ITL #169 The barriers of everyday practice: challenges in implementing the Barcelona Principles 2.0

6 years, 10 months ago


The PR world is in two minds about whether or not to implement the Barcelona Principles. By Hubert Wisse.

The Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles call for the setting of business goals and the conducting of surveys to check to what extent business results have been attained.

But what does providing your clients with a 'tangible' and professional account of your work, for you, as a communications firm, entail in practice? Obviously, it is going to require a novel approach to a (new) client and a different collaboration strategy from the start. This asks also for a redrafting of your cooperation contracts.

In other words, the approach "We'll start with a briefing meeting and get down to work as soon as we have conducted a media audit" no longer washes. On the premise that communication efforts must make a demonstrable contribution to the corporate objectives and that the one thing PR firms are not required to report on is the success of free publicity for instance, collaboration will have to be structured differently from the start.

In sum, all communication efforts, such as hands-on PR, deliverables, press releases, press conferences, client cases, press trips, white papers etcetera, are nothing more than tools and less relevant when it comes to accountability to management. The tricky part is abandoning the practice of translating communication efforts into AVE-based (Advertising Value Equivalent) reports. But, to be fair: it can be tempting to tell your client that the advertising value to PR budget ratio is factor 5 for instance.

Principle 1: Goal-setting and surveys are fundamental aspects of any communication and public relations drive.
Goal-setting and their measurement are fundamental aspects of any communications and public relations programme. Goals should be as quantitative as possible and the PR programme should specify beforehand who is responsible for what, where and how objectives will be attained.

Measurement should take a holistic approach and should examine comprehension, attitude and behaviour, including their effect on business results.Setting goals and defining how these are measured is essential in terms of developing a PR programme. Also the goals themselves should be defined as quantifiably as possible. It is vital to define who, what, when and how a PR programme will affect the primary objectives in a positive sense. What is measured here are the outcomes in terms of attitude, behavioural change and comprehension among stakeholders via the traditional and social media, insofar as they have an impact on business results.

So, if the Barcelona Principles are to be upheld, either in-house research expertise is required or the research will have to be outsourced. In the case of B2B relationships, this can be taken care of in-house but when it comes to B2C situations, the exercise becomes a little more complicated and/or expensive. To meet that requirement, periodical surveys among stakeholders are needed. Media research is one thing but it will still take an expert to formulate the correct conclusions and recommendations. The elaboration is less of a problem but the budget required will be fairly substantial nonetheless. And if a market research agency needs to be called in, the budget needed is guaranteed to be a substantial one. Furthermore, it makes sense to leave the research phase to the client but to ask for input when it comes to design and analysis.

Principle 2: Measuring the effect of the communication efforts takes precedence over measuring the communication output.
This can be derived from buying behaviour, donations, enhanced brand equity, corporate reputation and employee engagement and from a more positive input from stakeholders.
Methods to measure the effect on outcomes of communication and PR activities should be tailored to the company's business objectives.

Quantitative measures such as benchmarking and surveys are often preferable. However, qualitative surveys can be used to supplement quantitative information.

This ties in with Principle 1. The shifts in knowledge, attitude and behaviour must be charted. A positive shift can be derived from several matters, e.g. donations, the purchase of goods, an enhanced image or greater employee commitment. But also investment decisions, enhancement of public order and other changes can create a positive shift for companies or public and semi-public bodies. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods can be used to that effect.

Here too, the manner in which communication and PR activities support business objectives are examined. Research must be based on ‘best practices’ and sampling to ensure that the approach is completely transparent. Statistical analyses should also provide more clarity in this process. That research brings us a little closer to PR practice. For companies in the ICT market, a research bureau (Apollo Research for instance) can prove to be an added value. A research bureau can also provide company-specific analyses on reputation and competition at a reasonable fee. But once you're talking quarterly reports, fees will spiral rapidly.

Principle 3: The effect on the performance of the organisation as a whole should be measured where possible.
This does not only relate to the input of PR outcomes but also to the results produced by advertising, marketing and branding agencies, DM bureaus, trade fair organisers and suchlike. To measure the operating results of B2C or brand marketing, it is essential to join forces with these agencies.

This is where the market mix models come in, where other disciplines too play an important role. Principle 3 again relates to research. It looks as if PR firms will have to evolve and profile themselves as ‘PR & Research’ bureaus, or ‘PR & Communications Research’ bureaus.

I believe that the design and the implementation of the research trajectory will be more the responsibility of advertising agencies. But here too, the input of PR firms will be essential. Advertising is expensive, and, as a rule, its cost tends to exceed any PR budget. All the more reason to keep a close eye on return on investment in other words. If advertising is not deemed to be the holy grail - there are multinationals who focus strongly on PR - DM activities, trade fairs and customer events become all the more relevant.

