Why better audience-based analysis is the magic bullet of PR measurement

Less than 12 months ago Sir Martin Sorrell called PR an “analogue discipline” associated with “press releases" and "gin-soaked lunches”. In addition, the latest PRCA census suggested that 34% of agencies made redundancies during the Covid crisis.

There is much evidence that the sector is bouncing back - but how can it bounce back stronger?

As a sector, we need to be able to prove just how effective PR – and more specifically how effective online media coverage – really is.

But why has PR failed to do this already? After all, there are clever technology-based services out there using AI, adtech tracking and super graphics to solve this problem, right? Wrong. No amount of fancy technology or pretty graphics can solve the fundamental problem that these all focus on volume metrics. Common sense might suggest increased coverage will increase effectiveness, but in the real world, this is not the case.

The reason for this counter-intuitive fact is the ‘Pareto effect’, more commonly called the ‘80/20’ rule. It states that 80% of outcomes are the result of just 20% of their cause and we now know that 80% of the effectiveness of media coverage is driven by just 20% of that coverage. How do we know this? The answer is the public relations search value or PRSV.

For media coverage to have any influence people obviously have to see it; and with the vast amount of coverage available today the likelihood of that happening for all but the biggest news stories is remarkably small.

Then people must read it and the likelihood of them doing so is also extremely small. Finally, to be effective, media coverage must grab people sufficiently to generate a reaction or interaction, such as visit a website or carry out a Google search.

Various factors typically impact the likelihood that people will get to this stage, with the most important being the type and emotion of content. Those who do are what we call the ‘engaged audience’ and are critical to understanding the true effectiveness of media coverage. Taking these factors into account required the development of the PRSV algorithm to arrive at a figure for the engaged audience for each piece of coverage.

Now we come to another critical point on volume. Systems boast about the number of sources they analyse, taking no account of the fact that even avid readers and viewers only scratch the surface of news coverage. PRSV addresses this by determining the probability that people find or go to certain media for their news, either directly or via a search engine, such as Google.

The benefit of the engaged audience is that it is a proper and realistic number reflecting the real impact of media coverage. This can then be used with data from any source, such as sales figures, Google Analytics, search, TV audiences, etc, with sophisticated big data statistical techniques to ensure robustness and proper attribution. Typical results provide more than enough evidence to make Sir Martin choke on his words.

Another benefit of the engaged audience is that it avoids any problems with privacy. Other PR attribution services use Adtech tracking devices, which are highly exposed to rapidly growing privacy software and leave users wide open to accusations of snooping – the very last thing brands investing in purpose-based marketing want to be associated with. The PRSV engaged audience avoids all privacy issues by operating at a much higher level than these types of systems.

Ultimately, for PR to gain the kudos it deserves it must be seen to “shift the dial” in the same way as other marketing disciplines. This means moving to what really delivers measurable business outcomes, which is not coverage itself but the audience it influences. Yes, there is a magic bullet of PR measurement: The real magic, however, is that it is not ‘magic’ at all, just good science and robust analysis.

Written by Mark Westaby, technical director at Metricomm


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