The Secret Backstory of The Barcelona Principles


This story originally appeared in the late May edition of The Measurement Advisor.

Happy Birthday to The Barcelona Principles! It was almost exactly five years ago that 250 or so measurement vendors, agencies, clients, and researchers attending a conference in Spain (the Second European Summit on Measurement) approved the seven tenets of good PR measurement now known as the Barcelona Principles. The purpose of this article is to remind us all of the pioneering work of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) Measurement Commission in the development of those Principles.

AMEC (the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) hosted that particular Barcelona meeting, along with the IPR’s Measurement Commission. What many people are not aware of is that the Barcelona Principles had their origin in work done years earlier by the IPR Measurement Commission. In fact, this multi-disciplinary volunteer group of clients, agencies, research providers, and academics had spent the previous decade trying to solve the problem of “PR Measurement Standards.” (Full disclosure, I am a founding member of the Measurement Commission.)

After writing numerous papers on why and how to do measurement right, the Measurement Commission finally took a stand at our quarterly meeting in October 2009 and voted to reject forever the term, concept, and practice of Advertising Value Equivalency. (See the Revised Report of AVE Task Force.) We gave the following arguments, in part:

The term, Advertising Value Equivalency, erroneously suggests that the space and time occupied by earned media generated through public relations is equivalent to the same space and time of paid media when purchased as advertising. There is no evidence to suggest that advertising and editorial space hold equivalent value… The two are not equivalent concepts and should not be treated as such.

…AVE is not a proxy for measuring the return-on-investment of public relations. AVE subjugates the value of the messages delivered through public relations simply to the cost of the space and/or time occupied by advertising, not the impact or effectiveness of public relations in its broadest definition… This obfuscating practice often prevents or misdirects focus from quantifying the more meaningful outcomes of public relations…

Measuring media coverage is a valuable way of evaluating media-focused public relations and the delivery of intended and unintended messages. However, AVE does not evaluate the quality of media messages and their probable impact on outcomes…

The Revised Report states that the Commission encourages measurement and evaluation practices that demonstrate the effectiveness of public relations to help meet organizational goals, which is essentially Barcelona Principle #1. Later that year we put together a slide deck to document the business outcomes of PR, which is the basis of Principle #3.

The Principles outlined on that June day in Barcelona were essentially a formal codification and adoption of what the Measurement Commission had been discussing and advocating for years.

What was different in Barcelona was that the Principles were presented by a unified coalition that included the Institute for PR Measurement Commission (IPRMC), the Global Alliance, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO), and the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC).

That coalition presented the Principles to the audience and asked them to discuss them and then vote on their adoption. To call the discussion “spirited” is a strong understatement. While few could argue about the general concept of measurement being based on objectives, many of the vendors in the room employ (and still employ) business models that depend on AVEs for a key part of their revenue. That group saw adoption of the principles as financial suicide. Others, like yours truly, felt that the principles were little more than measurement milquetoasts, and called for even stronger language. However, when the votes were tallied, approval of the principles passed by a narrow margin.

Those of us on the IPR Measurement Commission were excited to see our years of work finally adopted. But five years have now passed, and our industry has, for the most part, made only minor steps to actually comply with the Principles. Sadly, at this year’s AMEC Measurement Summit, 18% of sponsors still offer AVEs and only 4 out of 39 speakers have even pledged to support the Principles. Read more on this in “Companies Bring Shame to Measurement”. Little did we realize what a long and arduous road it would be to transfer those principles from words on a Barcelona stage to boardrooms around the world. For more on just what hard work is needed see “The Barcelona Principles Manifesto.” ∞

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