The Barcelona Principles, five years later

By Pierre Gince, ARP (with Caroline Roy)

In Barcelona in 2010, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) and the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) adopted the common declaration of public relations principles—or the Barcelona Principles.

The objective was to determine a single framework for a fast-changing profession that operates around the world.

So where are we, five years on?

I’ll answer that a little later. First, the facts.

The seven principles of the Barcelona Declaration:

  1. The 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. Advertising value equivalences (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

Beware of major principles…

I’m sure you’ll agree that principles are always established to guide practice.

Unfortunately, in public relation and elsewhere,  there are always those who think certain principles must be followed to the letter. At the most basic level. Rigidly and… dogmatically.

With all due respect for my public relations colleagues who wrote the seven principles in Barcelona, it is clear they brought nothing new to the table. Instead, they reflected and came to a consensus on certain facts and tendencies, in addition to addressing a sensitive issue: the “famous” advertising value equivalency (meaning the cost, in advertising dollars, of media coverage if the air time or space had been purchased).

I support the Barcelona Principles and I have always opposed advertising value equivalency when it is used at the “most basic level” (in other words, when analysts claim that media coverage in any given instance has the same value as advertising space—or three or five times more—without considering the content).

This approach, which unfortunately is still used by organizations and public relations firms, discredits all the credible tools that contribute to organizational management and outreach.

However, advertising value equivalency —although imperfect, I agree— can be highly useful as part of a thorough analysis.

And so, with a tool like measure [d], which evaluates other variables, advertising value equivalency is not an end in and of itself, but rather one means among many.

For truly useful media analysis

When used strategically by experts, media coverage value in dollars is a valuable component of a results analysis method that helps communications managers, senior management, boards of directors and other readers of analysis reports understand analysis reports with dollars and percentages.

Certain analysis reports that avoid equivalent advertising value make it hard to determine whether the impact was favorable or not and—most importantly—to what extent.

For example, it could be very useful for managers to learn that a favorable reputation ranking had increased from 1.90 to 2.15.
The main benefit of obtaining data in dollars in credible media analysis reports isn’t negligible:

It helps readers understand the results!

Here’s what Andre Manning and David B. Rockland had to say in an article entitled “Understanding the Barcelona Principles,” published in the spring 2011 issue of The Public Relations Strategist:
“You must talk the language of business. This is the way to ensure that executives believe that public relations has a business value. Many companies keep track of how they are doing with customers with a Net Promoter Score. We keep track of our media results in exactly the same way (…). PR measurement has to talk the language of business — silly terms like ‘impressions,’ ‘hits’ and ‘AVEs’ have gone by the wayside.”

By relying on quality tools, public relations strategists can (finally!) speak the “language of business,” bring “added value” to business, and contribute to the “return on investment.” We’ve come a long way!

Social media has changed everything!

Where are we five years on?

In the fast-changing world of public relations (and related domains) going back five years is almost like going back to the Middle Ages!

In the list of seven principles established in 2010, social media is mentioned—very timidly—in sixth place !

It’s a truism today to say that social media has become omnipresent and inescapable. Brands use it to position themselves and inform the public. And at the same time, consumers and citizens are constantly commenting about anything and everything at any given moment.

As a result:

Rigorous analysis of social media impact has become as important as analysis of coverage obtained in dailies and magazines, on the radio or television, and through their online counterparts.

In conclusion: three observations

There are three things I have remarked upon in the five years since the adoption of the Barcelona Principles:

  • They are theoretical statements that have everything needed to rally widespread support (who could be against motherhood and apple pie?).
  • But, few professionals in Quebec and the rest of Canada have stood up to promote them since 2010.
  • Even though the stage has been set, the principles have not led to the establishment of international standards for public relations evaluation, because each firm with an interest in the field jealously guards its proprietary formula.

Recently, I was in Washington for the big PR Measurement Conference, organized by PR News. Social media evaluation was the number 1 topic of presentations and discussion, so I’ll no doubt have some highlights to share with you shortly.

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