The Beat

Measuring Public Relations

Working in an industry that is constantly evolving due to advances in technology, integrations with other industries, the evolution of the media landscape as well as many other factors, it is no secret that the topic of how to properly measure the effectiveness of Public Relations is also an evolving discussion. As public relations professionals, we know first-hand how important adding a PR strategy is to any business, but how does one measure the effectiveness?

As communication and public relations organizations and professionals around the world attempt to reach consensus regarding measurement, we do agree that measuring is not one size fits all. It requires evaluating layers of a campaign, not defining by just one aspect.

For many years, advertising value equivalents (AVEs) have traditionally governed PR reporting. Although some agencies and companies still use AVEs in their reporting, they are not the most accurate assessment of the value of PR. With PR integrated with branding, marketing, communications as well as other fields, it’s hard to pin-point a form of measurement that encompasses all of the above and more.

The Barcelona Principles, developed by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC), are a set of seven principles that provide the first overarching framework for effective public relations and communication measurement. They have been adopted by hundreds of companies around the world. The principles were originally adopted in 2010. They were updated in 2015 to reflect the broader communications industry. What are the 7 principles? They include:

  1. Goal Setting and Measurement are Fundamental to Communication and Public Relations
  2. Measuring Communication Outcomes is Recommended Versus Only Measuring Outputs
  3. The Effect on Organizational Performance Can and Should Be Measured Where Possible
  4. Measurement and Evaluation Require Both Qualitative and Quantitative Methods
  5. AVEs are not the Value of Communication
  6. Social Media Can and Should be Measured Consistently with Other Media Channels
  7. Measurement and Evaluation Should be Transparent, Consistent and Valid

Let us break them down for you!


Setting Goals (principle 1)
Having a clear understanding what you want to achieve is essential to any public relations plan and the first step to measure success. Goals should take into account everything, from reach to behavioral outcomes. What portion of your target audience do you want to reach? What should the target do as a result?

Effect on Outcomes (principle 2)
If you want to include measurement of your outputs (i.e. visits, articles, frequency, attendance) develop or use a scoring system based on the tone, prominence and target audience reached. To measure a media hit, we were recently introduced to a media code book available for free on the IPR website, which provides insight into how they might recommend measuring a placement.

Since outcomes focus on behavioral changes, this is where we start to see real impact. Has the target audience increased understanding, has it changed their attitude to the topic, has it had an impact on the intention to do something? A survey is one way you can measure outcomes.

Effect on Business Results (principle 3)
Measuring business results or the impact on the organization such as employee retention, purchasing, stock price, sales, etc. is important. Where in the past this might have been done by analyzing advertising or marketing analytics but making PR a part of this conversation is the next step in seeing the full picture.

Measuring Media Quality, not Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) (principle 4 & 5)
Consider qualitative methods to better explain or replace the quantitative measurement. One should account for impressions among the stakeholders or target audiences as well as the quality of the coverage when measuring a media placement, whether in traditional or online channels. Was the article’s tone positive? How credible was the source? Was the article an interview or a feature? The main reason why we would recommend not using AVE is that the cost of advertising is not the value of PR, plain and simple. You can’t capture a PR campaign in a placement. You can’t measure the value of keeping your competitor out of that placement and you can’t distinguish between noteworthy columns, blogs or sections of a publication to less desirable areas with AVE.

Measure Social Media (principle 6)
Hopefully this sentiment is obvious to you. You will want to benchmark in advance before any campaign begins and track change over time. In addition, evaluating the quality of social media, just like with conventional media, is important. Is your target audience engaging with you? Evaluating the quantity of this segment is vital for showing results. For example, if you are a brand that is looking to be more relevant among millennials within a 50 mile radius of their business, then showing engagement from this specific sector is how to measure true success. If all you show is engagement overall then you are missing an opportunity to really show what kind of impact your campaign is really making.

Transparent, Consistent and Valid Measurement (principle 7)
You always want to make sure you are open with your clients and use ethical practices and valid methods of measurement. Again, that might seem obvious, but being clear about how you are pulling any measurement and making sure they are from reliable and respectable sources is just being a good publicist.

These principles are a great jumping off point on the topic of measurement. It is clear that as an industry, we have made the shift from segmenting out the measurement of public relations to more accurately assess the value of PR to the overall business, as part of the integrated mix of marketing communications efforts. As publicists, we have to remember that the purpose of measurement is not to prove the value of PR but we should use these tools to do better and help reach our client’s objectives and goals.