The Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles for public relations have been discussed and even endorsed by professional bodies and industry publications around the world – but there’s little evidence of “walking the talk” if you look at the Award programmes they run.
In particular, use of AVE is neither prohibited nor penalised whilst a lack of clear, measurable objectives (ideally based on research) as noted in a post by Sean Williams, compounds the limitations of Award entries to reflect professional best practice. This is a huge concern for those of us in education, since Award winners should be viewed as exemplar case studies – but are more often only of value to be critiqued.
It is hard not to believe that the PR profession follows the Lewis Carroll quote:
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
So campaigns can be deemed a success simply because a vague destination, ie coverage has been achieved – backed by calculations of AVE or spurious “PR Value”.
The Principles reflect a solid business basis to assess the value of PR – why is this so hard to reflect in campaigns that are worthy of considerable client budgets, let alone recognition by the profession as Award winners?
Just because outputs are easier to control and measure than outcomes, does not make this acceptable practice and certainly not in Award entries. Best practice Award winners have to be those that ensure budget is allocated for pre- and post-campaign research – otherwise how can such activities claim to increase awareness, change attitudes or influence behaviour if no benchmark or resulting measures are recorded?
Many companies do actually undertake the type of evaluation called for by the Barcelona Principles. Attitude and behavioural research is used to assess marketing of new products, to mystery shop retail experiences or to gather employee feedback. Public opinion is routinely assessed on a range of issues. Surely there is a similar opportunity to research the impact of PR campaigns with a wide range of stakeholders – based on solid foundations that also champion research into the problem or situation facing any organisation for which PR is argued as the solution.
Rather than PR research being a byword for questionable surveys to generate media headlines, it is about time it reflected a standard of planning evident in other management disciplines. There are many useful free resources available online, for example, at the Institute for Public Relations site which provide insight into setting objectives, measurement and benchmarking.
We can keep on giving excuses about why AVE and other approaches continue to dominate in PR – or those in charge of putting the spotlight on consultancies and practitioners in Award programmes can get tough and only accept entries that reflect best practice in research and evaluation.
I know what I’d like to see…