If you’re still reading this blog, time for an update! I’m working for a non-profit organization in central Illinois that I LOVE, and I’m in grad school at the fine university of Purdue, pursuing my Master’s degree in Communications. Sadly, this blog post is not about recent travels to Barcelona. Happily, it’s that degree that brings me back here today to write a somewhat odd post compared to my previous ramblings. Today, I’ve been assigned to write a blog post on the Barcelona Principles, seven principles that serve as guidelines for measuring the impact of media on public relations. If that sounds like fun, stick around. If not, breeze by, and I’ll catch you down the line. I’m planning some future travels, so there may be some more unexpected blog posts coming your way later this year!
But anywho, back to the Barcelona Principles. As I was saying, the Barcelona Principles attempt to nail down how to measure media impact. It’s a tricky topic. Media, unlike math, does not live in a world of absolutes. 1 + 1 is two, but what’s the value of a relationship? Gauging the actual impact of a media campaign can be tricky….there’s all sorts of measurement criteria to consider, such as reach, conversation rates, and coverage, as well as varying goals…such as brand identity, brand recognition, and brand equity. Throw in slippery social media measurements like conversation and community, and all of a sudden it’s very clear that there is a need for defining best-practices when it comes to measuring the impact of media campaigns. So, in 2010, a bunch of top PR professionals gathered in Barcelona and hatched a plan for doing just that…and that plan became the Barcelona Principles. It’s worth noting that they were slightly revised/updated in 2015….but the changes were so minimal they don’t deserve more attention than that. For reference, the 2010 principles are listed below.
1. Importance of Goal Setting and Measurement
2. Measuring the Effect on Outcomes is Preferred to Measuring Outputs
3. The Effect on Business Results Can and Should Be Measured Where Possible
4. Media Measurement Requires Quantity and Quality
5. AVEs are not the Value of Public Relations
6. Social Media Can and Should be Measured
7. Transparency and Replicability are Paramount to Sound Measurement
From an outsider’s perspective, the Barcelona principles are at once confusing and common-sense. Take for example, number 1: “The Importance of Goal Setting and Measurement.” Pretty darn obvious that goal setting and measurement are important! But then we move onto number 2: “Measuring the Effect on Outcomes is Preferred to Measuring Outputs.” What the heck does that mean? If we delve into Number 2 a bit deeper we will read:
Outcomes include shifts in awareness, comprehension, attitude and behavior related to purchase, donations, brand equity, corporate reputation, employee engagement, public policy, investment decisions, and other shifts in stakeholders regarding a company, NGO, government or entity, as well as the stakeholder’s own beliefs and behaviors. (Barcelona Principles, 2010).
Number 2 is not the only vaguely explained principle though. Number 5 states: “AVEs are not the Value of Public Relations.” Here again, AVEs, or Advertising Value Equivalents, are not fully explained. Unless you’re up on your PR lingo, this principle means little. However, come to find out, this is actually a pretty groundbreaking statement. According to the Public Relations Society of America (2011), AVEs and false multipliers are “common practices that equate the value of public relations with the cost of advertising and that support the notion that earned media is always at least twice as valuable as paid media. Neither is true.” The Barcelona principles adamantly oppose the use of AVEs, which in my opinion seems like a good thing since I don’t believe public relations can be summed up simply in advertising dollars; however, the Principles are unable to provide any specific equations or formulas that adequately replace AVEs, which seems like a bit of a drawback.
Overall, the Barcelona Principles helped bring “measurement” to the forefront of Public Relations, lending the field more credibility and giving practitioners some much-needed guidelines, unfortunately, the principles are a little bit too vague/non-descript for my liking. Perhaps this is done intentionally as there is no one-size fits all application for measuring media impact. Being intentionally vague leaves room for interpretation and adaptation. However, I think a little added verbage and some clarifications here and there (as mentioned above) would clean the Principles up quite nicely. Until a formula (or perhaps several) for accurately tracking media impact is created, these Principles provide a sufficient stand-in.
That being said, I found that most of the Principles were very common-sense ideas that I already practice. Working in the non-profit sector, grant funding depends on being able to set measurable goals and providing quantitative and qualitative data that proves those goals are being met. Measurement is a major component of all of our projects and campaigns. Are we always the best at it? No. Often times we contract an organization or consultant to help us create appropriate surveys and measure outcomes (as discussed in the Barcelona Principle Number 2), but sometimes when we are trying to do these things ourselves they get pushed to the back burner. This is often the case with social media, where I scarcely have time to look into analytics although I know it's something I need to work on.
The bottom line is, any saavy organization can and should put the Barcelona principles into action. Public Relations, like all other fields, needs to set goals and measure outcomes. There's an old saying, "If you don't know where you're going, you may end up somewhere else." That might be ok if you're a world wanderer, but it's not a good business plan. Set goals. Measure outcomes. Make informed decisions.