The True Value of Public Relations

Alexander Buhmann

Do you want to measure the value of communication and PR efforts? The seven Barcelona principles will help you on the way.

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: Measuring PR

In 2010, public relations practitioners from 33 countries united around the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, agreeing to the first central framework for effective public relations (PR) and communication measurement. Now on version 2.0, the Barcelona Principles re-launched in 2015, are slowly becoming the standard framework for communication measurement, regardless of the type of organization.

Led by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC), the seven principles provide a foundation on which to develop measurement programs in practice.

Each principle gives directions on how to set up measureable goals and suggests the appropriate methods for different stages of measurement, including suggestions on how to apply the respective techniques.

From fuzzy metrics to deeper insights

The aim of the Barcelona Principles is to move away from fuzzy metrics like impressions or clip counts that do nothing to provide deeper insights to the value of communication programs. They identify the need for outcome-, instead of output- based measurement of PR campaigns, call for the exclusion of ad value equivalency metrics, and recognize the communications value of social mediaMany major agencies (like Edelman, Ketchum and Weber Shandwick) and a growing number of companies (like Southwest Airlines, General Motors, General Electric, McDonald's) have declared compliance with the principles. Nonetheless, it seems, that six years after their launch, the international awareness for the principles and their application in practice is still not where it should be. Ultimately, the success of the Barcelona Principles, and any industry standard for that matter, is dependent on practitioners understanding and using them.

The Barcelona Principles

Here is a list of the seven Barcelona Principles and some common recommendations by AMEC on what to do to comply with them.

1. Goal Setting and Measurement are Fundamental to Communication and Public Relations

  • Conduct measurement and evaluation against defined goals: What business challenges or opportunities are to be supported through the communications efforts?
  • Goals should be integrated and aligned across paid, earned, shared and owned channels where possible
  • Make goals quantitative or qualitative, but still identify who, what, how much, by when
  • Be holistic. Set specific goals for: traditional and social media; changes in awareness, comprehension, attitude, and behavior among key stakeholders; impact on organizational results. Individual campaigns or ongoing communications efforts are both relevant

2. Measuring Communication Outcomes is Recommended Versus Only Measuring Outputs

  • Don´t just measure media results (like clips, reach, volume), measure impact on your target audiences (like attitudes, preferences, behavior)
  • Tailor practices for measuring the effect on outcomes to the objectives of the communication program
  • Consider both quantitative and qualitative methods and apply best practices in target audience research

3. The Effect on Organizational Performance Can and Should Be Measured Where Possible

  • To measure results from communication for an organization, models that determine the effects of the quantity and quality of communication outputs on organizational metrics, while accounting for other variables, are a preferred choice
  • Develop communication measures that can provide reliable input into integrated marketing and communication models, including through advanced econometrics and advanced survey analysis

4. Measurement and Evaluation Require Both Qualitative and Quantitative Methods

  • Good media results are not all about quantity (number of articles or impressions). More importantly, address questions like: Did media convey the message you intended? Did the messages reach the right audience?
  • Consider qualitative methods to better explain quantitative insights: Try to determine exactly how a desired change in outcomes was reached and under which conditions it may be repeated
  • Media measurement, whether in traditional or online channels, should account for: Impressions among the target audience, quality of the media coverage can include, e.g., tone (negative, positive, or neutral), credibility and relevance message delivery, prominence as relevant to the medium, or spokesperson inclusion

5. AVEs are Not the Value of Communication

  • Do not use Advertising Value Equivalents as they only take into account size of coverage and simply equate cost with value
  • Do not use multipliers for "pass-along values" for earned versus paid media (unless proven to exist)
  • If you must make a comparison between the cost of space or time from earned versus paid media, use negotiated advertising rates relevant to the client, quality of the coverage (see Principle 4) including negative results, and physical space or time of the coverage related to the portion of the coverage that is relevant

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

  • Define clear goals and outcomes for social media
  • Include measurement methods such as: media content analysis, web and search analytics, sales and CRM data, and survey data
  • Evaluate the quality and quantity of social media (just like with conventional media)
  • Focus measurement on engagement, conversation and communities, not just "coverage" or vanity metrics, such as "likes"

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

  • Ensure integrity, honesty, openness, and ethical practices
  • Use valid and reliable methods
  • Consider other relevant standards for media measurement (regarding, e.g., source of the content, data collection criteria, analysis methodology) and primary research (regarding, e.g., methodology, verbatim questions, statistical methodology)
  • Recognize potential biasing effects in the research and be aware of possible intervening variables in the broader societal context

For more on the Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles, version 2.0 visit: http://amecorg.com/barcelona-principles-2-0/

This article is published in Communication for Leaders No. 1 - 2016. 

Communication for Leaders is a Science Communication Magazine published by Centre for Corporate Communication and Department of Communication and Culture at BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 28. October 2016

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