7 metrics for measuring PR success

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A well-known Peter Drucker adage states “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” While many professionals have long disagreed about the applicability of Drucker’s quote to certain business operations (e.g., how can you “measure” the confidence of someone on a sales call, or the overall cultural fit of a new hire?), there are some tasks that it seems to describe perfectly, such as:

Social media campaigning

Any strategic social media campaigns on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter are likely to incorporate metrics assessments to evaluate their efficacy. A social or PR team would probably look at levels of engagement (i.e., how many people reposted or responded to the original), reach (how many viewers actually saw the post in their streams) and total volume (how many posts at-large during the campaigns refer to your brand), among other metrics, to see what did and did not work.

Effective campaign analysis helps drive decisions about how to position future posts and where advertising budgets might be best allocated. As social media has grown in stature, much of the investment on this front has gone toward Facebook and Google, which together accounted for 99 percent of digital ad spending growth in 2016, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Channel budgeting

Organizational budgets are usually processed with spreadsheets or sophisticated financial software. The initial accuracy of their measurements influences any subsequent adjustments. For example, a company that cannot accurately track its total expenses and overall return on investment (ROI) from PR initiatives might not budget enough money for similar projects in the future.

A 2017 survey by the Association of National Advertisers found that 62 percent of marketers planned to increase staffing for PR efforts over the next five years, while 75 percent intended to up their spending on PR. The planned increases reflect these marketers’ long-term assessments of the precise value PR creates for their organizations.

How should PR professionals measure their activities?

Given the obvious importance of measurement to the management of these two realms, it is no surprise that PR itself relies on careful use of metrics. But which metrics are most valuable to today’s PR professionals?

Answering this question requires a closer look at what key performance indicators have become commonly tracked over time. We also have to look at how the PR industry actually weaves measurement techniques into its everyday operations. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), as well as the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC), have both provided some helpful guidance on these issues.

The seven PRSA PR metrics

In 2009, the Measurement Task Force convened by the PRSA established a broad set of 16 metrics for trial use by several large corporations with significant PR budgets. These standards cover traditional, digital and social media, while also breaking down the overall communications lifecycle and ultimate return on investment from PR.
Let’s dive into seven of these metrics that are shared across all media types, to see what the PRSA recommends for PR specialists to keep tabs on:

1. Mentions

This metric includes the use of a company name, stock ticker or a nickname on any platform, and is instructive in the wake of a PR campaign launch. There are numerous tools out there for tracking these interactions, especially on social networks, which can be monitored via solutions such as HootSuite and Reddit Keyword Monitor Pro. According to Brandwatch, 96 percent of people who talk about brands online do not follow those companies’ official channels, which means that precise, comprehensive measurement of these mentions is necessary for evaluation of any campaign.

2. Reach

Reach originally referred to the scope of distribution for magazines, newspapers and other periodicals. It has since evolved to encompass the total individuals who had an opportunity to see the content posted to a specific online platform. On social media, reach can be either organic or paid:

• Organic reach: The users that you can reach through unpaid distribution – in other words, simple view of your profile or page.
• Paid reach: The users that you can reach strictly through ads, such as promoted posts.

Total reach encompasses both, organic and paid reach together. SocialFlow reported that organic reach dropped 52 percent for publisher Facebook Pages in the first half of 2016. In this context, paid reach is important as an alternative, although organic reach remains crucial.

3. Engagement

Engagement is most easily quantified on social media, although it has roots in the traditional concept of message penetration on TV, radio and print. As the name suggests, it refers to the rate of viewers who took additional action after seeing the initial content, which often takes the form of a response or re-post (e.g., retweet on Twitter) on an officially managed channel.

PR professionals have explored forms beyond the traditional press release to boost engagement online. Visual content such as infographics and videos can often be more engaging (in a statistical sense) than some text-only content.

PR Newswire estimated that the inclusions of photos can increase views of a press release by 1.4 times, while video can yield an almost threefold (2.8 times) jump. Detailed measurement of engagement provides valuable information in how to fine-tune a PR campaign.

