Just a few years ago, the public relations industry threw its resources at an issue that has plagued PR for decades – how to measure public relations performance. The end result was a haughty name for a set of seven principles for PR measurement.
They’re known as “The Barcelona Principles” because in 2010, that’s where the measurement leaders from across the PR field got together to vote these seven principles into practice. Something tells me the same measures wouldn’t have the gravitas they now enjoy had the group met in Toledo.
That said, formal adoption of the principles was long overdue for a field that has struggled to connect corporate, operational or marketing results with public relations activities.
Since they came to be in 2010, AMEC, the international association for the measurement and evaluation of communication, has updated the seven principles, meeting in 2015 to expand and clarify some of them.
This all leads us to the question: “How do we measure PR?”
The core of the answer is in these new updated principles:
#1 – Goal setting and measurement are fundamental to communications and public relations.
The main takeaway here is that you can’t effectively measure something if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. You have to know what spells success for you before you even start a public relations program. It doesn’t have to be defined in numerical terms, but a clear vision of ultimate success will help PR professionals best determine what measures need to be in place to monitor and evaluate the progress of the public relations effort.
#2 – Measuring communications outcomes is recommended versus only measuring outputs.
The old outcomes versus outputs debate can be a bit jargony, but the words are precise. If you count the number of posts you post, news releases you send, speeches you give, then that’s measuring output and all you’re really doing is measuring your own productivity. But if you shift your focus to how all of this public relations activity is making people feel, think, act, then you’re measuring outcomes, and that’s the real goal.
#3 – The effect on organizational performance can and should be measured where possible.
This is a relatively new concept in terms of the way the public relations field thinks about its role. When I say new, we can go back about 20 years, but still the emphasis here is to try to elevate the practice of public relations with those of other fields like management consulting. It’s really not a stretch. Good public relations work can improve organizational performance well beyond the domain of communications. This is based on the understanding that solid communication is the catalyst for a high-performing organization. What this principle addresses is the need to measure just how communications can most effectively play this role.
#4 – Measurement and evaluation require both qualitative and quantitative methods.
Now we’re talking. When people ask how to measure public relations programs, this is what they often want to know. What do you do to determine success or failure? Keep in mind, we live in the age of big data and analytics, so we can crunch numbers in ways we never could before. Social media and digital activities have data points attached to everything we do. We can see how people navigate our websites, review or share information, or even respond to it at an emotional level.
It takes some trained communications professionals to make sense of much of this data, mainly because it’s easy to draw the wrong conclusions if we accept some of the info on face value. One of the most obvious examples in social media is when someone retweets or “likes” a post on Twitter. When someone uses these Twitter functions, it doesn’t really mean they endorse the original post or that they really “like” it. It just means they want someone else to see it, or they may want to come back to it again. As the volume and kind of data continues to expand, we’ll need to be increasingly judicious in how we judge the information we receive.
Of course, data and analytics aren’t the only tools. We have sophisticated ways to conduct surveys and focus groups that can help us really get a deeper understanding of how our stakeholders respond to communication.
And then ultimately, there are the behavioral measures. Did sales go up or down? What was attendance at the event? Are people using the service you’ve promoted? What was the outcome of the referendum at the ballot box?
#5 – Advertising Value Equivalencies (AVEs) are not the value of communication.
AVEs just won’t go away. If you don’t know what they are, it’s pretty simple. Back in the day, when newspapers ruled and advertisers based much of their budgets on the column-inch, AVEs were born. So, if you wanted to buy an ad in a newspaper, you might want a small one, let’s say one column wide by three inches long. That’s a three-column inch ad. A big ad might be six columns wide, by 10 inches deep. That would be 60 column inches.
So, if you conducted a publicity effort, and the same newspaper published an article about your client that was 60 column inches in size, that number would be used to assign a value to the result. If the newspaper calculated that 50,000 readers saw it, and the normal fee for the ad was $5,000, then the PR firm might come up with a formula to claim their article placement was worth $5,000 and that it was read by 50,000 people.
That’s just the beginning. Different formulas were used to create these AVEs. Some even calculated “pass-along rates.” In other words, if you leave a newspaper on a table in a barber shop, six people might see the article in that one newspaper that day. Somehow, almost out of thin air, PR agencies came up with a wild guess and factored in that number.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this used. Fortunately, I never bought into it myself and never used these statistics with clients. The good news here is that as a profession, the public relations field has formally rejected the use of AVEs through the adaptation of this principle.
#6 – Social media can and should be measured consistently with other media channels.
This is kind of obvious, but the operative word here is “consistently.” Since there are so many ways to measure social media, it can be a problem when you judge social media results within their own framework in such a way that you can’t draw correlations with other PR tactics.
In other words, if you conduct a survey to determine the impact of publicity using traditional media, you should factor in questions about the impact of social media campaigns on those same people. That way you can better compare apples to apples.
Even the general media has a problem here. All too often, they base their own assumptions of public attitudes on what is trending on Facebook and Twitter. That is often a mistake if you really want an accurate read of public perceptions. Only a small universe is active on social media, and demographically speaking, their attitudes are often do not represent the majority.
#7 – Measurement and evaluation should be transparent, consistent and valid.
This is pretty self-explanatory. Our methods should be easy to understand and thorough. We shouldn’t sell measurement on the basis that we have some secret sauce or proprietary algorithm that sets us apart. Tell everyone how we’re judging results so they know. Be consistent about it. Don’t change the criteria in mid-stream or from one project to the next. That raises doubts about the credibility and the validity of the information.
The next time someone wants to know how we measure PR, the answer is pretty simple. Check out the Barcelona Principles and go from there.
Please share this to get the word out on PR measurement, or let me know if you have anything specific you want to talk about.