PR metrics matter. But which metrics? That’s the question.
Old school public relations professionals used to measure the value of their work by comparing it to what advertising would cost if in a similar placement.
They would take the "hit," the article that mentioned their client, count the words, column size/width, and determine how much it would cost to place an advertisement of that size and length in the publication that covered their company.
The more popular the publication, the more money it would cost, the more value PR delivered.
But was that an actual test of measurement?
If a published article misquoted a company, was off on position/angle or was not positive, did that count?
Was all news good news? Back in the day, yes.
Any mention in the paper or a magazine or on television was heralded as a win.
Arguably though, a “win” builds on a narrative.
It helps cast a company in a light that, if done correctly, attracts not detracts stakeholders.
Simply filling the pages of a paper with mentions of a company regularly cannot be the litmus test for high accolades.
Something else has to matter.
Suppose you can harken back before there was an Internet. In that case, you'll remember that we didn't have the tools or knowledge to measure or map the narrative of our keywords, search engine ranking, share of voice, or any other measurements that we take for granted today.
We filled a book of press clippings to show clients how much media coverage we secured and where.
Of course, the subject matter was important, but those were simpler times.
We called a journalist with a story, and if interested, they bit.
The interview was set up, we would brief our clients, even lightly media train them, then participate in the interview, and it was published.
Well, you guessed it, the medium.
Once the worldwide web got switched on, we had a new way to measure what we once called public relations.
Now everything seemed to be public relations or communication or social media or search engine optimization. Public relations professionals surprisingly didn’t scramble to better understand how to measure their work.
They tried to remain relevant, taking on new disciplines within the communications industry, such as web design and content marketing.
The focus wasn't on how to measure what we do better. The focus was on how to distract from what we knew we couldn't measure - PR.
We all agreed that PR generated brand awareness.
But that wasn't good enough anymore.
Clients wanted to see how their PR performed, like advertising, encouraging readers to click through to websites, events, and more.
PR professionals were focused to “optimize” press releases and other public content for keyword phrases, with little to no knowledge of search engine marketing. They were told to link to this and link to that.
Create outbound and inbound links.
Put calls to action, videos, images, and audio in content when distributed to the media.
Push the media to make their articles interactive.
The ideas were all great, however, to execute, the media was way behind in the times.
They were still holding onto their newsrooms.
Of course, that all changed over the decades, and unfortunately for many, their jobs became obsolete. Some took up careers in multimedia positions - positions that did not exist before the advent of the Internet.
Did that change PR’s position on measurement? Well, kind of.
As a matter of fact, if you research how PR professionals measure their work today, there are four common new-ish themes, which we'll dive into right now.
How to Track PR KPIs
Number One: Set Goals and Measurement
You may not be surprised to hear that even the best public relations professionals are not working toward goals and have established any measurement.
Why? Well, for starters, there’s no one way to measure PR.
If you ask an advertising professional how many click-throughs will lead to a marketing qualified lead, they will most likely have the data.
PR will not.
The practice of PR simply hasn’t been measured in that way. However, change is in the air.
Since the advent of the Internet and more metrics-focused people have joined the marketing team, PR has been pressured to follow along. Now, PR professionals are setting SMART goals that align with their business objectives.
This is an important distinction to make.
This assumes that the company represented is moving forward. As a marketer, it is essential to continually build a narrative, promote growth, and grow, hence moving forward.
The simple point of using SMART goals to align with business objectives is to ensure that the communications program supports the business strategies and tactics and meets key performance indicators (KPIs).
Number Two: Marry Quality and Quantity
How many hits did you get? That's top of mind for anyone monitoring the performance of a public relations campaign.
Quantity matters. Yes, it does.
The more placement, the more eyeballs, the more exposure, the more business. It's hard to argue with that.
Quantity of coverage also can map the perception that the business is doing well because it is being so well received by the press. Unfortunately, wide coverage could also communicate that there is a big problem. But that's where the quality comes in.
In amongst all of the media coverage, what was said, by whom, when?
All of that matters too. Not only does one have to measure how many times a company was mentioned in the media, but they also have to measure how well the company was covered.
In other words, ask yourself these questions.
- Did my position come across?
- Did my spokespeople communicate on message?
- Where in the piece was my company mentioned?
- How was what the company said, received? What was the sentiment?
- Who else, people and companies, were mentioned in the article or TV segment?
There literally has to be a worksheet that checks all of those boxes to provide the communications team and marketing organization with how well the company is doing in the public eye.
Measurement on that end is so important that the result could make or break a company. Or, the best communications could outweigh the competition, even if the competitor has a bigger horse in the game.
Number Three: Keep Measurement Transparent and Valid
Another surprisingly missed task is keeping everyone on the same page when it comes to measurement transparency and validation.
Maybe not so surprising if the measurement wasn’t set up in the first place.
Though, once it is, keep it front and center. Revisit your measurement goals weekly with a team and reset them if they’re not keeping you on track to help reach objectives.
Easier said than done. I know.
It’s especially harrowing if you’re not meeting up to expectations, but that in turn is a good thing.
Because even failed campaigns have key learnings.
The goal is to be open to how campaigns are performing and if they are in line with your original SMART goals. Don't try to reinvent the wheel.
If you’re following along in these steps, this one should come naturally in the process. It will also keep your team honest.
That's another critical step toward building trust and being able to reach your agreed-upon goals. By providing insight back into the organization, you will avoid creating any bias.
The outcome will speak for itself.
Number Four: Measure the Effectiveness of Your Campaigns
All along, I've been harping about PR's inability to measure actual click-through rates and such.
Yet, in addition, to measure your SMART goals, PR practitioners can track media coverage through backlinking in press releases and articles that get published online.
The press coverage that is promoted through social media can be tracked with UTMs codes.
The press room on the company website houses keyword phrases and links that platforms can analyze to let PR professionals know which content is being consumed the most, and so forth.
How to Measure PR Effectively: Concluding Thoughts
At the end of the day, metrics matter.
These happen to be the four most talked about ways to measure your success.
Once the metrics are set up, and campaigns are run against them, you're on your way to not only helping your company increase its brand awareness and lead generation but also accelerating your path to exit.