say next.

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

How to Define Public Relations

As well, the “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 nearly daily. To his point, it IS better than the original definition from 1982, but it still tells no one (including those of us in the industry) what the heck we do.

And yet, it’s the guiding light for the industry.

And now the guiding light for the industry’s measurement—the Barcelona Principles, a set of seven voluntary guidelines established by the public relations industry to measure the efficacy of campaigns—have been revised to more accurately depict metrics for our industry.

Changes to the Barcelona Principles

But I’m completely stunned at the changes.

Be patient with me while we go through each of the Barcelona Principles…and 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

While 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. In fact, measurement, evaluation and goal-setting should be holistic across media and 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. While the original Principle stated quantitative methods of measuring outcomes were “often preferable,” the updated Principle recognizes that the use of qualitative methods (along with quantitative) 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 impact more than just business results; rather communications can impact the overall performance of an organization. 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 need focus on measuring performance (be it positive, negative or neutral), and avoid making assumptions 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, along with 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 valid quantitative and qualitative methods in an effort to ensure quantitative methods are reliable and replicable and 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” as public relations as communications, AVEs are not real metrics, social media can be measured, and we should be transparent.

Well, duh.

These are not metrics. This is not how you measure the effectiveness of a public relations program.

This makes my head hurt.

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

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.

THIS is the conversation we should be having. Not 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.”

This 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 to the business goals of an organization, we will always be fighting the perception that we are a fluff tactic in a larger marketing puzzle.

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

Do that and it won’t matter what PRSA or ACME wordsmith.

image credit: schatzy

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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34 responses to “Changes to the Barcelona Principles Hurt the PR Industry”

  1. josgovaart says:

    ginidietrich Which means: Stop talking about principles for ages. Deliver value and results.

  2. ginidietrich says:

    josgovaart Thank you! I totally agree. Hope you got home safely and had a great trip to the eastern seaboard.

  3. Corina Manea says:

    While reading your post Gini, I was asking myself: “Where is the change? It can’t be only wording. Read again Corina, you’re not paying attention!” And then I got to the part where you say it’s just wordsmithing.
    PR industry is behaving like a corporation, where leaders like to hear themselves talk and create lots of internal difficult to read and understand documents for their employees. They like to sound smart when talking and they don’t like to be contradicted, even if they’re wrong. They waste their time and others’ in endless meetings, talking about the same things over and over again without ever reaching to a conclusion.
    So, until this behavior is eradicated, replaced by people who want to really change things, nothing will happen.

  4. ginidietrich says:

    Corina Manea I’m pretty frustrated. It’s all just changes to the words. I was thinking more about it—and it’s a good start—but it doesn’t tell you how or when or why. It just tells you what.

  5. Corina Manea says:

    ginidietrich The problem is it’s taking too long and it affects industry’s credibility. Even PR pros lose faith in their own industry. It’s a shame same people who organize congresses, commissions and committees fail to see how much they damage the industry.

  6. danielschiller says:

    The change is largely on emphasis—a shade of grey to a shade of blue. That doesn’t instill confidence, although the motivations are clear. So long as their are clients who evaluate efficacy by 3x circ.

  7. biggreenpen says:

    Excellent points. Following the discussion…

  8. susancellura says:

    And yet another example of why you are on a mission to eliminate spin. When they spin their own spin, it’s just adding to the mountain that we all have to climb. Very annoying that “principles” are turning into more spin.

  9. ginidietrich says:

    susancellura I’ve been pretty silent about all of this in the past couple of years because it’s important to play nice with the organizations that support our industry, but it feels more and more like the stuff coming out of them are from people who aren’t in the industry and don’t do the work.

  10. ginidietrich says:

    danielschiller And AVEs. Don’t forget AVEs!

  11. BillSmith3 says:

    Corina Manea Amen!

  12. Acasas01 says:

    ginidietrich SpinSucks great insight. We are our own worst enemy. I often argue with people about this point.

  13. wonky_donky says:

    ThePaulSutton ginidietrich great piece, hit the nail on the head – thanks for sharing!

