Celebrating Five Years After Barcelona: It’s Time to Measure across the Communications Process

David GeddesIn a recent article, “Five Years After Barcelona, It’s Time to Measure Motive,” Alan Kelly writes a personal critique of the practice of public relations (“a craft that is unregulated, un-licensed, and inherently in service to public manipulation”), of the Barcelona Principles (“they reflect a bias that deprives the practice of more useful measures”), and of the initiative to develop standards for public relations measurement and evaluation. I believe that I can speak on behalf of the members of the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission, the leadership and the members of AMEC, as well as other organizations dedicated to advancing the cause of research, measurement, and evaluation in public relations in saying that we welcome educated discussion commentary, and debate on this topic. Regrettably, the author’s article is ill-informed, poorly reasoned, and fails to illuminate a path forward.

To begin, the Barcelona Principles are just what they are called — principles. Consider that the author writes, “having re-read the AMEC’s five-year-old standard in media metrics, the Barcelona Principles, I am equally wary.“ This is wrong on three grounds. First, the Barcelona Principles were issued by a consortium of organizations, not by AMEC alone. This is not just a minor point of attribution. The Barcelona Principles and the Public Relations Measurement Standards were developed with the input of several organizations and many individuals around the world, and adopted five years ago at an international conference.

Second, the author confounds principles and standards. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, a principle is “a: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption; b: a rule or code of conduct; c:  the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device.” In other words, principles, in the context of professional practice, are comprehensive rules, codes, and assumptions that guide actions in the profession.

Standards, according to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), are the detailed “how to measure” within broad principles and best practices. According to the ISO, “a standard … provides requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.” Standards can be definitions, metrics, processes, protocols or guidelines that establish a common language and allow comparisons. The most important benefit of standards is to ensure the comparability of measurement data. The Barcelona Principles are not and were not intended to be standards.

Third, the Barcelona Principles concern far more than media metrics, and indeed advocate measurement at all phases of the communications and public relations process. Let’s look in detail. The first three Barcelona Principles specifically address:

  1. The importance of goal setting for designing measurement programs. Goals are inherently linked to strategy, hence the Barcelona Principles advocate measurement in the context of strategy.
  2. Measuring the effect of public relations on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs. Media are the classic output. The Barcelona Principles explicitly advocate measuring across the communications process. The Public Relations Research Standards not only include standards for traditional and social media, but they continue to include measurement of the communications lifecycle (cognitive changes including awareness, knowledge, understanding, intent, preference, and advocacy).
  3. The effect on business results can and should be measured where possible. The research standards include a guide to measuring ROI in financial terms, and when to use other metrics.

Finally, the author concludes the article with some examples of his own playmaker strategies in practice. However, he does not elucidate measurement in the validity of his constructs, in the appropriateness of his concepts to a situation in practice, or in quantifying the success of strategy based on the playmaker situation analysis. Perhaps that is for his next article.

All members of the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission—and many other industry professionals as well—have the expertise to develop a measurement and evaluation program, yes linked to strategy, for Dove Soap, Panera, or even Ted Cruz (does the junior senator from Texas have a strategy?).

For readers interested in advice on state-of-the-art advice, standards-based, measurement and evaluation of strategic communications programs, please look at the many resources available on the Institute for Public Relations web site, attend one of the excellent conferences on public relations measurement and evaluation, or contact a member of the IPR Measurement Commission.

David Geddes, Ph.D., is member and past chair of the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission, principal of Geddes Analytics LLC. and co-founder and managing director of The Cohl Group

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