7 deadly sins of Public Relations redeemed

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Backing the Barcelona Principles

All the way back in 2010, Public Relations practitioners from more than 40 countries gathered in the capital Catalonia for a think-in on industry issues. Around 140 people attended the conference, hosted by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC). AMEC is the world’s largest trade body representing communications research, measurement and insights.

The result of that conference was the first draft of the Barcelona Principles; seven core principles aimed at righting the mistakes of the past in the PR industry.  These new voluntary guidelines were to be used for the measurement and evaluation of communications and Public Relations campaigns. Early adopters of the Barcelona Principles included Edelman, FleishmanHillard, Ketchum and StrategyOne.

In the five years that followed, take up has been a little patchy across the industry. The wording of each principle has been debated and fine-tuned, ultimately resulting in the Barcelona Principles Mark II, agreed at the AMEC summit in 2015.

The updated principles are listed below. Do you agree with them as a measure of PR?

1. Goal setting and measurement are fundamental to communication and public relations

To an outsider, this might seem too obvious for words. Yet, a huge number of organisations go from year to year attempting to make their strategy up as they go along: “There’s a product launching next month – we should have an event!” “We should do a press release about something – check if the commercial team has any news we could put out.” If this sounds familiar – your organisation needs the Barcelona Principles. Measurement, evaluation and goal-setting should be at the core of campaigns across paid, earned, owned and shared channels.

2. Measuring communication outcomes is recommended versus only measuring outputs

Outputs can be measured easily in quantitative terms (i.e.  numbers), but the second principle has now been updated to reinforce the importance of qualitative feedback (i.e. words). The original principle stated qualitative methods of measuring outcomes were “often preferable,” but, the updated principle recognises that the use of qualitative methods (along with quantitative) should be used as appropriate. The updated principle also specifically mentions advocacy as an outcome that can (and should) be measured.

3. The effect on organisational performance can and should be measured where possible

The third principle is all about the big picture – it’s all well and good to talk about your PR and Communications goals, but what impact are you having on the organisation as a whole?  While communications and Public Relations can impact the bottom line and increase profits, that is not the only effect it can have. This principle was originally focused exclusively on the impact PR has on business results, but the updated wording reflects the fact that communications can impact the overall performance of an organisation.

To do this, organisations must have, and practitioners must understand, integrated marketing and communication models. The Public Relations channel does not exist in a silo, nor should PR measures.

4. Measurement and evaluation require both qualitative and quantitative methods

In traditional media, quantitative measures (that means stuff you can count) can include press clippings, circulation and readership figures, opportunities to see, air time and volume of coverage. For digital media, quantitative measures include web rankings, followers gained, website visitors, and social media engagement (number of likes, comments, shares, retweets)

For a qualitative analysis, assess the impact the activity had on the tone blogger comments, hold focus groups for consumer feedback, monitor any commentary by public figures including celebrities or politicians, gauge the impact on community sentiment on your social media channels. Internally, it’s possible to run surveys to find if the campaign had an effect on employee morale.

5. AVEs are not the Value of Communications

While some cling to Advertising Value Equivalent as a measure, Public Relations practitioners following best practice should entirely reject this concept. The old school practice of measuring the success of Public Relations by the yardstick of advertising rates is dead. Throughout this book, better models for calculating the qualitative and quantitative impact of campaigns will be outlined.

Measuring our own industry by the yardstick of another shows an alarming lack of confidence in our own abilities. There is no common measurement for advertising and editorial it’s akin to asking a basketball player how many home runs he scored in his last game.

6. Social Media Can and Should be Measured Consistently with Other Media Channels

A variety of sophisticated free and paid-for tools are available to measure social media impact and following. Between the analytics offered within social sites themselves, Klout scores and the numerous other measurement tools that detect share of voice, engagement, followers, likes, retweets and so on, there is no excuse in the present day not to measure and report on social media channels just like any other.

7. Measurement and Evaluation Should be Transparent, Consistent and Valid

Whether you’re working on an in-house corporate communications team (and looking for an increased budget) or you’re an agency looking to demonstrate your value to a client, measuring the success of your campaigns effectively is vital. Despite this, 59% of Public Relations professionals surveyed by the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication in 2013 said that biggest barrier they face in measuring their success is that it’s “too complex”.

When we measure performance, it’s vital to compare like with like, and act with 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 does your team stand on the Barcelona Principles? How many of the seven principles are a part of your day to day activities? Leave a comment.

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