By Jeff Wilson, APR (wilson0507)
I returned Tuesday evening from Washington, D.C. invigorated after attending the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) International Conference. The conference offered great learning and networking opportunities with my peers in the PR industry. However, this year, the most intriguing session I attended wasn’t actually listed in the official conference guide.
I had the privilege of participating in an invitation-only focus group, jointly hosted by PRSA and the Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) to discuss public relations measurement. The participants in the focus group represented a diverse geographic and demographic cross-section of the PR industry and included practitioners from the corporate and agency worlds. We were told that we were among the first to see and evaluate the new metrics that are being developed for practitioners to measure the value of public relations referred to as the Barcelona Principles.
The Barcelona Principles
These seven Principles were crafted this summer at the second European Summit on Measurement by a consortium of international public relations organizations, including the Global Alliance for Public Relations, the Institute of Public Relation’s Commission on Measurement and Evaluation, PRSA, AMEC and the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO). Following is a synopsis of what the Principles recommend:
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. 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
Taken on face value, the Principles don’t seem contrary to what many of us are already doing in PR. However, suggesting these Principles as a global standard for how to measure success in public relations could be far reaching. Our focus group was a way for PRSA and AMEC to get feedback from PR practitioners about the Principles and how they might be used in general practice.
Outputs and Outcomes
The Principles point to the need to measure more outcomes in conjunction with outputs. Probably one of the most widely used outputs in the PR industry is the calculation of media impressions. While media impressions can serve as one good data point, alone they do not help tie PR to an organization’s key performance indicators (KPIs) or outcomes. Preferably, the outcomes that should be measured include shifts in awareness, comprehension, attitude and behavior related to purpose, donations, brand equity, corporate reputation, employee engagement, public policy, investment decisions and other shifts in a company or organization.
Social Media Measurement
The Principles also contend that social media can and should be measured. Evaluating quality and quantity for social media are just as critical as with traditional media. Media content analysis should be supplemented by web and search analytics, sales and CRM data, survey data and other methods.
End of AVEs?
Probably what is getting the greatest “buzz” among the Barcelona Principles is the notion that advertising value equivalents (AVEs) are not the value of public relations. They only measure the cost of media space and should be rejected as a concept to value PR. The Principles state that where a comparison has to be made between the cost of space from earned verses paid media, validated metrics should be used, stated for what they are and reflect:
* Negotiated advertising rates relevant to the client, as available
* Quality of the coverage, including negative results
* Physical space of the coverage, and the portion of the coverage that is relevant
Multiplers intended to reflect a greater media cost for earned verses paid media should never be applied unless proven to exist in the specific.
The question remains whether the PR industry is ready to universally adopt a standard set of measurement principles? Perhaps, with time.
Many of the practices used to measure success in PR – such as AVEs – have been around for a long time, so moving beyond them will probably occur gradually. Asking public relations professionals to better align PR campaign goals to an organization’s business goals (outcomes), instead of just relying on such measurements as media impressions (outputs) will not only take time, but will require more money for more comprehensive research, such as benchmark surveying.
From the agency side, it means getting more money for clients to conduct more comprehensive research at the beginning stage of campaigns and research money at the end of campaigns to truly determine if a change in opinion, behavior or attitude has occurred. From the corporate PR professionals, it means finding more budget internally to support more in-depth research. From everyone, it will require more time to properly conduct this research and to give the campaigns enough time to truly measure change. True campaign success may not be determined in three months, six months or even a year.
In the end, these shifts in measurement proposed by The Barcelona Principles are important to the continued well-being of the PR industry. PRSA has done a good job this year of promoting the Business Case for Public Relations, which is an initiative to drive PR industry recognition and growth by helping PR professionals educate key audiences about public relations’ roles and outcomes, demonstrate its strategic value and enhance its reputation.
As PR continues to seek a “seat at the table” with other management functions, having concrete and measurable results showing PR’s impact on an organization’s success will go a long way in making that happen.