  14. ThePaulSutton says:

    wonky_donky ginidietrich No worries. You’ll also be interested in this AlexMyers

  15. adamcranfield says:

    wonky_donky ginidietrich ThePaulSutton I always think “The Barcelona Principles” sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster from the 90s.

  16. ginidietrich says:

    adamcranfield wonky_donky ThePaulSutton The way they read, it IS like a Hollywood blockbuster…but from the 40s.

  17. ginidietrich says:

    wonky_donky Oh look! They changed the words! Yay!

  18. ginidietrich says:

    PORTALjiwa Thank you!

  19. ginidietrich says:

    Acasas01 We totally are our own worst enemy. It makes me crazy.

  20. ginidietrich says:

    SFerika xoxo

  21. ginidietrich says:

    TheTimHayden Ha! Thank you, sir!

  22. wonky_donky says:

    ginidietrich how very PR – ironically..! “So how have the principles changed?”
    “oh, we’ve fudged the terminology a bit”
    “Good stuff”

  23. AlexMyers says:

    ThePaulSutton wonky_donky ginidietrich this is the guest blog I promised you and never got time for pre-hols. Sorry! Will make up for it

  24. ThePaulSutton says:

    AlexMyers wonky_donky ginidietrich Haha! I know, mate. No worries 🙂

  25. AlexMyers says:

    ThePaulSutton wonky_donky ginidietrich as a side-note I’ve developed a totally new measurement system based on analytics. Will blog soon

  26. wonky_donky says:

    AlexMyers ThePaulSutton ginidietrich analytics? god dammit. that sounds like hard work. http://twitter.com/wonky_donky/status/646660722005569537/photo/1

  27. AlexMyers says:

    wonky_donky ThePaulSutton ginidietrich it’s the combination of actions + correlating outcomes – evaluation more than measurement

  28. wonky_donky says:

    AlexMyers ThePaulSutton ginidietrich perfect. anything which moves away from a ‘thing’.

  29. ThePaulSutton says:

    wonky_donky AlexMyers ginidietrich agreed. Maybe we should stick to the Barcelona principles after all…

  30. wonky_donky says:

    AlexMyers ThePaulSutton ginidietrich had infuriating convo a while back – me: “why do we write?” “to hit KPIs?” “yes… but mainly no.”

  31. laurafromaura says:

    ThePaulSutton ginidietrich we need to be having wider conversations before these things are published!

  32. richardbagnall says:

    Hi Gini,

    I can totally understand the points that you raise here about the revised Barcelona Principles – as you say they are just a refresh, long overdue after 5 years to keep them relevant to a changed / changing industry.  The important thing with the Barcelona Principles is to remember that they are just that – Principles. I like to think of them as a 30,000 foot overview on what to do – basic best practice guidance on how to measure. What they don’t do, as you point out, is help people put the principles into action. And answering that key question on how to ‘operationalise’ them is the thrust of the work of the team that I am leading at AMEC (The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications) at the moment.  

    This is not a straightforward challenge of course. Communications campaigns all have different objectives and their valid metrics of success will always be different.  This is why a one size fits all magic bullet metric has never been created successfully. Instead we have to go down a framework approach, allowing organisations of all sizes to measure appropriately, regardless of outcome that they are looking for their communications function to support..  
    AMEC has already produced the Valid Metrics Framework and two years ago launched the Social Media Measurement Framework to compliment it. I had the privilege of working on this with one of the ‘Measurati’s’ finest, Don Bartholomew, sadly of course no longer with us. I’m now leading a team of global pracitioners building on Don’s legacy to update all of this work with the development of a single ‘Integrated communications measurement framework.’ This will be launched in the new year as an interactive part of AMEC’s website (www.amecorg.com), with case studies, the all important menu of potential metrics, descriptions, guidance on where to source and full supporting educational material. 

    It will be free to use and designed to demystify the challenges of communications measurement from which the industry suffers. To see where our thinking has come from, and examples of our previous work which speaks to your concerns, I’d urge the community to take a look at the user guide we launched just over a year ago for the social media measurement framework. It’s at http://www.bit.ly/smmframework. 

    With best wishes,

    Richard Bagnall
    CEO PRIME Research UK
    AMEC Board director

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