4. Advocacy

This metric is unique to PR, since it is designed to measure a result other than a sale of a product or service. Advocacy is the measure of how many members of the target audience become advocates for a cause or organization.

PR specialists are advocates for their clients in many contexts. An effective PR strategy that synthesizes client advocacy with the public interest can establish trust with an audience and extend the power of the PR campaign by creating many additional advocates among media partners, consumers and the rest of the public.

5. Relationship

Like advocacy, relationship is included under the PRSA’s umbrella of the communications lifecycle, a framework for understanding how the public becomes aware of PR campaigns and then absorb and act on their messages. As a metric, relationship is more complex than the others we have looked at here, since it sets out parameters for measuring how closely aligned a product or service is with its audience:

• Does it provide a good value for its cost?
• Is a good fit for people in specific demographic and social backgrounds?
• Is it reliable and trustworthy?
• Is it honestly presented in advertising and PR materials?
• Does purchasing it reflect a commitment to a certain lifestyle or a set of values?

6. Item

On the opposite end of the spectrum from relationship, we have item, a simple category that describes the basic unit of what is being measured, in any media channel. An “item” can be almost anything released for public consumption: a press release, a blog post, a video, an interview, etc.

The item metric overlaps with all of the others here. When you are determining the success or failure of a PR campaign, your evaluation will hinge on assessment of specific items. You might compare a point-of-sale campaign to a direct mail equivalent to see which one reached and influenced more individuals.

7. Return on investment

ROI is an important metric for demonstrating to clients what they are getting out of their PR investments. The PRSA recommends that ROI be used only in regard to financial matters. In practice, ROI might be used to chart how a campaign increased website traffic, which in turn might have influenced purchases or customer signups to an email newsletter.

How to apply these metrics to PR functions

AMEC created a matrix that lays out two sequences for understanding how PR campaigns lead to material ROI. The first sequence describes the progressive effects of PR efforts, from left to right on the x-axis.

The other sequence plots the progression of activities, from what PR specialists do to how their audiences react, from top to bottom on the y-axis.
The overall matrix looks like this, with final results of a campaign being measurable where “target audience effect” and “action” intersect:

Each of these stages has its own sets of corresponding metrics that PR teams can consult to see if they are on track. Accordingly, “interest” might be measured by the percentage of positive mentions, while “support” can be gauged through endorsements (i.e., advocacy, as we discussed). The ultimate goal is to produce active advocates, registrations, donations, sales and other forms of tangible progress.

It is recommended to use a similar set of metrics across both traditional and digital/social media, to ensure that metrics are transparent to all PR stakeholders. Clear goals for measurement (as set out in the AMEC matrix) along with investments in PR training and useful tools such as social media management platform can further help in applying these metrics.

Earn a Master’s in Strategic Public Relations to Improve Your PR Measurement Skills

These seven metrics are not a comprehensive set of everything a PR professional will measure in their campaigns, but they do provide a representative cross-section. Collectively, they cover important measurements affecting social media, traditional channels, advocacy and other actions taken by audiences and ultimate ROI.
Getting the most out of metrics analysis requires a complete skill set, which you can develop with a relevant master’s degree. The Master’s in Strategic Public Relations online program at The George Washington University provides the preparation you need to succeed in today’s analytics-oriented PR world. Find out more by visiting the main program page today.

Recommended Readings:
Using Social Media to Accomplish Your Communications Goals
What is the Future of PR in the Next Few Years?

The Principles of PR Measurement
21 Social Media Marketing Statistics You Need to Know in 2018
Valid Metrics for PR Measurement Putting The Principles Into Action
Measurement Standardization
Documenting The Business Outcomes
Best Practices Guide for Use of Statistics in Public Relations
Public Relations on The Rise Among Marketers: ANA Survey
5 Essential & Easy Social Media Metrics You Should Be Measuring Right Now
Top Metrics for Measuring PR Effectiveness
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5 Hidden Ways PR Pros Use Math
10 Methods to Measure the Impact of PR Campaigns
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What’s the Role of Advocacy in PR? Here Are Some Insights—& an Imperative to Act