What are the Barcelona principles and why do they matter?

Published: Nov 02nd, 2022

Updated: Apr 23rd, 2024

We can measure distances from Earth to the moon, but how do we measure something less objective like the impact of public relations? This is where the Barcelona Principles comes in.

We can measure the distance to the moon, and we can quantify the size of an atom. But how do we measure something less objective? Say, the impact of corporate communications?Unlike the fields of finance or technology, pinning a number to something so qualitative proves imprecise and perhaps a futile endeavour. After all, what even constitutes effective communication? A jump in sales? The number of likes on a post?

This is where the Barcelona Principles comes in. In an industry where competition for revenue, results, and respect is rife, measuring impact proves important to determining success. Establishing concrete metrics of success is essential for companies in determining what works and why it does, allowing them to plan for more effective and efficient campaigns.

What are the Barcelona Principles?

Named after the city in which the Principles were conceived, the seven-point framework provides the first overarching matrix for effective PR and communication measurement. The Principles were agreed upon by PR practitioners in 2010 during a summit convened by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC).

At its core, the Barcelona Principles outlines fundamental principles of PR and represent an international industry-wide consensus. Intended to not just demonstrate proof of performance, the Principles also aim to foster continuous improvement in a rapidly changing industry. The evolution of communications has led to three iterations of the Principles being published thus far, with Barcelona Principles 3.0 published in 2020 remaining a reliable guide for PR practitioners to refer to when measuring the performance of their campaigns. Here are what the principles are, and how you can apply them.

1. Setting goals is an absolute prerequisite to communications planning, measurement, and evaluation

Begin with the end in mind. Specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals are essential before any campaign planning begins. Planning and evaluation are core components of the planning process and guide target outcomes of the campaign.

2. Measurement and evaluation should identify outputs, outcomes, and potential impact

Since the Barcelona Principles 1.0, the Principles have evolved to incorporate the value of measuring both outcomes and outputs, as well as the overall potential impact of a campaign. Recognising the need to measure long-term impacts of communications strategies, point 2 encourages practitioners to examine the impact of campaigns on their target audience in both the medium- to long-term.

3. Outcomes and impacts should be identified for stakeholders, society, and the organization

Performance should be looked at beyond just profit or loss to be more relevant to organisations that are not profit driven, such as charities and NGOs. Metrics such as sales and revenue remains important, but the Principles also encourage a more “holistic view of performance”.

4. Communication measurement and evaluation should include both qualitative and quantitative analysis

The focus of both qualitative and quantitative analysis can allow practitioners to see the full value of their work – how messages are being received, believed, and interpreted, rather than just seeing how many people are receiving the messages.

5. AVEs are not the value of communication

While the Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) can help measure communications, a more nuanced approach to evaluation needs to be conducted in conjunction to understand the impact of communications. In such a social media driven world, several other factors other than the AVE have to be considered when measuring the ROI, such as target audience reach and public sentiment. These factors require a deeper analysis in order to measure the overall reach of your PR strategy.

6. Holistic communication measurement and evaluation includes all relevant online and offline channels

Evaluation of all relevant online and offline remains critical. Organisations should include clearly defined goals and outcomes for social media, given its ubiquity. This analysis should be supported by web analytics, SEO, sales and CRM data, and other relevant methods.

7. Communication measurement and evaluation are rooted in integrity and transparency to drive learning and insights

Measurement goes beyond date collection and analysis but should be included in future communications planning. All measurement should use valid methods and be reliable and replicable in the case of quantitative methods and trustworthy in the case of qualitative methods. This point recognises the need to be transparent about the environment in which campaigns are run and being aware of any bias in tools, methodologies and interpretations applied.

Why do the Principles matter?

The Barcelona Principles identify the need for outcome-based measurement of PR campaigns, instead of output-based measurements that were used in the past. Because of the way the communications industry is rapidly changing, having a set of guidelines that move with the times remains vital to helping PR practitioners measure the success of their campaigns. Having an industry accepted format to measure success and format will help companies understand what has been effective as well as areas to improve on, helping construct a play book of strategies that work for them and the industry they operate in.

Application of the Principles

While the Barcelona Principles is not a set formula for measuring success, integrating the Barcelona Principles into a campaign will give you a standard of measurement for PR campaigns. Correct implementation can help demonstrate the performance of a campaign (ever more relevant with the advent of AI technology), and also foster continuous improvement.

The Barcelona Principles should be incorporated before, during and after a campaign, driving its ultimate goals. Success in PR can be hard to define, especially for traditional PR, and a range of methods help make up a successful PR strategy. At Sapience, our team of talented PR professionals have a wealth of experience that can help you craft a successful PR strategy from start to finish.

For more information on how we can help apply the Barcelona Principles to help your brand, get in touch.

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