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In a USA Today book review article I read awhile back, reviewer Seth Brown notes that "public relations, oddly enough, doesn’t have great PR. People tend to think that PR involves being manipulative and saying whatever is in the employer’s best interests."
To some extent, I agree about PR not having the greatest reputation. When I was in journalism school I was taught by some professors that as a reporter, you need to be wary of PR folks trying to get their business’s or client’s message in the media. When translated, that meant we should be dealing directly with the source, not their PR representative. It’s given me great insight into what today’s reporters expect, having come from that background.
But when a client’s message does appear in the media -- creating excellent exposure for their restaurant, new software release, or showcase their expertise in a certain field -- how do you measure that success? Can you measure that success? After all, public relations, unlike advertising, does not guarantee a placement. But when a placement does happen, how can you quantify its worth?
It has long been debated on how to correspondingly track and measure PR results. In fact, Brown goes on to say that PR is "difficult to define and difficult to measure." If your company name is mentioned in an article -- but no description offered for your products or services -- does that have the same merit as a quote or link to your company’s Web site? For reporters, they could care less if they are doing a good job representing your company (unless that's the sole focus of the piece), as long as it offers them a well-balanced story. Yet for a business, what is said in the media definitely matters. That’s when a PR professional can step in and offer additional data, as well as ideas for art and graphics, to both maximize that business’s exposure and at the same time give the reporter some great information.
In my experience, measurement of a successful mention in a news article will vary based on a business’s industry and area of expertise. For example, one client will be happy with a simple mention of their company, while others prefer to have statistical data, quotes or some type of graphic that correlates back to their products or services. Obviously the more written about the company, the better, but expectations and the definition of a successful PR campaign are often widespread.
With social media becoming yet another tool to add to the PR mix, it becomes another source of possible measurement. Do we track our mentions on Twitter? What if we’re a "trending topic" on Twitter? Does that count just as much as if we appeared in the online version of a newspaper? Also, don’t forget about blogs. After all, as many as three out of four journalists regularly frequent blogs to generate story ideas, according to 2008 research conducted by Brodeur and MarketWire.
Thus, identifying one consistent system for PR tracking is tricky. Burrelles Luce, a clipping service that pulls media mentions of a person or business from print and online news, has tried to solve this problem by offering a service dedicated solely to media measurement.
While I’m not going to go into details for how we measure mentions for our own clients, on a very basic level I would recommend making sure you start with both qualitative and quantitative measurement:
1. How notable is the publication? Is it a blog with 5,000 unique monthly page views, or a major daily newspaper with 250,000 subscribers?
2. How much of a mention did you receive? Did it just list your company name, or were you quoted? Did it provide details about your products/services and a link back to your Web site?
3. Was the mention favorable, unfavorable or neutral?
4. Does it reach your target audience?
1. How many mentions did you receive in a week? A month? What is the year-over-year comparison?
As mentioned, social media certainly adds a new dimension to PR measurement, and will only expand as new channels of media continue to emerge. It all boils down to what a business wants from PR exposure, and to start tracking placements early and often in order to accurately assess areas of success -- and areas for improvement.
One thing is certain, and that's the tremendous value in a positive media mention. It's the great PR professionals who know that public relations is not about being manipulative. It's about presenting data, industry knowledge and expert opinion that add tremendous value to the news every day. As cited in the USA Today article, "most journalists tend to be alerted to newsworthy stories, and most alerts can be traced back to PR."