One of the most common challenges in public relations is how to measure the return on investment (ROI). Fortunately, there’s a shifting tide toward addressing the shortcomings of traditional PR measurement techniques head-on. The evolution of PR and the increased importance it carries for businesses has resulted in an increasing push towards quantitative measurement. After all, many of us find comfort in seeing specific numbers of page views, likes and ratings, by which we can measure success. But how do you measure something like a growth in brand trust or awareness? This is where PR professionals should employ both quantitative and qualitative measurement.
It is possible to measure the ROI of PR; you just need to pick the right key performance indicators (KPIs). Whether the goal is acquiring new clients, gaining the attention of investors or establishing an organization as an industry leader, an effective public relations program can provide the visibility necessary to reach specific business objectives.
The process for choosing KPIs begins with defining business objectives. What specifically are you looking to achieve: partnership or investment, sales, client acquisition, competitive dominance, attracting top talent or some other goal? Next, develop PR strategies and create assets based on those objectives. Finally, select KPIs that measure the efficacy of the selected strategies.
What not to do
In the past, the value of PR has been compared to the cost of advertising. Many organizations measured their PR effort with Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE). But AVEs cannot capture the outcome of a PR campaign. They also cannot measure the variety of messages delivered, the social media impact or the value of keeping a client out of the media spotlight in a tricky situation.Other measurement approaches from the past such as overall clipping counts and number of impressions are generally meaningless nowadays.
While tracking PR tactics such as the number of releases, pitches, interviews and inquiries show how the volume of work contributed to the news coverage—and trends over time—they inventory all of the actions taken versus the business outcome.
Cracking the code of effective measurement
Successful communications efforts and resulting measurements are tied to outcomes (organizational results), not just outputs (media metrics) alone. Outputs need to be connected to organizational goals - and to make that connection, determining the right objectives is key.
For instance, 'the ask' for PR to generate sales leads has reached new heights in the digital age. Businesses are no longer limited to hoping media outlets will cover their activities or attending trade shows to get the word out. The growing acceptance of social media and other digital marketing tools to support lead generation and business development has dramatically changed how PR can be used to drive sales growth.
Building credibility through positive media coverage in the right publications and contributing compelling thought leadership content are two examples of how PR supports lead generation.
Use the following analytics to measure PR effectiveness and ROI:
Earned traffic and lead generation: The number of website visitors resulting from links in client coverage is a direct example of lead generation based on PR efforts. Along those lines, you can also determine the number of leads created by links in social posts. To measure this, create traceable links for each social platform so that it’s easy to see where the clicks are coming from.
Share of voice: Brands that increase their digital share of voice (SOV) are more likely to increase their market share over time. SOV refers to the percentage of your coverage versus that of competitors, and it demonstrates a brand’s visibility within its target market. Analyzing this competitive landscape provides insights into how effectively your efforts are engaging target audiences and capturing the attention of potential customers or partners.
Influencer Engagement: Influencer content has become paramount in importance. In a 2017 Content Preferences Survey Report by Demand Gen, 87% of survey respondents revealed that they give more credence to content produced by trusted sources within an industry.
This means high-value publications, editors, analysts and bloggers are reputable information sources for your target audience. These influencers serve as a direct line between your business and your target market. Positive and on-message coverage from top influencers conveys the value of your brand and its offerings directly to your target audience and establishes your presence as one to watch.
Domain authority: How significant is the publication vis-à-vis your target audience? The more prestigious the placement is, the higher the web page’s ranking will be and the greater the likelihood will be of that page being found in online searches.
Sentiment: Sentiment is a qualitative measurement that indicates the opinion expressed in any article or media post referring to a brand. The sentiment of media coverage directly translates to brand perception, a measure that is critical to the overall equation of how successful a campaign is. Without considering what audiences and influencers are saying and feeling about your brand, an analysis of your PR program is incomplete.
The metrics for sentiment are simple: the number and percentages on balance of positive, negative or neutral coverage. Track this balance over time to measure how opinion of your brand changes in alignment with your PR strategy and set new goals to measure your efforts against in the future.
Key message penetration: Key messages convey the top benefits of your product or solution and the value they offer for your target audience. Establishing and repeating these key points ensures consistent messaging and brand perception. The metric of success here is whether the coverage reflects your company’s key messages.
With the right combination of quantitative and qualitative measures that are in line with the desired business outcomes, you will know if your PR program is moving the needle in the right direction. This will reveal the ROI of PR for your organization.