Many of us would rather go to a cousin’s birthday and spend an afternoon discussing politics with crazy uncle Bob than talk about PR measurement. . Some PR pros call it an ‘unsolvable conundrum’ while others avoid the topic altogether. Figuring out a good way to measure success is one of the biggest challenges that PR pros face. But don’t let that idea intimidate you and get in the way of making strategic, informed decisions. PR measurements are a crucial part of your strategy.
No matter how hard you work, no matter the impact you generate, there will always be someone at your company demanding to see reports and graphs of all sorts. Especially if your company is scaling to new markets – and with good reason. If you want to show the value of PR to your company, you have to back it up with data. Measuring your efforts can shine a light on the depth and reach of your impact. This leads to more resonant messages for your audience, more opportunities in your market and abroad, and hopefully, a bigger budget for your PR team.
To find out how brands like yours measure the efficiency of their PR campaigns, we spoke with an expert at a renowned PR analysis company– meet Jeremy Parkin from Agility PR Solutions.
Why it’s important to measure results in PR
“Alright, imagine this,” Jeremy starts our conversation. “You walk into a meeting along with the marketing department. They’ve prepared a whole presentation to show the Chief Financial Officer exactly how many leads and how much revenue they’ve generated. They will walk out of that meeting with bigger budgets, more staff, and a solid fist bump.”
“If you come to management asking for dollars in return for dollars, that’s very compelling. But if you come into meetings arguing that you create good stories, well, it’s unlikely that you will get you what you need”, Jeremy explains. “You need to be able to make the case for the value and the impact of your work. A way to do that is by bringing numbers to the table.”
But, of course, you don’t just measure the success (or failure) of your efforts for a bigger budget, and a happy boss. PR measurement also allows you to make more strategic decisions and make sure future efforts will have a higher chance of success. By setting a goal and a game plan from the start, you and your team will have a notion of what works and what doesn’t. Once the campaign is over, you can assess the outcomes and make the corrections for future PR actions. This way, even a failed campaign is useful: because its learnings are used to make future campaigns better.
Here's our honest take on how to set PR objectives and goals.
3 common misconceptions about PR measurements
One of the biggest challenges that people in the industry face is proving bottom line results to executives. Surely, having to quantify the value that you bring to the table can be tricky. However, data is the most valuable asset when it comes to making decisions. Here are three common misconceptions about PR measurements:
PR pros are solely creative people
One common misconception is that PR pros are solely creative people. That’s why they tend to shy away from metrics. There’s even a popular theory that divides people into two categories, depending on which side of their brain is more dominant. Left-brained people tend to be more analytical while those who have a dominant right brain are more creative. However, there is no evidence to support the claim that one has a more dominant side of the brain, as one has a dominant hand. “For those that self-identify as having a more dominant side of the brain, I say you can’t really go through life with half a brain at your service,” says Jeremy.
Surely, people might consider themselves more creative or story-driven than others, but all in all, stories stem from a place of interest and curiosity. “Data and metrics”, Jeremy argues, “can kick-start creativity. It’s a way to discover stories. If you want to resonate with any audience, you have to understand them. Storytelling can only be powerful if there is research to back it up.” If you are just going to rely on creativity, you are missing out on an essential component of improvement: feedback and analysis. Without evaluating what made your campaign effective – or not, you miss the opportunity to learn and improve what you do in your following campaigns. Combining the power of storytelling with the guidance of data makes for better, more effective PR campaigns.
2. PR is not an exact science
While it’s harder to quantify variables like brand awareness or brand trust, compared to revenue or lead generation, for example. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be measuring the outcome of your campaign in the first place.
“PR is not an exact science, but it’s not random either. If it was random, that means you could do just about anything and sometimes it would work and other times it wouldn’t,” says Jeremy. “For example, let’s say you wanted to generate more business for Uber. So you go out on the street and throw spaghetti at people. According to the belief that PR is not an exact science, maybe this tactic would work, maybe it wouldn’t. That’s absurd, right?”
There are certain messages or actions that work better for your audience, as there are others that can backfire and demolish your reputation very quickly. How can you tell those two apart? Through observation and measurement. Over time, you’ll start seeing trends that will give you insight into how a message will land.
3. Because reputation takes some time to build, you shouldn't bother trying to measure it
Reputation does take time to build. That’s because it is based on the beliefs or opinions that are created in each interaction between stakeholders and your brand. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to understand if we're moving in the right direction.
“Building a cathedral could take generations, but you'd still want to know if you were progressing. Otherwise, you'd never build a cathedral,” Jeremy argues.
PR Metrics for fast-growing companies
You probably guessed it – there is no right or wrong way to measure PR success. It all depends on the objectives you set, the market you are in, and ultimately, on your organization and product. To begin, the most important question to ask yourself is what problem are you trying to solve with these metrics? What are the business objectives that PR can help support? And once you determine that, how can you track them? “Measurements are not an end unto itself, but a step towards something,” says Jeremy.
Public relations KPIs
When it comes to scale-ups, there are certain metrics that begin to gain relevance as your company expands. “As a scale-up, you’ve been in the industry long enough to understand what you do, who your audience is, and how you are different from your competitors. What follows this stage is raising awareness and making a place for yourself in the market,” Jeremy says.
