a trendMARK feature by Francois van Dyk. There is a revolution around the corner facing PR and communications professionals, as modern, more reliable effectiveness measurement standards are introduced.

Barcelona, the second largest city in Spain and capital of the autonomous Catalonia region, conjures up romantic and exotic gaud barcelonaimages. From the great Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí’s Roman Catholic basilica, La Sagrada Familia (a UN world heritage site), to its beautiful beaches, which list the city as number one by National Geographic in its top ten city beaches. And let’s not forget its famous Barcelona Football Club! This city has been a centre of activity for more than 2,000 years.

It also happened to be the place where communications and Public Relations measurement changed forever , when the globe’ s foremost communications experts adopted the Barcelona Principles of PR Measurement in 2010. The 2nd European Summit on Measurement may not have been memorable for the local Catalonians, but it’s certainly a momentous occasion in the history of PR and communications.

Born of frustration with the traditional—and crude—system of Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE), traditionally used to measure communications effectiveness, the participants at the summit outlined the way forward: to develop a set of standard principles for identifying the true value of communications activities.

AMEC (The International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) and the IPR (Institute for Public Relations) initiated these efforts. Many proposed principles were then reviewed and refined by delegates from more than 30 countries — including members from AMEC, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, the IPR Measurement Commission and the International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO). This was a concerted, industry-wide effort to bring professional standards and consistency to PR measurement.

Seven basic principles of measurement were identified and accepted:

1. The importance of goal setting and measurement
2. Measuring the effect on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs
3. The effect on business results can and should be measured where possible
4. Media measurement requires quantity and quality
5. AVEs are not the value of Public Relations
6. Social Media can and should be measured
7. Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement

What was clear was that it would take a great deal of effort to promote these values and educate practitioners as well as clients as to the tru evalue these principles represented.

In preparation for a PR Measurement Summit held in March 2013 in Washington, DC, Ragan Communications and Nasdaq OMX did a global survey on measurement amongst 1,500 Public Relations professionals— with very interesting results.

Though 66% of respondents were not even aware of the Barcelona Principles, only 32% of respondents continued to use the unpopular Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) to measure communication sactivity. Many did so reluctantly, under pressure from clients.The research further highlighted that 66% of practitioners believed that the lack of an industry standard to measure the value of Public Relations was a huge frustration. Interestingly enough though, was that62% believed there could not be a standard, as PR programmes differed too much and all had unique and different objectives.

Certainly international practitioners are taking notice of the importance of providing true measurement, and by June 2013, when the 5th AMEC summit on measurement took place in Madrid, membership of the body had grown to represent practitioners in more than 40 countries. The biggest priority identified by attendees at the Madrid event was the importance of educating the industry and brands globally, to adopt and refine the principles into standards and guidelines for measurement.

Just how far South Africa appears to be trailing global opinion wase videnced at several AVE workshops held in August 2013. Looking for a standardised online AVE, online monitoring company Brandseye initiated workshops, facilitated by independent consultant Taryn Walker, with participation by industry experts and brands in Cape Town and Johannesburg. It showed a definite divergence of thoughts with the Cape Town participants very willing to adopt a standard methodology to calculate online AVE, while Johannesburg participants mostly rejected developing a standardised online methodology – citing the obvious issues with AVE in traditional media. A subsequent survey done as part of the workshops however showed that less than half (47.8%) of the respondents believed it necessary to measure online marketing efforts in terms of rand value.

What is clear, is that a major drive is necessary to get the South African Public Relations and communications industry up to speed with the global industry. It is difficult to get rid of old habits, but should meaningful analysis and measurement not be adopted, the local industry could soon have all their efforts being questioned by international, and subsequently local brands and clients. It is crucial to keep an eye on international developments, as the following issues will become a major part of any successful communicator’s future:

1. The measurement wave is coming
The USC Annenberg’s Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) for Public Relations study found that spending on communication measurement increased from 4% to 9% as part of US PR budgets between 2009 and 2012. This was despite 80% of practitioners indicating that the overall PR budgets remained flat or even decreased. As William Thomson,1st Baron Kelvin, the 19th century mathematical physicist and engineer famously said, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”

2014 will see new measurement standards based on the Barcelona principles gaining momentum with the top five global PR agencies committing to a major initiative to introduce these new standards fort heir clients.

Interest in true communications measurement has grown to such an extent that the next AMEC conference in June 2014 will, for the first time, not be a “European summit” but an “international summit”.

2. There is no “silver-bullet”

Alas, the will not be a magic formula to replace vanity measurements like AVEs and its uglier cousin PR Value – which relies on multiplying AVEs due to a higher perceived level of editorial credibility. Measurement gurus Mark Weiner and Don Bartholomew, in their 2006paper “Dispelling the Myth of PR Multipliers and Other Inflationary Audience Measures”, argue that utilising multipliers is hurting the credibility of the PR profession.

AVE remains popular because it is a very easy, albeit inaccurate, metric. It is easy to equate an agency’s monthly retainer to an AVE target – but high advertising value media is targeted, which could be totally irrelevant for the client’s target market. Add a multiplier, and AVE targets can easily be achieved, with little or no actual effect on the intended audience. Real measurement requires looking at each individual activity and thecosts involved versus the return on investment received (ROI), and each may require its own measurement parameters and formulas.

3. Complex measurement will be simplified

As the new measurement principles are quite complex, ways will be found to simplify measurement methodologies and reporting. The fundamentals are that a specific communications goal must be set, and measurement criteria identified, to determine the success or failure of the communications activity. Outcomes are of utmost importance – i.e.did the audience buy more of the product? Did they have increased brand awareness? — and so on. Outputs, for instance the number of media items published, Facebook likes, Twitter followers etc. become less important.

It is crucial that communicators learn and incorporate the accounting language, so as to explain the utmost importance of marketing and its various fields to the management of an organisation. Obvious starting points are turnover, cost-of-sales, expenses, net profit etc. These all have financial attributions, which is the lingua franca of the accountants and senior management of organisations. According to Christopher Boyer, a renowned US digital marketing specialist, the success of marketing, advertising and Public Relations comes down to certain key performance areas, including:

  • Behavioural — getting consumers to act;
  • Attitudinal — changing people’ s perceptions; and
  • Financial – increasing the bottom line.

The successful and thriving communications experts of the (near) future will be those who can connect their efforts directly to the business results; in other words, the bottom line.

This feature first ran in trendMark, the discerning trends resource for African marketers and corporates. Read or download the full magazine via Issuu. For a PDF copy, click here.


Francois van Dyk is head of operations at Ornico.

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