For a public relations campaign to be successful, we not only need a clear picture of success, but a reliable way to measure that success. One of the best tools to aid in measurement is the Institute for Public Relations’ Barcelona Principles, a set of standards developed in 2010 by PR practitioners from 33 countries.
The 7 Barcelona Principles provide high-level guidance on how to capture the value of public relations in a meaningful way. They represent huge progress toward achieving consensus and credibility in our profession’s markers for success. But they can be challenging to implement. I recently applied the Principles to a very comprehensive campaign and came away with four simple but important tips for improving measurement:
Speak the same language
Some of our standard terms for measurement can be confusing and misleading. In some cases, they can even misrepresent or understate the value of public relations work, so it is important for both PR professionals and the leaders they work with to have a mutual understanding of their meaning.
A great example of this is Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs). AVEs draw a comparison between the costs for paid media versus earned media. While it might seem like a good idea to make this kind of assessment, there is no one-to-one comparison between earned media and paid advertising space. Simply stated, AVEs do not reflect the quality of a media placement, and therefore do not help inform the campaign for the future. The Principles lay out the problem with AVEs, and caution against placing much emphasis on them. However, some people still want to see this metric. If they do, it’s worth taking the time to educate them about the limitations of AVEs.
Another term that can be problematic is “impressions.” This metric is defined in numerous and inconsistent ways that might be dependent upon reported circulation numbers, subscribers, or unique monthly online visits. For social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, impressions have a very different meaning, referring to the number of times a message appears in a timeline.
Tailor your measurements
The Barcelona Principles are a valuable guide at a high level, but must be tailored to fit individual campaigns. The amount of data a communications program generates through websites, social channels, and media placements can quickly become overwhelming. It’s easy to get weighed down by data, so it’s important to be efficient, and only gather data that has real value to the campaign. For example, if your goal is to drive as many people as possible to a website, you’ll want to closely measure where your traffic is coming from to determine which channels are working well so you can adjust the focus accordingly.
Measure consistently to track progress
It is easy to measure success once a solid system is in place for collecting critical data. Prepare a document or database to record all successes in one place, and refresh the information at regular intervals. Also think about mini-campaigns or initiatives that occur, and be sure those events are reflected in the analytics. If your team regularly tracks this data, the value of “big wins” will be more noticeable and easily sharable.
Make data work for the campaign
With the most valuable analytics in one place, you can easily use that information to make smart decisions to strengthen the campaign. You can make changes or decisions dependent on the campaign goals, measure successes against existing goals, and even set new goals informed by past data. When it comes down to it, we are collecting data that represents the value achieved in a campaign. Public relations is not just about numbers—impact is what matters most.
Gathering and analyzing data for a communications campaign definitely can be a challenge. But it also presents a tremendous opportunity for PR practitioners to begin demonstrating value in a way that has often been elusive in our field. Fortunately, we’re making great strides in this area, and it’s exciting to be part of the progress.