Comply or Die: Standards Adoption Is Inevitable


The Barcelona Principles were adopted by the leaders of the PR industry five years ago (Happy Birthday!). Since then measurement standards and other tools have been developed and are beginning to be used by the industry. Where now for standards?

PR’s problem is ignorance

The reality today is that there is widespread ignorance of the Barcelona Principles and the standards and other tools that have been developed since the Principles were adopted. The slow pace of compliance with the new standards and the continued use of AVEs are both symptoms of the underlying problem facing the industry: sheer ignorance.

A typical example is found in this ill-informed blog post from Aly Saxe at IRIS, recapping her takeaways from the recent PRSA Counselors Academy conference.

“The search for PR measurement standards continues… The round table that I hosted sparked a great discussion about measurement, quantifiable goals, and setting expectations with clients and internal leadership. Several attendees shared their frustration over the lack of standard PR metrics. They’re searching for the answer – that silver bullet for PR measurement – but I maintain that there will never be one silver bullet. Instead, there will likely be several key metrics. And, as an industry, we’re only just scratching the surface of what those should be.”

Alas, had Ms. Saxe only known that standards already exist, she would have hosted an entirely different and much more informative discussion.

Our industry faces a very long and slow road to standards education. Sure, evangelists like me leave comments on posts like the above, in hopes that people will see them. But it’s going to take an industry-wide push (see our Barcelona Compliance Manifesto) to educate ourselves. We note that very few of this years speakers and sponsors of the AMEC Measurement Summit have pledged to support the standards, and many still sell AVEs (see “Companies Bring Shame to Measurement”).

The inevitable demise of ignorance: Comply or die.

Yet if the industry doesn’t educate itself, change is going to happen anyway. Standards make stronger companies, and survival of the fittest is a slow, but eventually effective path to change. I foresee a time (years from now) when the Barcelona Principles will be as accepted as the 5 W’s of journalism, or Strunk and White. There are three inevitabilities that will ensure this will happen:

  1. PR people will comply or die. The old school supporters of no measures, or at best bad ones, are already well on their way to retirement. In five years they will have all been replaced and we can get on with good measurement. Take, for example, Advertising Value Equivalency. Thanks to our changing media landscape, the inaccuracy and silliness of AVEs is becoming steadily more obvious. As a result, a plethora of PR people who continue to use them will be laughed out of board rooms. The new generation of CEOs and CMOs, who actually understand the definition of ROI and don’t believe that every chart really does always go up and to the right, will cull the herd.
  2. Agencies will comply or die. More and more often, PR agencies are being fired for producing results that are inflated. Or that can easily be deflated by anyone in finance or accounting with a calculator and a questioning eye. Smart agencies are learning from these examples. The others will not survive.
  3. Companies will comply or die. Standards result in better research, which results in better PR, which results in more efficient and profitable companies. The companies that survive and thrive will be those that use good metrics and solid measurement systems. The others will shrivel up and die or be absorbed into the healthier ones.

And the process will happen even faster if the industry groups that created Barcelona in the first place take the five actions we call for in The Barcelona Compliance Manifesto. ∞

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Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.