Measuring PR: Beyond the Barcelona Principles

This post originally appeared in the blog PRSAY, the official blog of the Public Relations Society of America.
If you’ve been following the measurement world within the PR industry over the last year or so, you’ve seen a fair amount of news coming out of first Barcelona in 2010, and then Lisbon this year. It may have caused you to wonder: How come the measurement folks meet in cool places on the Iberian Peninsula, and we get stuck with conferences in Detroit, Orlando and Philadelphia? Well, we welcome more people to the measurement tribe at any time, and in fact, the 2012 version of the European Measurement Summit will be in Paris.

However, maybe measurement or Paris is not your thing, but you want to at least understand the state of play. Here is what you need to know.

First, in Barcelona last year, around 225 measurement people from 30-plus countries agreed to the Barcelona Principles at a conference organized by the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC). These seven Principles are the foundation of good measurement. PRSA played a big role in developing those Principles by bringing to the party much of the language and ideas from “The Business Case for Public Relations™.” In broad strokes, the Barcelona Principles say a few simple things:

  • Set goals before you measure;

  • Measure media with quantity and quality metrics, not AVEs;

  • Understand how people and business results change as a result of PR;

  • Social media is another channel and the same measurement ideas apply; and

  • Make sure all measurement is transparent.

It’s not as though these ideas are groundbreaking. In fact, they are simple rules of engagement. However, it was the first time we ever documented clear basic standards and best practices.

What has gotten the most attention out of Barcelona was the “banning” of AVEs (the practice of placing a value on PR as the cost of purchasing the same amount of advertising space). This has been a common practice in our industry, and it is now fading out as our profession recognizes that we should not be valuing what we do on the basis of the cost of paid media. Will it go away completely? Probably not today or tomorrow, but I think in five to 10 years it will be gone.

Somewhat disappointing has been that some measurement companies are trying to get attention or competitive advantage by going around accusing other measurement companies of still using AVEs.  Those making the accusations are often those who really didn’t play a key role in Barcelona or Lisbon, and in fact, have been using AVEs themselves. As a profession, we need to ignore this kind of silliness, and instead work on advising our clients and organizations as to what good measurement looks like and how to apply them (all seven Barcelona Principles fit the bill).

Second came the meeting in Lisbon this year with a similar crowd, and from which emerged the Lisbon Legacy: a 2020 Measurement Agenda. Again, PRSA played a significant role in shaping that outcome.  Basically, the agenda is what we in PR measurement need to accomplish in the years ahead. Key elements include these:

  • Definitions and techniques for ROI measurement

  • Client and practitioner education

  • Metrics and techniques for social media measurement.

You’ll notice that AVEs are not mentioned in these priorities. Why? Because it is a dead issue; we agreed they are wrong in 2010, and now we need the client and practitioner education to make them go away and replace them with valid metrics for media, target audience and business result measurement.

What has been heartening in the couple months since Lisbon is a coalescing of a number of PR organizations from around the world — including PRSA, AMEC, the Institute for Public Relations and the Council of Public Relations Firms — to work together on answering the challenges coming out of Lisbon.  It will be through those initiatives that we will be able to make the Barcelona Principles standard operating procedure.

I got to run the sessions in Barcelona and Lisbon, and feel both meetings were critical to our industry. The result from Lisbon was not as “sexy” as Barcelona. Let’s face it, Moses only went to the mountain once, and the “Ten commandments of measurement” were what emerged from Barcelona. Now, we are focused on how to apply those Principles and make them work in what we do in our profession each day.

My hope is that we are able to fulfill that 2020 agenda long before 2020, so as an industry and profession, we soon have all the tools and methods we need to demonstrate how we drive business for our clients and within our organizations. We’ll always have the Barcelona Principles, and once we answer the future call from the Lisbon Legacy, I think we will be on the equal or even stronger footing with the other communications and marketing disciplines that PR has sought for decades.