If you want to do a better job promoting your company – and who doesn’t? – you must measure your efforts, regardless of what business you are in. By evaluating the outcome of your efforts you can determine your return on investment (ROI). However, in the world of public relations, determining the value of work is a difficult task. In fact, two tools designed for this purpose – the AVEs and the Barcelona Principles – are the subject of heated debate. However, they both fail the PR measurement test for a variety of reasons.

The PR industry uses the AVE metric to gauge its success (Advertising Value Equivalent). In order to calculate AVEs, the size of a press clipping is multiplied by the price rate for a full-page ad in a particular medium. A multiplier is frequently used to account for the integrity factor of news copy over advertising, usually in the range of 3 to 10. However, in 2010, the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication published their Barcelona Principles as a new approach for a better and more useful way to measure PR value.

What are AVE & The Barcelona Principles? 

Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) 

AVE is a metric used in the public relations industry to ‘measure’ the client’s benefit from a PR campaign’s media coverage. AVEs would typically calculate the cost of an equivalent amount of space if paid for as advertising by measuring the size of the coverage gained, its placement, and the size of the coverage gained.

The use of AVEs in the PR industry has sparked debate and has even been deemed unethical by some of the industry’s top lobbying groups. AVEs have been criticized for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the amount of space a story takes up is irrelevant if the article is critical of the client or if the client’s competitors are favored or even just mentioned. Multipliers have been criticized as being arbitrary and unscientific. The two main reasons why marketers have shunned AVEs as a valid tool are that their values are often unrealistically high, and they do not distinguish between good and bad press.

The strength of AVE as a metric is that it shows how much money a PR department saves a company on advertising while also being very simple to implement. Professionals use values that are far too high to calculate AVEs. Since advertising agencies often negotiate much lower prices, the official price rates for advertising do not always reflect the actual price rates. When the multiplier is added, companies will have a metric that is far too inaccurate. Additionally, because AVEs are strictly quantitative, they cannot determine the value of each press clipping. They don’t consider the nature of the coverage, whether the media’s readership is representative of the brand’s target demographic, or whether the mention is merely incidental. As a result, even negative or irrelevant press can add positive value to a company’s overall PR evaluation.

The Barcelona Principles 

In response to the criticisms that come with AVE, AMEC published their 7 Barcelona Principles as an alternative. Their goal was to create a better and more effective approach to measuring PR value.

The Barcelona Principles are seven guidelines that serve as the foundation for effective public relations (PR) and communication measurement. They were the first of their kind, and they became increasingly important as the field adapted to the growing use of the internet. While the idea of using social media as a metric is now commonplace, it was novel when AMEC first introduced the Barcelona Principles.

Principle 1: “When it comes to communications planning, measurement, and evaluation, setting goals is a must.”

Understanding why goals are essential for long-term success in communications is the basis of the first principle. According to AMEC, goals represent the change that you wish to make. This isn’t a set of KPIs you’re aiming for; it’s a shift you want to bring about. AMEC recommends sticking to answering the basic questions of “who, what, how much, and when.”

The goal is to respond to the following questions:

  • Who is it that the company is attempting to reach?
  • What is the company attempting to communicate with them?
  • How much of a shift is the company attempting?
  • When does the company intend for all of this to take place?

When it comes time to assess your company’s performance, you should only compare your outcomes to the objectives you set before the campaign. The reason for this is that it’s more effective to use miles, not acres, to measure progress. If you have set your goals correctly, side effects aren’t a measure of success. Imagine seeing an article’s view count skyrocket while engagement remains low. Regardless of vanity metrics, if your company’s goal was to increase engagement, your strategy failed.

Principle 2: “Outputs, outcomes, and potential impact should be identified by measurement and evaluation.”

The concept of ‘impact’, as opposed to ‘outcome’, is not new; however, distinguishing ‘impact’ from ‘outcome’ is easier said than done. The emphasis on impact over outcome could be due to a generational trend identified in a 2008 study, which shows that millennials are concerned about the long-term consequences of their actions. According to the report, they care deeply about the message and authenticity of the organizations they support. They’re also more likely than ever before to make spontaneous point-of-sale donations or participate in charity races.

Millennials were just starting to gain influence when the Barcelona Principles were first set in stone. Today, they are more powerful than ever and brands look to them when making huge decisions. It is for this reason that many brands have adopted a more long-term perspective of their marketing efforts. The impact is a comprehensive metric that explains the long-term outcomes of small actions taken by your company. According to AMEC, “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to assessing the societal and organizational impacts that a company seeks to assess.”

Principle 3: “Outcomes and impact for stakeholders, society, and the organization should be determined.” 

Business fundamentals, such as revenue, reach, and reputation, are outcomes for stakeholders. The organization’s outcomes are more complicated, and the impact on society is much more significant than the other two. You should take a scientific approach to performing these measurements for your company. You must formulate a hypothesis about how your work will have broader ramifications.

