The Barcelona Principles Are A Perfect Example Of What’s Wrong With The PR Industry.

makes-no-sense-at-allAlthough created more than four years ago by the “PR” industry, the Barcelona Principles continue to be a topic of interest throughout the industry. I saw this misguided gem a few weeks ago: Why Measuring PR Shouldn’t Include Sales.

In case you didn’t know (and count yourself lucky to be in that club) the BP outlines seven basic rules or principles for measuring public relations. Each elicits its own special “duh” moment, but my favorite part of this industry “gold standard” is what is missing.

For whatever reason, the BP starts with the principle of setting goals, which is admittedly critical, but also blatantly obvious (seriously, it’s like reminding your kids to take off their clothes before they get into the bathtub). Yet the BP does not addresses the need for research to understand the lay of the land; to get a clear grasp of the situation, internally and externally, before setting goals. No primary research, no secondary research, no informal audits… nothing.

But without this research, how do you understand the backdrop to the goals you are setting?  How do you know what’s going on in the industry, or with your competitors, or your customers or would-be customers? How do you know what’s going on with the local and national and global economies? What is the marketplace thinking about your organization… or are they even thinking about your organization? What does the digital community think? I mean, really, how do you set goals for where you want to get without confirming where you are? How do you know what the problems and challenges and opportunities are without research?

Here is the answer I have received most frequently over the past 30+ years: “Trust us, we know.” Well, trust me, I don’t trust your assumptions. If you don’t do the research, you don’t know.

And then there is the other bookend. The one that tells agencies how to be truly accountable.  Beyond measuring results – showing the deliverables and the outcomes – we need to interpret the processes and the data; we need to assess and evaluate them.  We need to identify what worked and what did not and we need to understand why.  Then we need to explain where we go from there. Unfortunately, this is also not one of the 7 principles.

I don’t know, maybe they thought research and results assessment were so obvious they didn’t need to be added to the list. Or maybe they just like the number 7. Sometimes I really wonder about this industry.

On one end of the spectrum, the PRSA, which has been in existence since 1947, successfully manages to dance around important industry topics like a presidential politician in late October.  The organization doesn’t tell us much, and what it does tell us doesn’t make all that much sense.

On the other end, fictitious industry characters like Don Draper can’t wait to tell the truth, even if it hurts.  As far back as season one, Don openly admitted to his client that we (marketers) never know what’s going to work: “It’s not a science… we do our best.”

Somehow I am not buoyed by either side.  But I am optimistic that one day the science and the truth will share center stage. Of course, I am also hopeful that clients will be willing to pay for the science and that all the industry charlatans will scurry off to another industry. I guess what I am saying is that I have a dream.

Jim Sweeney


Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.