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Top tips for measuring PR

Now, as we enter an economic downturn there is even greater pressure on PR agencies and internal PR functions to prove their worth. And as PR evolves, so do measurement tactics - Jade March, PR lead at PR, marketing and design agency Chapter II, points out, for instance: “We now need to include link click-throughs, lead generation and media impressions as part of our reporting.” However, March emphasises the importance of measuring the value of what PR does for clients: “Whether through a media monitoring service, Google Analytics, social media mentions or website traffic tools - analysing your PR campaign is essential for the success of future campaigns."

Below, senior PRs discuss the most effective ways to measure PR effectiveness.

Planning comes first

Allison Spray, MD of data and analytics at PR agency Hill+Knowlton Strategies: “The key to accurate measurement starts with planning; you need a clear picture of what audiences you’re looking to reach and what you’re trying to achieve. It’s important the second point ladders up to a business objective, for example, saying you’re trying to achieve ‘reach’ won’t help you prove value. Push beyond tactics to the perception or behavioural change you’re trying to enact.”

Focus on optimisation and evaluation

Allison Spray: “You can then split measurement into two key activities: optimisation and evaluation. Optimisation metrics are leading indicators that allow you to adjust as activity is ongoing; evaluation metrics focus on longer-term impact (and are likely more costly, or time-intensive). Having both is key not just to proving value, but actually delivering it.”

Use AMEC resources

Allison Spray: “I would be remiss not to mention AMEC has great (free) resources available to all and additional support for members. Two good places to start are the Integrated Evaluation Framework and the M3.“

Look at brief specifics

Emily Morgan, operations and innovation managing director at PR agency The Red Consultancy: “The best KPIs to evaluate PR success should depend on the specifics of the brief. For example when tasked to drive awareness you may be looking at OTS/impressions, whilst for increasing brand loyalty you may measure engagement.”

Include benchmarks

Emily Morgan: “Whatever the metrics are, it is vital to include benchmarks. Without contextualisation it’s impossible to know how well a campaign is doing. Having a benchmark allows you to experiment with different techniques and assess the relative value for money that they deliver.”

Go beyond outputs

Emily Morgan: “PR should always push further than the ‘outputs’ ie, from simply measuring editorial/social buzz. During the planning phase, which is when you should think about evaluation, put a model in place which allows you to assess against outtakes and outcomes. What did people ‘think’ as a result of that coverage/content and what did people ‘do’? This might involve more complex, and costly evaluation, but it will always be worth it.”

Educate and understand clients

Rachel Gilley, president of global communications at Clarity: “In the past, way to measure a campaign's success/ impact was to look at the number of press clippings and the type of media writing about your topic. However, tracking the number of clippings and circulation is the bare minimum we should offer. We provide our clients with a bespoke Impact Framework that ladders up to their business objectives and puts much more detailed measurements around our campaign activity. Educating clients about what good PR looks like is a hugely important part of the process. From this point we can use a number of different measurement tools to demonstrate the effectiveness of our work, from tracking share of voice to measuring things like key message penetration, trackable links, social mentions, mentions alongside key competitors and many more. The Impact Framework helps us to ensure our activity and outputs create positive outcomes for our clients, whether it’s growing brand awareness amongst wide and disparate audiences or targeting much more niche customers and investors.

“Securing coverage for your brand in a national newspaper or consumer magazine can feel fantastic, however, if your audience is mainly reading trades, are they really the right targets? A mention without the right key messages and a clear call to action that feeds into objectives is a missed opportunity. That’s why it’s critical for PR professionals to demonstrate their worth by taking the time to understand what the client’s business really needs, creating a strategic and executable plan that will help achieve those goals, and measuring their success in a way that is understood and valued by their wider organisation.”

Think about sales, not coverage

Steve Leigh, managing director of research consultancy Sensu Insight: “Measuring and evaluating the success of a campaign is fundamental to understanding the value of PR. However, it seems that too many businesses focus on coverage levels as a definitive sign of whether a campaign has succeeded or not.

“The impact of campaigns should be measured by looking at detailed data insights into how they are shaping brand perceptions, driving sales, or changing behaviours. Whilst tracking brand mentions is a good way to understand awareness, monitoring sentiment surrounding the brand takes measurement one step further and helps to indicate the reputational impact of the campaign.

“It highlights how the brand is being perceived by the public by understanding the language that is being used in relation to it. Businesses can then make decisions on the success of the campaign dependent on whether it has generated a positive or negative sentiment, and over time whether it is improving overall reputation.”

Don’t get hung up on particular metrics

George Beard, Deputy MD and head of PR at PR consultancy MPC: “We’ve certainly welcomed the shift away from measuring archaic metrics, such as AVE (advertising value equivalent), to more outcome-driven metrics. The approach undoubtedly provides a more holistic overview of campaigns, improves ROI, and delivers more effective benchmarking of impact.

“However, some can become overly focused on certain metrics, such as link inclusion. Working within the built environment, we engage communities on a hyper-local level, raising awareness at consultations or in-person events. We recently worked with a district council in the South West to help residents save energy bills during the cost-of-living crisis. Although website traffic and reach from local social media ads was key, we also attended farmers' markets to take the campaign to the people. 

“Reporting across a multitude of on- and offline-metrics is certainly best practice and gives a catch-all approach to campaign measurement in our increasingly digital lives. However, agencies who obsess over just a few digital metrics can often ‘hide behind the screen’. It’s an approach which can stifle creativity and reduces face-to-face engagement and stunts, critical components in any successful PR’s toolkit. Digital metrics alone aren’t enough - we need to look holistically across the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model and evaluate overall campaign performance.”

B2B measurement

Not everyone is convinced that measurement in PR is particularly necessary, or needs to be that complicated. Richard Cook, founder of agency Champion Communications, says: “If you are in B2B, want to know what your ROI on PR is, do the following:

  1. Stop spending silly money on platforms and analytics tools
  1. Stop burning agency fees monitoring competitive coverage
  1. Take 25% of that money saved and take your business development teams out for coffee, lunch or dinner, and ask them: did you see this coverage? Did you use it to start a conversation, progress a deal or improve a relationship. Did it help?

“Do this monthly and review quarterly, then tell the board what you have learnt.”

Despite all the wisdom above, it is worth saying that some aspects of PR are not easy to measure, no matter what methods you use. As Albert Einstein is supposed to have said: “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted”.

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