You must consider your results and return to your hypothesis when evaluating. You should make assessments based on the hypothesis you came up with, just as you should do with your goals. AMEC suggests that “this should include thinking beyond the services and sales provided.” Relevant outcomes include changing behaviors within the organization and in society.

A number of other factors can obstruct accurate measurement and evaluation. Different departments within a company can also have an impact on these outcomes. Let’s assume you are tracking the evolution of your brand reputation. It’s improbable that you’ll be able to pinpoint your work as the cause of any changes if a large-scale marketing campaign was running simultaneously with your communications. You should consider narrower methods of measurement to test your hypothesis. For example, it’s more effective to ask pointed questions in an interview about specific communications.

Principle 4: “Qualitative and quantitative analysis should be used in communication measurement and evaluation.”

Over an extended period, the distinction between qualitative and quantitative analysis has been discussed in various industries. So far, the internet has been approached quantitatively, with metrics such as views, bounce rates, reach, and likes being highly valued and influential in data-driven decisions. It is still difficult to extract qualitative insights from large amounts of data. However, they are both equally important.

Ideally, you should be trying to answer three main questions:

  • How did your target audience access your communications?
  • Was it through the intended strategy or channel?
  • What did the audience conclude?

To break the idea down even further let’s look at examples of both qualitative and quantitative analysis:

Quantitative analysis

For cross-channel research: 

  • Reach or impressions among target audiences
  • Share of voice in a competitive or sector
  • Cross-channel engagement with earned, owned and paid content
  • Content that has been earned, owned, or paid is shared across channels.

For audience survey-based research: 

  • Awareness
  • Recall
  • Message/content relevance
  • Perception/attitude change
  • Expected behavior change
Qualitative analysis

For cross-channel research: 

  • Sentiment and emotional response from target audiences
  • Credibility and relevance
  • Message Delivery
  • Calls to Action
  • Third-party endorsements
  • Inclusion of company spokespeople
  • Prominence as relevant to the channel

For audience survey/interview/bulletin board-based research 

  • Ethnographic insights
  • Underlying motivations
  • Rationale
  • Perceptual context
  • Style/language impact

Principle 5: “The value of communication isn’t AVEs.”

As mentioned previously, the AVE metric is no longer as widely used as it once was. The acronym AVE stands for ‘Advertising Value Equivalent.’ In the past, PR professionals would measure the amount of space a communication took up in print media or the length of time it was broadcast on radio/TV, then assign an AVE based on the cost of printing/broadcasting an advertisement of that size.

So, why isn’t it widely used anymore, and why has AMEC been staunchly opposed to its use since the Barcelona Principles were introduced as an alternative metric system?

There is no way to reduce communication to a single metric. There are far too many variables at play, far too many audiences to comprehend, and many potential consequences to consider. The effectiveness of communications cannot be measured solely in terms of money.

Principle 6: “All relevant online and offline channels are included in holistic communication measurement and evaluation.”

“Social media can and should be measured,” this principle stated in 2010. It was slightly adjusted to read, “Social media can and should be measured consistently with other media channels,” in 2015.

Version 3.0 of this principle was established in 2020 to remind communicators that social media is not the only platform that counts, despite it seeming so. Radio and television are still viable platforms, and organic search is still the most important traffic source for most informational websites. With platforms like Substack driving a renaissance of the newsletter, email is on the rise.

Each channel has its own peculiarities. Since it’s so easy to measure, tools that measure the performance of social media strategies are often overused. Most platforms come with metrics and built-in tools to calculate and evaluate them. In addition, social media is used in a very different way than, say, email or a website. The uniqueness of each platform should be taken into account in a company’s goals, hypotheses, measurements, and eventual evaluations.

Principle 7: “To Drive Learning and Insights, Communication Measurement and Evaluation Are Rooted in Integrity and Transparency.”

In other words, learning and insights should not come at the expense of transparency and integrity.

When deciding on analytics methods, keep in mind the GDPR regulations. The protection of personal information is crucial. People who receive your company’s communications have a right to privacy, and you can collect valuable data without crossing any lines.

Internally, your company’s evaluations should be honest as well. Biases of all kinds should be eliminated, whether they come from competing campaigns that confuse data or human biases that influence evaluation. If you are not honest about your failures, any insights you gain will be based on half-truths.

Conclusion 

The Barcelona Principles appear to be centered on companies, which is excellent but not the same as measuring the tangible value of concrete PR performances. While both AVEs and the Barcelona Principles have provided companies with results of PR engagement, the question remains whether you can measure the value of PR on the grounds of these principles. At the end of the day, these principles are more of an academic statement than a practical measurement method. AMEC developed the Barcelona Principles to prove that AVEs are useless. Even so, their proposed alternative needs tweaking on a case-by-case basis. In order to use the principles effectively, you would have to create your own measurement models and refine them over time. Since such an approach is generally qualitative, it takes time and patience to apply it effectively.

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