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In the PR industry today there is a good deal of discussion about the breakdown of walls between advertising, marketing and PR, mostly due to the effects of social media and about the integration of all three areas into one service offering.

I would argue that in future more clients will be asking their PR agencies to help them achieve their business objectives, such as gaining market share, acquiring new clients, and entering new markets. Such requests bring communications consultancy into the realm of management consultancy.

As the breadth of PR offerings continues to widen, the question of how PR consultancies should measure the impact of what they do for clients becomes more acute.

One response to this question was the Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles, a set of seven voluntary guidelines agreed upon by PR practitioners from 33 countries who met in Barcelona, Spain in 2010 for a summit convened by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC).

The Barcelona Principles identify the need to measure PR campaigns in terms of outcomes, instead of outputs. They also call for the exclusion of ad value equivalency metrics and recognize the communications value of social media.

One of the reasons the Barcelona Principles were created five years ago, and updated just last month, was because of the challenges in quantifying the contribution of consumer-facing marketing communications to business results.

Whether you’re trying to sell a smartphone or build reputation, you have to be able to make the connection between a press release and the client’s business. Consequently, the Barcelona Principles focus on outcomes rather than outputs.

As social media continues to change the PR industry – in many cases making it a more effective communications tool than advertising – the issue of business development and achieving shared client-agency objectives will move closer to center stage. We need to continue to evolve how we measure the success of our work so it is aligned with business objectives and outcomes rather than with outputs.

Robert T. Grieves is Chairman of Hamilton Advisors Limited and Chairman of the Council of Public Relations Firms of Hong Kong.

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