Understanding the Barcelona Principles

March 21, 2011

By Andre Manning and David B. Rockland, Ph.D.

Placing measurement at the forefront of PR practice is an evergreen topic. Every year, a trade magazine proclaims that this is the year of measurement. And every year there are conferences and summits that lay out a great agenda for measurement going forward. Yet, as professionals, we still find ourselves putting measurement on the to-do list.

In fact, if you look at how many agencies pitch new business to prospective clients, the priorities are usually in this order: credentials, strategy, tactics, budget and then maybe measurement of results. Usually, as time is running out, someone tells the measurement person that he or she will have to make the pitch fast and create slides on the spot.

However, 2010 saw what may be the beginning of a change. First, in June, the measurement industry gathered in Barcelona and voted seven principles into existence. For once, the profession had reached a consensus on what works and what doesn’t. While the principles don’t solve every problem, they do specifically refute using advertising value equivalents (AVEs) and false multipliers — common practices that equate the value of public relations with the cost of advertising and that support the notion that earned media is always at least twice as valuable as paid media. Neither is true.

Then, in November, PR leaders gathered in London and answered two questions: If we don’t use AVEs, then what are the right metrics? And, since social media is the hottest thing going on in public relations, and the Barcelona Principles specifically address its measurement, how do we make sense out of all the different approaches that the approximately 300 suppliers of social media measurement are pushing?

So it appears that 2010 was the year that the profession got its act together under the leadership of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications, which put on the Barcelona and London events in partnership with many other groups, including PRSA.

Principles in action
When OneVoice (a combined agency of Omnicom companies that handles Philips’ business globally) pitched Philips, we did something a bit different with measurement. Instead of putting it on the back end as an afterthought, we opened the pitch with the concept of measurement. We said, “We’re going to show you a lot of smart ideas and cool tactics in a few minutes. But before we start, let’s first show you how we are going to be accountable through a global measurement system.”

Now, having worked together for almost two years, we’ve learned a few things that will help you consider how to implement the Barcelona Principles:

  • You have to budget for measurement up front. Not on the back end. How much?: Figure 5 percent of your total PR spend, including fees and pass-through costs. Many think that measurement costs a fortune. It doesn’t. But if you can’t spend 5 percent of your budget to get an honest assessment of how you are doing — and to improve programs in the future — then are you really being serious about trying to get results from your PR initiatives?
  • You must talk the language of business. This is the way to ensure that executives believe that public relations has a business value. Many companies keep track of how they are doing with customers with a Net Promoter Score. We keep track of our media results in exactly the same way, converting media coverage results into an NPS-type metric. We even give bonuses to our staff based on how they perform against that metric. PR measurement has to talk the language of business — silly terms like “impressions,” “hits” and “AVEs” have gone by the wayside.
  • You need one approach. At Philips, we’ve implemented a single global measurement system. Before, every business and location seemed to have its own metrics and vendors. Now we have one approach. Was it easy? No way. It required intense effort at the outset, and a bit of command and control, with lots of convincing thrown in and ongoing maintenance with continual improvement. We still have some kinks to work out, and we have almost two years of doing this under our belts. However, now you can look at the performance of any campaign, location or business sector in the same way, and make smarter decisions about what works.
  • You must adopt a new mind-set. Probably the hardest part of transitioning into this system has been getting away from the mindset that more is always better — or that the bigger the stack of clips, the better the results. We only measure those media — traditional and social — that are most important to our company’s reputation and business. We follow the 80/20 rule, where 20 percent of the media is at least 80 percent of what is important. This has required a huge shift in mindset, which continues to this day.
  • You have to align your objectives. That shift from more to less is also a shift to align our measurement with our organizational and business objectives. We start with those objectives, even the vision for our company during the next five years, and from there we build our measurement approach and system. It’s not about seeing how many clips we can get and then figuring out how to measure them.

We have found that by embracing measurement, the communicators at Philips and OneVoice have developed the right tools to manage how we work together and, perhaps more important, how we work with our partners in other parts of the Philips organization, its advertising group and other agencies.

