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4 Best Practices for Innovating PR Measurement

Juliana Allen

Juliana Allen

PR measurement has come a long way. I remember at my first PR job, we had a full-time employee whose sole job was to flip through a stack of magazines, every day, to look for media coverage of our clients. She would put a sticky note on every page where a client was featured.

Like most agencies at the time, this is how we measured success. It used to be so simple. Clients cared about seeing their name in publications – with print the priority – and nothing else. After the sticky notes were all stuck, we would map the coverage space to what the ad spend was – back in the day this was known as the ad value equivalency (AVE) – threw in the amount of “potential” viewers the publication reached, got extra brownie points if it was a cover or half page, and that was it. That was how we measured PR efforts. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t measure the quality of PR, or its value beyond some arbitrary metrics.

Years ago, PR measurement gurus like Katie Paine (Twitter handle, @queenofmetrics) came to this realization and started to develop a system to show the quality of PR in more measured terms. Although Paine originally got into PR measurement in order to help journalists, by giving PR people “a better idea of what worked and what didn’t work,” her work has helped define PR measurements standards, including the sentiment and tone of a brand message, its prominence and dominance, as well as features and competitive advantages. Today, the Internet and social media have further complicated measurement and new measures of engagement, but PR pros continue to evolve.

Measurement in PR is such a hot topic that we hear from our clients all the time, and there’s no one right way to do it. Different clients want to measure different things – some want to directly tie our PR efforts to leads, while others want more detailed metrics to see how their media coverage compares directly to competitors.

I’m always on the lookout for new articles and guidance on how to measure PR more effectively, and I recently came across an in-depth whitepaper, “The 2015 PR Measurement Handbook” by Cyber Alert and Paine Publishing (Katie Paine’s publishing company). It has some great advice on best practices and future innovations.

Determine what you’re trying to measure

Measuring metrics can’t yield actionable insights if you don’t know what exactly those metrics should be in the first place. Some key points you should be measuring include how effectively your organization is getting its message out, how the audience is receiving that message, if calls to action (both direct and implied) are getting a response and how well your results compare to the past (e.g. traffic, conversions, sales leads, transaction spends and search rankings).

Consider if PR output is right for you to measure

While PR outputs as a metric are often dismissed, measuring the raw work output of a PR agency can help you gauge productivity and determine if there’s a correlation between PR output and levels of engagement. For instance, if a client has few PR assets – no spokespeople, no news – or there are other factors at play limiting a client’s press exposure, PR output as part of your metrics can show the additional behind-the-scenes work going on. This could include tracking the number of proactive pitches per month or increases in favorable media responses over time.

Measure what you’re trying to accomplish

Metrics aren’t a zero-sum game; you don’t need to measure everything, and in fact, you shouldn’t. Some metrics won’t help you in determining PR and social media impact anyway, so cherry pick the ones that will help and focus your measurement efforts on those.

Choose the right metrics for each goal

Going hand-in-hand with the above, you want to be sure to map different chosen metrics to different goals. Tracking the volume of earned media coverage and impressions for a given client campaign is an excellent way of determining the effectiveness of your messaging, both in the news and on social media. On the other hand, measuring actions from links in media placements – such as conversions, repeat customers and sales volumes – help you attribute these successes directly to your PR efforts, providing insight into how well you’re meeting your business goals.

At Walker Sands, we work with our clients to track the metrics that matter most to them. Reach out to see how our PR efforts can deliver tangible results that matter.