Do the Barcelona Principles Measure up?

The world is experiencing a “digital transformation of marketing” and the largest contribution the Barcelona Principles can offer in the current business environment is on social media

The Barcelona Principles were updated in 2015 by the International Association of Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC). The 2.0 updates are as follows:

  • Goal Setting and Measurement are Fundamental to Communication and Public Relations.
  • Measuring Communication Outcomes is Recommended Versus Only Measuring Outputs.
  • The Effect on Organizational Performance Can and Should Be Measured Where Possible.
  • Measurement and Evaluation Require Both Qualitative and Quantitative Methods.
  • AVEs are Not the Value of Communication.
  • Social Media Can and Should be Measured Consistently with Other Media Channels.
  • Measurement and Evaluation Should be Transparent, Consistent, and Valid (Leggetter, B. 2015).

It turns out The Barcelona Principles are more of a vague set of guidelines than a solid foundation on which to build a strategic communication plan. Principle 1 states, “Goal setting and measurement are fundamental to communication and public relations” (Leggetter, 2015). It is hard to disagree with the importance of goal setting and measurement in the pursuit of objectives. Yet, the utilization of metrics is not as well established amongst public relations practitioners as you might think. In a recent PR Weekly survey, the CEO of Paine Publishing, Katie Paine, stated, “a lot of PR people are not exposed to measuring …unless they actively seek it out” (Arenstein, 2016). This is unacceptable and a clearly defined set of principles can help raise the bar on what should be standard operating procedure throughout the industry.

Project managers in public relations and marketing need established benchmarks upon which to measure progress. Timelines and budgets are critical components of a credible campaign and they must include a sound cost-benefits analysis. As the authors of The Global Public Relations Handbook, aptly stated: “practitioners need to quantify public relations results for bottom-line scripted executives who are accustomed to marginal analysis” (Sriramesh & Vercic, 2009). When an organization spends finite financial resources to promote a message or brand, expenditure of those funds must be justified. The difficulty of this challenge is echoed repeatedly throughout the business world.

I learned the difficult truths about return on investment (ROI) and key performance indicators (KPI) in my early twenties as a young entrepreneur. I’ve always had a passion for branding but that passion caused me to naively overspend on creative, but costly advertisements that were ineffective. What I needed to succeed as a general contractor in a small town atmosphere, was a credible and well-established reputation– something flashy, expensive advertisements cannot provide. My lack of an adequate market analysis had provided a painful, but important lesson. “Credibility and relevance of the medium to the stakeholder or audience” is critical to successful ROI in public relations! As it turned out, word of mouth was the most powerful marketing tool I could ever have used and is even more so in the world of social media.

Whether your organization is a nonprofit or commercial enterprise, large or small in size, success comes from building mutually beneficial relationships and positive electronic word of mouth (eWOM). There is no better place to build mutually beneficial relationships through symmetrical dialogue than social media. The world is currently experiencing a “digital transformation of marketing” and the largest contribution the Barcelona Principles can offer in the current business environment is on social media (Lamberton & Stephen, 2016).  Digital platforms are rapidly becoming the most influential media outlet available. Not only are these platforms cost-efficient methods of advertising as far as ROI, they are also the most promising area for the application of the data mining because of their built-in measurability.

The internet provides a treasure trove of information where computer software can gather both qualitative and quantitative data for public relations and marketing activities (Yang & Kang, 2015). The global surge in internet and smartphone use will “push marketers to develop more complex social media measurement tools and techniques” (Lipschultz, 2015). Multi-national corporations such as Nestle are currently using 24-hour media rooms to create engaging online content and to track customer interaction in real time on social media sites (SMS), such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and SnapChat. The information is then used to “strategically segment and prioritize publics” (Sriramesh & Vercic, 2009). The bad news is that the PR industry is struggling to train competent practitioners on how to identify and measure key performance indicators. The good news is that “absolutely everything that happens in the digital sphere can be tracked, measured, and analyzed in all kinds of interesting ways” (Concannon, 2015).

The Barcelona Principles are a perfect fit for social media, but they are too broad in their present form. The designers did provide a document that has the industry talking about the importance of measurement. The problem is, it doesn’t provide a clear formula of how to effectively obtain those statistics, especially if they are to hold up under the framework’s demand for transparency and repetition. Journalist Lance Concannon summed it up best in his article entitled The one thing missing from the Barcelona Principles: Answers, “You would think, this update might include some helpful guidance on which digital tools and online metrics can be used to add more data-science thinking to PR measurement, but alas no”.  It doesn’t take a communications expert to determine The Barcelona Principles in their present form are more common sense than anything else.

These guidelines are a basic set of blueprints that lack a clear endorsement of the software and methods needed to accurately measure communication strategies. Computer technology and digital media are rapidly providing answers, but the industry needs to do a better job producing qualified experts. As I mentioned previously, social media is currently the most effective platform for PR campaigns in the 21st century. Not only is digital the most cost-effective method to reach target audiences, it is also where the most accurate output and outcome data can be gathered. Leggetter (2015) noted under Principle 7, “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”. I believe the Barcelona Principles’ demand for precise measurements is only obtainable with definitive data mining software, clearly defined statistical procedures and most importantly competent practitioners.


Leggetter, B. (2015). Barcelona Principles 2.0. PR News. Retrieved from the PR News Online website:

Concannon, L. (2015). The one thing missing from the Barcelona Principles: answers. Retrieved from the PR Week website:

Lamberton, C., & Stephen, A. T. (2016). A Thematic Exploration of Digital, Social Media, and Mobile Marketing: Research Evolution from 2000 to 2015 and an Agenda for Future Inquiry. Journal Of Marketing80(6), 146-172.

Arenstein, S. (2016). PR News Measurement Survey: Awareness of Barcelona Principles Trending Upward Slowly. Retrieved from the PR News Online website:

Lipschultz, J. (2015).  Social media communication concepts, practices, data, law and ethics.  New York, NY: Routledge.

Yang, K. C., & Kang, Y. (2015). Exploring Big Data and Privacy in Strategic Communication Campaigns: A Cross-Cultural Study of Mobile Social Media Users’ Daily Experiences. International Journal of Strategic Communication9(2), 87-101.

Sriramesh, K., & Vercic, D. (2009). The global public relations handbook. New York, NY: Routledge.



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