The Barcelona Principles: A World Beyond AVEs

By Ruth Pestana
worldwide director, strategic services

For more than a decade, PR practitioners have lamented the industry’s widespread use of Advertising Value Equivalencies (AVEs). Finally last summer, an international gathering of over 200 PR and measurement professionals agreed upon the Barcelona Principles, which included the following statement – AVEs are not the Value of Public Relations.

This seemingly self-evident statement has generated a surprising amount of media interest. Some have said that users of AVEs should be banned from AMEC, the industry association that instigated the development of the Barcelona Principles. Others have defended AVEs as a metric, citing its relative merits against other more costly measures.

Rising above the furor over AVEs, AMEC has rather pragmatically focused on answering the key question stemming from the Barcelona feedback: If AVEs are not a valid metric for measuring PR, then what is the alternative?


In August, the AMEC Valid Metrics taskforce was convened. It comprised of a mix of PR agency and measurement practitioners. The resulting Valid Metrics guidelines were previewed at the IPR Measurement Summit in October and made available for public comment. Input was received from a number of international industry bodies, including the CIPR, PRCA, PRSA and IPR.

Primary Challenges
There were two primary challenges facing the AVE taskforce. Firstly, clients, or their senior management, have fallen for the beguiling simplicity of AVEs, even though in reality there is no one perfect metric to measure the entire breadth of PR. Public Relations addresses many different publics and has many different forms of impact – from selling a product, to building a company’s standing in a community, to mitigating a crisis, to improving employee engagement. Recognition of the many achievements of PR requires more than one metric.

Secondly, to truly demonstrate the value of PR, metrics need to be linked to the business objective of the program. The Valid Metrics guidelines are therefore based on the philosophy that PR measurement has to move beyond measuring outputs to measuring outcomes

As a result, the taskforce came to the conclusion that PR measurement needs to be shown as a continuum of metrics, starting with outputs but including outcomes and ultimately business results – with the desired business results corresponding to the campaign objective.

The Matrix
Thus, the Valid Metrics guidelines take the form of a matrix, with the underlying logic of the matrix applicable to a number of different types of campaigns. Within the matrix, three phases have been defined to reflect a (very) simplified breakdown of how Public Relations works.

At its very essence, PR consists of three phases:

  1. The messages or story is created and told
  2. The story is disseminated via a third party/intermediary, such as journalists, influencers or bloggers
  3. The story is consumed by the target audience, which if successful leads to behavior change and the desired business result

The matrix was constructed to reflect this simplified process.

  1. Public Relations Activity – metrics reflecting the process of producing and distributing the desired messages
  2. Intermediary Effect – metrics reflecting the third party dissemination of the messages to the target audience
  3. Target Audience Effect – metrics showing that the target audience has received the communications and any resulting action-driven outcomes

Crossing the Marketing Divide
The continuum concept was also applied to how communications are received by the target audience. The matrix’s horizontal axis is based on what is commonly known as the Communication or Marketing Funnel. The stages of this funnel are awareness, understanding, interest/consideration, preference and action. Metrics have been grouped under these stages to help PR practitioners better demonstrate how communications are absorbed, in nomenclature that marketers understand.

The Valid Metrics guidelines are not intended to be a rulebook. Practitioners are free to select the metrics which fit their budget and most importantly, their objectives. The grids are also not intended to be all encompassing. They simply represent a starting point on the journey to objectives-based measurement with a greater business focus. Many practitioners will continue using AVEs as their primary metric. Hopefully though, many more will see that AVEs are not a valid measure and will persevere in its eradication. If the PR industry wants to prove its value, it needs to start exploring the world beyond AVEs.

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