AJ co-founded TrendKite in 2012 and oversees all aspects of the organization’s sales operations.
One of the most difficult and notorious challenges for PR professionals and agencies is proving the return on PR investment. It’s a bit like Ahab chasing the white whale. Compared to advertising with its more direct, easier to measure engagement, PR metrics can be fuzzy. However, without a way to prove ROI, PR budgets are at risk. There are, however a few things that PR pros can do to understand, compute and ultimately highlight public relations ROI.
Define Success at the Outset
Launching a PR campaign and then asking, “Did it work?” is not likely to lead to quantifiable ROI. Understand the purpose of the campaign and set objectives in the beginning. Knowing what and how you are going to measure beforehand might even help determine the form the campaign will ultimately take.
Bridge the Islands
PR doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It exists within the landscape of all earned, owned and paid media. Coordinating campaigns across all marketing channels not only increases the power of each, it also creates a fuller picture of PR’s impact on the bottom line. Data from systems, other than the PR management tool can be useful in establishing ROI. For example, PR campaigns can have a direct impact on website visits, engagement and conversion.
Measure Outcomes, Not just Outputs
Tactical outputs include metrics like, number of placements, reach, blogs posted, hours spent, press releases and pitches delivered. These are important to track, but ultimately should not be the focus of justifying your public relations ROI. A far better approach is to measure outcomes. Outcomes include changes in attitude or behavior related to the brand. They can be measured in; improvement in SEO around key words, growth in website traffic, leads, social media engagement, reputation improvement and finally, revenue.
Consider Share of Voice
Understanding how your brand is performing vs. that of your competitors can illustrate the impact of your PR efforts. Is your brand mentioned along your competitors in relevant conversations? Is sentiment about your brand positive, neutral or negative when looked at alongside competing brands? While share of voice alone is not sufficient to prove ROI, when looked at alongside outcome data, it can be useful.
Ask the Audience
Social media gives PR professionals a whole new tool in determining PR effectiveness. Surveys can easily and inexpensively be used to find out how PR is impacting public perception of the brand and whether or not it is resulting in desired behaviors.
Give up AVE (Advertising Value Equivalency)
Although many have ditched the approach, some are still using Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE), which is a simple calculation of what your editorial coverage would cost if it were advertising space or time. It is attractive because it is an easy calculation that has an advertising analog. Unfortunately, it just isn’t accurate. In some cases, it can underestimate the value of editorial content because audiences hold the opinions of trusted third parties above self-promotion efforts by advertisers. But it can also overestimate the value public relations ROI because the space occupied by the whole article is included, even if the company is only mentioned once in passing. Ultimately, advertising and PR are not the same, so the same rules do not apply.
Proving ROI is an important responsibility of PR professionals and agency teams. If should be considered carefully and planned for at the outset of each campaign or engagement. It does require effort, but PR software has been designed that can help and the ability to justify continued or additional PR spending is worth the endeavor.