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

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich