5 reasons why PR pros, and the brands that hire them, should understand the Barcelona Principles

It's shocking how many PR executives do not know about the Barcelona Principles, much less adhere to them.

Image via jwyg / Flickr; Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
Image via jwyg / Flickr; Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Solid measurement and analysis are a pain point for all PR professionals. The measurement landscape is evolving with the advent of owned vs. earned media, social channels, and a growing demand for standards for measurement and analytics.

It’s surprising how many PR executives do not know about the Barcelona Principles, much less adhere to them. The Barcelona Principles are the closest our industry has come to a standard for quality measurement. PRWeek had a nice breakdown of the recently released Version 2.0 a few months ago, which is a great primer to help you better understand the principles.

Believe it or not, 20 or so years ago, most PR firms would charge a good deal extra for measurement, or provide none at all, often claiming, "PR is immeasurable." Or worse, they would actually use a physical ruler to "measure" the value of an earned piece of media, based on size and ad equivalency, which really doesn’t indicate the value of PR but rather "guesstimates" at a value based on how much it would have cost to place an ad of the same size as the earned article. (Ad value equivalencies (AVEs) are frowned upon by most PR professionals and hotly contested as "absurd" and "meaningless.") With the availability of tech and data, in addition to the expansion of PR’s area of responsibility and growing competition from ad and digital firms, there is no excuse not to measure. It’s vital to longevity of any PR team.

The question is, what to measure? That’s where the Barcelona Principles come in. They provide a set of guidelines for the industry to adhere to, making all measurement equal, more or less, and helping executives focus on ROI and explain impact to the C-suite. Having a sensibility about what matters in measurement is a good thing and allows us to comparatively analyze campaigns, teams, and resources more accurately.

The good news is that measurement is easier than ever with access to big data, affordable tools, and insightful analytics. But before you choose which tools to use to capture and analyze results, it’s important to familiarize yourself with what you should be measuring in the first place.

Here are five reasons PR professionals – and the brands that hire them – should understand and heed the Barcelona Principles.

Get real about what matters
Most agencies know that AVE is a dirty phrase these days, and the Barcelona Principles explain why. Impressions and circulation are also squishy metrics that don’t equate to any real value but rather "possibilities." With access to unprecedented data, we no longer have to rely on perceived value. Making that change is very often still a learning curve for brands, but it’s time to get real about what matters. The Barcelona Principles outline the importance of goal setting and measurement as fundamental to PR, as well as analyzing outcomes, not just outputs. Outputs are sometimes important to prove to clients how hours were used, but outcomes are what agencies – and their clients – should really be looking at to determine success. It doesn’t matter if an agency spent 20 hours writing a press release or pitching media if nothing comes of it. Align outcomes with goals – rarely will a goal be "to pitch 100 journalists" but rather more likely to be "to place 12 media articles in these key publications, to raise awareness, and drive 100 referrals." Brands should know their business goals, and PR teams should align PR strategy to support such goals.

Improve long-term strategies vs. short-term tactics
A good agency will want to know the impact it’s having on a client’s business so it can continually improve and become a superior PR partner that others hire as a result. The Barcelona Principles provide guidelines that distinguish between measurement and evaluation as well as the importance of qualitative and quantitative measures. Quantitative measurement could be counting outputs such as media pitches and articles, events attended or awards applied for. Qualitative analysis is using data to make a judgment on the outcome’s value and effectiveness – what did those outputs do for us? – and when you understand those elements, you can build them into stronger ongoing strategies, not just the campaign at hand.

Mission-critical insights for agencies ahead of the curve
If clients begin to demand measurement based on these principles, PR agencies will have to follow suit. It seems conclusive, then, that a competitive advantage exists for agencies to be innovative here and push better measurement proactively in order to win business over agencies that don’t provide analytical reporting. The Barcelona Principles lay out a map for doing so.

Brands get their money’s worth
Holding a PR vendor partner to a set of standards can help with that ever-present question, "What is PR really doing for us?" It can also help agencies present such data with third-party credibility to back up their findings, perhaps leading to less "revolving door" syndrome.

PR isn’t dead…yet
Google "PR is dead" and you’ll find a plethora of articles, books, and presentations. PR isn’t dead – but it is changing. A big part of the evolution taking place has to do with data and insights. The Barcelona Principles outline what should be included in PR analysis, including social media. As the worlds of paid, earned, owned, and shared media continue to collide, having an industry standard to lean on can only help PR to establish itself as key to the growing marketing landscape.

There are always critics, and the Barcelona Principles are not immune to such. But overall, in an industry that has consistently been misunderstood, having standards to align values such as integrity, honesty, and openness cannot be a bad thing. It’s time the PR industry holds itself more accountable. Doing so can also begin to separate the wheat from the chaff and improve ROI for brands investing in PR agencies, tech and other resources.

Christine Perkett is CEO & Founder of SeeDepth, Inc.

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