The Barcelona Principles – Is there a Silver Bullet?

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By Ruth Pestana
Worldwide Director, Strategic Services

On June 17, core principles for PR measurement were agreed by the global PR industry for the first time at the Barcelona measurement summit. Since then, industry commentators and practitioners have both lauded the Principles as an important step forward, whilst leveling criticism that they do not go far enough.

Though the industry is crying out for standardized metrics, the reality is that there is no one-size-fits all solution. Our counterparts in the ad industry measure ad recall, brand awareness and propensity to buy, and then correlate them to sales to demonstrate their success. For our industry, it’s not so straight-forward…and not only because the advertising industry has stolen the march on claiming to drive sales uplift, despite the contribution of multiple disciplines in today’s integrated marketing world. For PR, there is the added complication that the business goal for a PR campaign is often not sales. So sadly, as much as the industry would love a silver bullet for the perennial question on how to measure success, there isn’t one because the business objectives of PR campaigns can be as divergent as increasing sales, reducing legislative opposition, growing support (or mitigating obstruction) from advocacy groups, to winning an Olympic city bid.

Also requiring consideration is the short-term versus long-term impact of Public Relations/Public Affairs. The work of other marketing communications disciplines typically leads towards a transaction – even if the sales cycle is several years long. The work of reputation management is often about building up a well of goodwill to draw upon when bad times strike. That pool of goodwill might be drawn upon next week, or in ten years’ time. How does the industry create a single metric that incorporates this intangible benefit in the same breath as sales?

The AVE Dilemma


The Principles state clearly that the answer does not lie in AVEs. This is probably the most contentious aspect of the Principles. AVEs are attractive to use because they are (comparatively) easy to implement and carry a Dollar/Pound/Euro sign that appeals to the C-Suite because they appear to provide a comparable metric to other marketing disciplines. However AVEs do not reflect the value proposition of PR. At best, they represent a cost-saving, and while that in itself might serve the purpose of justifying PR budgets versus paid media, one needs to remember that AVEs represent a media output and not an outcome.

The challenge for the PR industry is that we need to look beyond AVEs, clip counting or impressions, which represent purely quantitative media output measures. The way forward lies in more meaningful, higher value media analysis (both traditional and social) and the measurement of awareness, attitudinal or behavior change, and then linking these metrics to business outcomes. Ideally there should be a clear thread running from objectives, to strategy, to tactics, to business results. However this requires resource commitment and seems too conceptual to many.

Defining the Metrics

AMEC is developing a framework to guide PR practitioners on the most valid metrics to apply against standard objectives, such as building awareness, advocacy, sales, etc. Meanwhile a taskforce comprising of both measurement vendors and PR agencies, is defining these validated metrics, which will be published in late October.

These metrics can be gathered from a mixture of media analysis, web analytics/online engagement tracking and surveys. Many companies are already tracking the metrics that will be outlined in this framework, but for others it will require additional human and financial resources. The most sophisticated measurement programs will assess these components in detail through robust qualitative and quantitative methods. However even small budget programs will be able to apply the objectives-based framework. Once the framework is published and socialized, we should begin to see the wider adoption of validated approaches to measurement, in much the same way that the other marketing disciplines have developed standards.

Raising Our Game

Ultimately though, the PR industry needs to start speaking in the language of business results. While PR rarely can lie claim to have single-handedly lifted sales or passed a piece of legislation, it can do a better job of linking what can be measured to the desired business result.

So while the Principles do not provide the silver bullet, or even represent the newest thinking on PR measurement, they have been an important catalyst in lifting the base level of PR measurement. The industry should seize them as a starting point and collectively move forward towards embedding a common language and standard practices for measurement.

Footnote:

The measurement summit in Barcelona was hosted by the Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) and the Institute for Public Relations (IPR). It was attended by over 200 delegates from the world’s top PR agencies and PR measurement companies. The Barcelona Principles can be found here.

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