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Why Attribution is Still a Challenge in PR

Maggie Nichols

Maggie Nichols

As marketers, we have to prove the value in everything we do. Content downloads, email campaigns and online advertising are routinely evaluated to see how many new leads they bring in. With the array of different analytics tools online, measuring the effectiveness of marketing tactics is usually a simple, straightforward process.

But for PR activities, attribution is a bit more complicated.

ROI cartoon

Let’s say your company is featured in an article on Forbes, which includes a link to your website. You can figure out how many times the article was shared on social media and how much web traffic was directed to your site through that link. Although these are valuable metrics, they don’t tell the full story.

What if an executive from a company, we’ll call them NewClient, saw that article while browsing social media on her smartphone during her morning commute. She forwards the article to another NewClient employee and requests some information about your company. Later that day, a rep from NewClient picks up the phone and gives your sales team a call but doesn’t mention anything about the article. You have no way of tracing that new lead back to PR, even though it was the main driver for the company’s inquiry.

The good news is that we’ve come a long way in measuring the ROI of PR. From a time when we were only reporting impressions and advertisement value, we’re now able to provide a much more thorough overview of how are PR efforts affect sales.

Here are some of the ways we’re getting better at attributing real business results to PR initiatives:

  • Using designated links in press releases, contributed articles and blog posts to track where site traffic originates, indicating which outlets are the most influential
  • Incorporating digital analytics, like Google Analytics and Omniture, into PR programs to gain a more accurate measurement of online reach
  • Assigning monetary values to new business leads and comparing to PR costs to calculate more accurate ROI

Unfortunately, we haven’t found all the answers just yet. There’s still value that PR provides that we simply can’t measure, like the effectiveness of word of mouth and brand awareness.

Attribution is just one of the reasons we take our digital ecosystem approach so seriously. We focus on the integration of PR, social and search and make sure they’re working in tandem to provide the most value for our clients.

How does your company measure the ROI of its PR program? How do you foresee this issue being resolved in the future?