Scale-ups should focus on competitive benchmarking, according to Jeremy. This gives you the insight to understand how you are doing against the established brands in the same space. Here are some of the KPIs you can measure:
- Brand awareness: How well-known your brand is to your target audience and how well it is recognized. Granted, it is a very vague metric, but the right quantitative measures will help determine if you’re going in the right direction. For instance, you can measure direct traffic to your website. This is the result of people typing out your URL, instead of finding you through social media or ads. This number can be used as a proxy for brand awareness.
- Media coverage: Staying on top of when and where your brand has been mentioned will help you protect its reputation. According to Muck Rack’s 2021 State of PR Measurement study, 94% of PR pros measure coverage or the number of stories placed. One way to do just that is by quantifying your media mentions. Here are some tools that can help you with that task.
- Share of voice: Share of voice allows you to understand your place in your market. Is your brand considered a leader in your industry? Does your brand come up in relevant conversations regarding the solutions you offer? This metric will illustrate how you stack up against your biggest competitors. Calculating share of voice would normally require you to quantify how many mentions you and your competitors have and the individual reach of these mentions. But before you get your calculator out, keep in mind that there are tons of tools that can do this for you. For starters, we recommend using Agility PR.
- Sentiment analysis: Sentiment analysis reveals how your brand is being represented to your audience. Is the media celebrating something the brand has done? Or is your brand being criticized? Measuring sentiment is a tricky task as there are many biases that can skew the data. A mix of tools and human analysis can give you a more well-rounded representation of how your brand is talked about in the media.
- Key message pull-through: According to Jeremy, one of the most important metrics that allow you to visualize the success of your PR efforts is key message pull-through. When your brand is being talked about in the media, are the right messages being transmitted? Are your key points showing up in the coverage? Your brand might get mentioned, but for the wrong reasons. For example, you might get negative press on your CEO or maybe a feature where the tone isn’t aligned with your core messaging.
Other KPIs to measure the success of your PR efforts:
- Number of pitches replied to
- Number of pitches sent
- SEO metrics (like Domain Authority, Page Authority, Global Rank, Spam score)
- Website conversions or form submissions
- Pitches opened or clicked
- Number of journalists that subscribed to your newsletter
- Article shares on social media
- Number of journalists that contacted you through your newsroom
Metrics to avoid
If you want to know the impact you are generating, you have to make sure you’re looking in the right direction. Just take the drunkard’s search principle as a cautionary tale. Picture a drunk guy looking for his keys under a streetlight at night. A policeman approaches the man to ask him what he’s looking for. After a couple of minutes of searching, the policeman asks the man, ‘are you sure you lost them around here?’, to which the drunk replies ‘I lost them over there, but this is where the light is.’
Vanity metrics may feel good when you prove your worth to the rest of the team, but if you just focus on them, it will stall your brand’s growth. “Measurement is very valuable unless you're busy measuring the wrong stuff or stuff that just doesn't connect to actually what outcome you're interested in,” Jeremy explains.
One of these vanity metrics is media reach, according to Jeremy. It’s not entirely useless, but you should always take it with a grain of salt. “Circulation, potential impressions, they can be a very broad and vague proxy for brand awareness. They tend to be dramatically overstated,” Jeremy argues, “for instance, I have a subscription to Wired magazine, but that doesn’t mean I’ll read every article or every ad.”
Another outdated metric is advertising equivalency value (AVE), which is used to measure the monetary value of media coverage by calculating its equivalent value in ad space. AVE was first used in the 1940s. It’s safe to say PR has evolved and so have its measurements. AVE has been debunked and rejected for about a decade. However, there are still some die-hard AVE believers. A study by Muck Rack reports that 19% of PR pros will use AVE as a metric in 2022. Jeremy explains that It’s usually someone higher up in management that still insists on seeing it. “It’s like that expression, ‘science advances one funeral at a time’. As the generation of people who still embrace AVEs retires, the industry will naturally move on."
Metrics gaining importance in 2022
With the ever-changing media landscape, there are some metrics that will become more and more essential in the years to come. Because so many brands are fighting each other for attention in a journalist’s inbox, we believe that the success of campaigns will rely more heavily on inbound PR. You need to pull in your contacts through valuable content instead of pushing out messages at them. Research shows that in 2022, the average journalist open rate to PR pitches is about 36%, while the average response rate is under 3%. These numbers are alarming, to say the least. The hope is that by making it as easy as possible for a journalist to write a story about you, your chances of landing coverage will increase significantly.
Jeremy argues that in order to have a holistic idea of reality, you have to use multi-dimensional metrics. "If you’re only measuring the number of mentions you got, but not the placement of that mention in the article or the tone that was used to describe your brand – you won’t get a clear indication of success."
The team at Agility PR has developed a metric called prominence, which allows you to analyze the importance of each mention. For instance, if your brand keywords were mentioned in an article, did they make it to the headline or did they appear in the body? How many times was your brand mentioned? This helps show how focused the coverage on you was, in order to make the distinction between a significant feature and a passing mention. When these variables come together, you start seeing if you are accomplishing your goals and if you can consider your efforts a success.
Back to basics
If you want to measure the success of your PR efforts, the most important thing you can do is start from basic principles. Get back to your communications strategy and determine who your public is, how you want to relate to them, and make this the basis of your scoreboard. “Pay attention to what’s important, not just what’s easily quantifiable,” Jeremy suggests. "Let that be the foundation for how you select the metrics and measure what matters."