These suggestions aren’t difficult to implement and are relevant to the communications professional, irrespective of whether they are on the client or agency side. It’s about putting a system in place that doesn’t cost too much and only measures what matters. At the same time it should create a culture of working together toward continual improvement in communications performance to drive brand marketing and corporate reputation.

The PR practitioner who says, “We got 500 hits, which generated 250 million impressions with an AVE of $2MM!” is a thing of the past. That same person is probably also saying that social media is just a fad and we can ignore it. The Barcelona Principles set the standards. The future is about smart measurement, proper budgets, the language of business and consistency across an organization in how we approach traditional and social media. Let’s plan on bringing that level of professionalism to the entire industry as we move further into 2011.


Andre Manning is the head of global marketing and communications at Royal Philips Electronics. He has held positions of progressive responsibility in communications at Philips throughout his career.

David B. Rockland, Ph.D., is partner/CEO and managing director for the research and change communications businesses at Ketchum


Samra Bufkins, MJ, APR says:

I teach public relations in a state university and spent four years as the Accreditation chair for the Dallas PRSA chapter. In the APR study program we emphasize developing measurable objectives as essential to the planning process. Writing measurable objectives is possibly the most difficult thing a PR pro can do, but it's arguably the most important. I use the APR Study Guide as the text for this portion of all my classes, undergraduate and graduate. I'm amazed that every PR syllabus and every PR textbook I've reviewed has measurement near the very end. Even the revered text by Cutlip, Center and Broom waits until nearly 400 pages in to address measurement and evaluation. Until we get measurement and evaluation out of the back chapters of the book (where it's easily blown off at the end of the semester) and up front where it belongs, measurement will continue to be on the back burner of public relations. I've reorganized my classes to address evaluation in the first weeks, so that the students are constantly thinking "what business objective do I want to accomplish with this _________?" After all, how on earth can you write a measurable objective in the planning process if you have no idea what you want to accomplish or how to measure it?

April 9, 2011

Marc Marton, APR says:

OK, so, how do we implement Barcelona if it's so different from the past, other than to lead with measurement in a pitch so that it's properly budgeted for?

April 16, 2013

Marc Marton, APR says:

And how do you score coverage?

April 16, 2013

Hellen Judith Icumar says:

I do get the feeling that this article applies more to Royal Phillips Electronics. what would be more general for both a business enterprise, development agency and a parastatal?

Oct. 3, 2013

Gary James says:

In 2011, I was a judge along with a half dozen colleagues for a PR association with over 200 members. There were 75+ entries, ranging from the simplest "event" to complete public relations and marketing communications plans. We read every summary, look at the backup materials and did our job. We had to eliminate "budget" as criteria or we would have had no "golds" as 99% of the entries answered the budget question with "proprietary" information. In addition, some of the "measurement" tools were to google the name of the event or organization, or google their press release, and then offer this as results. No. Really. Of course your press release will show up when you google it! And the tragedy of this is 1) these were major, well-known agencies in that marketplace and 2) many of us were struggling indies that know better and were frustrated and jealous that 3) these agencies are doing quite well thank - you. So, until the client wises up and can see the wizard behind the curtain, we'll continue to see the absurdity of examples such as this. I'm all for the "Barcelona Principles" and hope for the best, but I'm also in my mid-50s and don't see anything changing soon.

Oct. 5, 2013

See Depth says:

There is a way to score coverage by analyzing both the quantitative values (number of media hits, for example) as well as the qualitative values (what makes something valuable: key messages, mindshare, tier 1 spokesperson, customer or analyst credibility, etc. etc.). You have to allot for these values as well as which PR campaigns are driving actual business. Awareness is a value. Credibility is a value. But clicks, conversions and sales are real value as well - so allotting for all of these is a way to "score" what your PR campaigns are doing, and evaluate which campaigns are more successful than others and why. Repeat what works, pivot from what doesn't. We just opened for beta if you'd like to try our SaaS platform for doing just this. SeeDepth.com - we'd love your feedback! Works beautifully for corporate teams and PR agencies who want to understand what's working and why.

Feb. 5, 2014

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