The one thing missing from the Barcelona Principles: answers

Back in 2005, when I got my first job in PR, everybody seemed to be arguing about how we measure the value of PR with something more meaningful than AVE, writes Lance Concannon at Sysomos.

'Barcelona Principles' sound like the title of a Dan Brown page-turner, writes Lance Concannon
'Barcelona Principles' sound like the title of a Dan Brown page-turner, writes Lance Concannon
Coming from a previous career in journalism, this struck me as a little odd. An industry as old as PR should surely have figured out this kind of stuff by now.

I soon learned that the PR industry often prefers talking about problems to actually solving them. But here we are, a decade later and nothing much seems to have changed.

Agencies still use AVE figures in their wrap-up reports, the industry still wrings its hands and complains that AVE is really not good enough. We still debate the issue endlessly. 

The recently revamped Barcelona Principles are a perfect example of this malaise. The name sounds good, momentous even, almost like the title of a Dan Brown page-turner. 

The language of the principles themselves also comes across as very meaningful and weighty, with lots of phrases like: "Use models that determine the effects of the quantity and quality of communication outputs on organizational metrics."

At first glance you might imagine the Barcelona Principles 2.0 presentation to be a practical handbook for measuring the value of PR activity. 

But for all its common sense ideas and sensible guidelines, practical it is not. 

You would think, with the software-developery sounding 2.0 suffix, this update might include some helpful guidance on which digital tools and online metrics can be used to add more data-science thinking to PR measurement, but alas no. 

The Barcelona Principles 2.0 seems to be a largely academic refinement of the previous edition. There’s some smart thinking in the document, but I fear none of it is of much use to those on the frontlines of PR who need to pull together monthly reports to show how they’ve earned their keep. 

In PR talking shops measurement and ROI are the discussing themes that just keep on giving. We can debate and dissect them in myriad different ways, without risking solving the problem so definitively that we can simply move on from it. 

I think this is a shame and it doesn’t need to be that way. 

Yes, it’s time to consign AVE to the history books of our industry, but to move forward we need to start talking about practicalities. 

Maybe this requires acceptance, once and for all, that the vagaries of nebulous concepts like influence and reputation mean that some of what we do offline can never be measured with complete accuracy or confidence, and perhaps sometimes outputs will have to suffice. 

But there’s a lot we can measure. 

So much PR work takes place online now, and absolutely everything that happens in the digital sphere can be tracked, measured and analysed in all kinds of interesting ways. 

The time for esoteric and abstract discussion is over. We need to have a more pragmatic conversation about measurement that yields genuinely useable results for PR practitioners. 

Lance Concannon is the UK PR and marketing manager for Sysomos 

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