7 ways the revised Barcelona Principles can fix PR’s past mistakes

The guidelines can serve to correct erroneous measurement beliefs and ineffective communications strategies and tactics. Here’s how they’ve changed.


Communicators are often tasked with correcting PR misdeeds of those before them.

In 2010, roughly 140 PR practitioners from more than 40 countries gathered in Catalonia, Spain for a meeting hosted by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication—the world’s largest trade body representing communications research, measurement and insights.

The result of that conference was the first draft of the Barcelona Principles: seven core principles aimed at righting the PR industry’s prior mistakes.

These new voluntary guidelines were to be used for measuring and evaluating communications and PR campaigns. Early adopters of the Barcelona Principles included Edelman, FleishmanHillard, Ketchum and StrategyOne.

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In the five years that followed, the guidelines’ adoption has been patchy across the industry. The wording of each principle has been debated and fine-tuned, ultimately resulting in the Barcelona Principles Mark II, agreed at the AMEC summit in 2015.

Here are the revised principles:

1. Goal setting and measurement are fundamental.

To an outsider, this might seem obvious—but a huge number of brand managers make up their organization’s strategy from year to year. Do these sound familiar?

“There’s a product launching next month. We should have an event!”

“We should do a press release about something. Check if the commercial team has any news we could put out.”

If so, your organization must employ the Barcelona Principles. Measurement, evaluation and goal setting should be at the core of PR campaigns across paid, earned, owned and shared channels.

2. Measure communication outcomes, rather than measuring only outputs.

Outputs can be measured easily in quantitative terms (i.e. numbers), but the second principle has now been updated to reinforce the importance of qualitative feedback (i.e. words).

The original principle stated that qualitative methods of measuring outcomes were “often preferable,” but the update recognizes that the use of qualitative methods should be used alongside quantitative measures as appropriate. It also specifically mentions advocacy as an outcome that can (and should) be measured.

3. Measure the effect on organizational performance.

The third principle is all about the big picture. It’s all well and good to talk about your PR and communications goals, but what effect are you having on your organization as a whole?

PR efforts can increase the bottom line and profits, but that is not the only effect it can have. This principle was originally focused on PR’s effect on business results, but the updated wording reflects the fact that communications can impact your organization’s overall performance.

To do this, PR pros must understand integrated marketing and communication models. PR does not exist in a silo, nor should its strategies.

4. Measurement and evaluation require both qualitative and quantitative methods.

In traditional media, quantitative measures (tactics that you can count) can include press clippings, circulation and readership figures, impressions, air time and volume of coverage. For digital media, quantitative measures include web rankings, followers gained, website visitors and social media engagement (number of likes, comments, shares and retweets.)

For a qualitative analysis, assess the effect that the activity had on tone and sentiment. Scour blogger comments, hold focus groups for consumer feedback, monitor commentary by public figures (including celebrities or politicians) and gauge how online community sentiment was affected. Internally, you can run surveys to find if the campaign had an effect on employee morale.

5. AVEs do not show the worth of communications.

Though some cling to Advertising Value Equivalent as a measure, PR practitioners following best practices should entirely reject them.

The old-school practice of measuring the success of PR efforts by the yardstick of advertising rates is dead. There are better models for calculating the qualitative and quantitative effect of campaigns.

Measuring our own industry by the yardstick of another shows an alarming lack of confidence in our own abilities. There is no common measurement for advertising and editorial. It’s akin to asking a basketball player how many home runs he scored in his last game.

6. Social media can (and should) be measured with other channels.

Many sophisticated free and paid-for tools are available to measure the ROI of social media efforts.

Between the analytics offered within social sites themselves, Klout scores and the numerous other measurement tools that detect share of voice, engagement, followers, likes, retweets and so on, there is no excuse not to measure and report on social media channels just like any other.

7. Measurement and evaluation should be transparent, consistent and valid.

Whether you work on an in-house corporate communications team (and are looking for an increased budget) or you’re in an agency looking to demonstrate your value to a client, effectively measuring the success of your campaigns is crucial.

However, in 2013, 59 percent of PR pros surveyed by the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication said that the biggest barrier they face in measuring their success is that it’s “too complex.”

When we measure performance, it’s crucial to compare like with like, and act with integrity, honesty and openness. The updated principle includes more specific guidance about valid quantitative and qualitative methods in an effort to ensure that they are reliable, replicable and/or trustworthy.

How well do you think these updated principles define the PR industry and professionals’ charge?

Katie Harrington is a PR pro, blogger and author of “Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art.” A version of this article originally appeared on her blog.

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