Can You Measure PR?

The answer is an unsatisfying one: probably.

As a PR expert, you’re likely investing considerable time, and money, into your PR campaigns.

Nonetheless, you’re likely feeling around in the dark when it comes to assessing if they were successful, effective, or a whopping failure. Still, a company’s brand is typically its most valuable asset and must be treated as such. If you don’t report on the outcome of your PR campaigns, business owners will likely become frustrated without the knowledge of what is working, and what needs improvement. Even so, measuring PR is hardly an exact science.

Countless firms, PR pros, and math gurus have created countless models, spreadsheets and estimates. Let’s be clear, however: they are still just that. Estimates. Some are better than others, but this topic is easily the most emotionally charged discussion within the PR industry. Many PR professionals swear by the Barcelona Principles, a set of seven voluntary guidelines created in 2010 by a team of PR practitioners.

They were recently updated in 2015, and are as follows: 2010 Original 2015 Update Importance of goal setting and measurement Goal setting and measurement are fundamental in communication and public relations Measuring the effect on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs Measuring communications outcomes is recommended, versus only measuring outputs.

The effect on business results can, and should be, measured where possible The effect on organizational performance can, and should be, measured where possible Media measurement requires quantity and quality Measurement and evaluation require both qualitative and quantitative methods AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalents) are not the value of public relations AVEs are not the value of communications Social media can, and should be, measured Social media can, and should be, measured consistently with other media channels Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement Measurement and evaluation should be transparent, consistent, and valid.

Perhaps the biggest change the Barcelona Principles wrought on the PR industry is the rejection of Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE), a concrete statement that PR is not advertising; a news story is not an ad.

Still, the rejection of AVEs is problematic for three reasons: user experience, buyer experience, and the free market.

When it comes to user experience, ads and editorial are seen at the same time; you simply cannot divorce one from the other. In terms of buyer experience, businesses make the decision every day to spend their marketing funds on PR or advertising; it’s a choice grounded in reality. In terms of the free market, countless billions of dollars are spent on TV, internet and print advertising each year.

It’s a mammoth business that works to communicate many of the same messages of PR, just in a different way.

On the other hand, the Barcelona Principles bring a number of good things to the table, such as emphasizing the need for goal setting and paying attention to return on investment (ROI).

Whether or not you give the Barcelona Principles credence, one thing is clear: anything that recognizes PR as an industry worth measuring is a step in the right direction.