PR firms must become (more) au fait with market mix research models so as to allow them to make a qualitative contribution to design and performance, but especially to the evaluation of these studies. In turn, this will enable them to fine-tune the communication and PR objective and strategies.

Principle 4: Measurement and evaluation call for qualitative and quantitative methods.
Aside from quantity, the measuring of media outcomes firstly calls for quality. It is argued that clip counts are pointless. What matters is what has been achieved among the target group.
So, it is what has been attained among the target audience that must be established. This hinges on substantive relevance, on whether or not the correct medium was reached and, if so, at what moment in time? The content of the publication must be examined. Is that content positive, neutral or negative?

On closer inspection, principle 4 sounds more like a piece of advice for PR consultants rather than a 'principle'. Here, each publication is assessed and charted from a qualitative and a quantitative perspective. That can be done on the basis of a point system, known as the CVP (Clipping Value Points). English PR agency Whiteoaks has been using this system for years. Most PR companies are not overly enamoured with this kind of system because they prefer to allocate the extra time it takes up on media contacts. But the Barcelona Principles in actual fact demand it.

Article size:





between a quarter and half a page


between half a page and one full page


between one full page and a double page


more than two pages or a cover article




based on a media list to be defined in consultation


regional publications, electronic media




other media not listed under 1 or 5




top selection media and national newspapers



Print run:

trade magazine:


less than 1,000


between 1,000 and 10,000


more than 10,000



Media value:



less than 1,000 euro


between 1,000 and 5,000 euro


more than 5,000 euro






relevant photograph


important application or prominent position


photograph that dominates the page




1 bonus point






key message mentioned


key message features strongly


more than one key message mentioned


somewhat negative




very negative



Principle 5: Advertising value does not reflect the value of the communication.
The AVE, the Advertising Value Equivalent, or the advertising value is the price one would have to pay if an article was converted into media space. AVEs are history. A PR company that embraces the Barcelona Principles is no longer allowed to use advertising value to demonstrate the outcome of its PR efforts. It's all about the quality of the coverage. And that can be charted also.

But the clipping bureaus present us with AVEs on a tray. Even clients ask for monthly clipping and advertising value reports. So, how to tackle this? Outsourcing is one option. Specialist research bureaus can conduct media research on ‘External Sentiment Analysis’, ‘Advocates & Influencers’, ‘Communications Effectiveness’, ‘Competitive Benchmarking’, ‘Consumer Feedback Analysis’, ‘Issues Forecasting’, ‘Risk & Crisis Management’, ‘Social Media Audit’, ‘Social Media Monitoring’, ‘Sponsorship Evaluation’ and ‘Expert Witness Evaluation’ (see for instance ). But it can always be done in-house. PR companies do have the relevant skills but it will take up a fair few administrative hours, requiring extra budget as a result.

Principle 6: Social Media can and should be measured continuously by means of specific media search engines.
The goals and strategies of the social media to be resorted to should be clearly defined. The outcomes must be measured and form the subject of regular reports. Media content and analyses should be supplemented by web search. Results must be evaluated and reported.

Evaluating quality and quantity is as critical as it is in the case of conventional media.
Organisations (clients in other words) should clearly specify the goals and outcomes of social media. Goals must be set and agreed upon with the client.

Principle 7: Measurements, research and evaluations must be transparent, consistent and valuable.
PR measurement should be done in a manner that is transparent and replicable for all the steps in the process and should specify the measurements performed, the source (print, radio/TV, Internet), analysis method and suchlike. It basically boils down to ensuring that the measuring of media outcomes goes hand in hand with sound research.

Leave us alone, will you! But it does come down to ensuring that the measuring of media outcomes goes hand in hand with sound research. There is no arguing with that of course, but once again, it very much hinges on the available budgets.

The Barcelona Principles contain many correct and sound recommendations, but everyday practice tells us that we still have some way to go, together with our clients that is.

How to collaborate with our clients?

There is no denying that clients:

  • Look for AVEs
  • Want to agree key performance indicators (KPIs) with the firm, tailored to the outcome of the clippings, on which, in turn, the PR will be based
  • Don't see the point in allocating extra funds to analyses and research

And as long as clients keep asking for clippings and their advertising value equivalent, PR firms will be happy to oblige. Many communication/PR companies are just delighted to find a new client. Especially in times of recession. It's about keeping available budgets as realistic as possible and about getting down to work fast.

And aside from that, there are also many 'types' of clients:

  • Local clients
  • Foreign clients PR agencies work with directly
  • Foreign clients with a relatively small sales office in the local region
  • Clients operating from their HQ abroad
  • Clients via colleague companies

All have their own wishes and requirements...

author"s portrait

The Author

Hubert Wisse

Hubert Wisse (1941); advisor Wisse Kommunikatie. Retired January 2016. When leading the company, he handled PR for companies such as GE-Rolls-Royce, Mitsubishi Motors Europe and the European Commission.

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