Before the internet era, it was fairly easy for PR professionals to escape the types of quantitative, objective measurements that are applied to other parts of the business. How can you track the value of a mention in a print magazine article anyway?
The advent of the digital age has changed all of that. You can, in fact, measure the impact of a mention in a digital publication and tie it directly to revenue. Rather than being concerned about additional scrutiny, PR professionals should be delighted by modern technology’s ability to accurately track PR results.
Why Tracking PR Results is Great for PR Professionals and Agencies
The ability to quantify and qualify PR results puts PR teams in the position to do three critical tasks.
Set a Benchmark: It is very difficult to improve, and impossible to prove improvement, if you don’t have baseline results against which to judge future outcomes. Gaining a clear understanding about where your brand or your client sits today is essential before considering any change in strategy or tactics.
Improve Results: Carefully reviewing your results metrics will provide insight into where strengths should be leveraged and weaknesses addressed. Tracking results allows you to make adjustments over time and recognize trends that might point to trouble or opportunity. You can see what kind of announcements or activities move the needle in the right direction and simply do more of that.
Communicate Success: Although PR people are professional communicators, they frequently overlook the importance of internally communicating results. Tracking the right metrics and sharing those results with executive teams and clients is essential if you want to maintain continued investment in PR. Today’s business leaders make decisions that are driven by data and results, not vanity or good feelings.
Types of PR Results
PR results can be broken up into several buckets, leading indicators, key performance indicators and red herrings.
Leading indicators are those metrics that don’t necessarily equate to demonstrable value or ROI, but that instead act as signposts that signal what tangible results you have reason to expect. They include:
Mentions: The number of times your brand or product is mentioned, is particularly useful as a comparative result. Were you mentioned more frequently this month than last? What might have caused that trend? Are there particular activities that tend to result in an increased number of mentions? These answers can help drive your media outreach strategy.
Share of Voice: Share of Voice (SoV) is a look at mentions compared to competitors. It tells you whether you are being referenced in material that is likely to be related to your industry. If competitors generally are having more earned media success than you are, it might be an indication that your message or outreach strategy should be revisited.
Audience: Your audience consists of people who are connected to your brand. They might be social media followers, blog subscribers, website visitors or people who have opted into email. They are people you have the ability to reach with your messages. In a vacuum, the size of your audience has no value, but whether it is growing or contracting is an important indicator of the effectiveness of your PR efforts.
Key Messages and Sentiment: Together, key messages and sentiment tell you what people are saying about your brand and how they feel about it. This is how you know if people are understanding and believing the story of your brand. Ideally the key messages should be a reflection of your media pitch. If they are veering off course, you may need to make a correction.
Key Performance Indicators
Unlike leading indicators, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) speak to PR results that deliver measurable value. To determine your KPIs, simply ask yourself, “What am I trying to gain from PR?” For many companies, the answer includes:
Social Engagement: An important goal of modern PR is to increase social engagement. This goes beyond simple audience counts and includes the sharing of, and interaction with, content. It is also useful to consider social engagement with key influencers as a separate, traceable metric.
Website Traffic: PR can have a direct impact on organic (unpaid) website traffic. Increases in traffic can be traced to specific press releases, guest posts and earned media. Good trends in the leading indicators will often result in growing website traffic.
Lead Volume and Quality: In most cases, the goal of website traffic is to covert the visitor a lead by enticing them to fill out a form. Like website traffic, lead volume can be directly tied to PR activities. Brands that are doing great PR also find that lead quality improves, as prospects come to the table with greater awareness of the brand’s offer and capabilities.
Revenue: Lots of high quality leads should equate to increased revenue. This is where the rubber meets the road. Once you understand your PR results related to revenue, you can calculate the return on investment for PR. You may find that PR investment should be accelerated to positively impact the bottom line.
We mentioned at the beginning that there are some PR results that are just red herrings, AKA things that are misleading or distracting. They include:
Impressions: Impressions are a count of the number of potential times your brand’s mention could have been seen. When the internet was first starting to be monetized, marketers often paid for advertisements based on the number of impressions. That model has largely been changed to one where advertisers pay based on the number of clicks? Why? Because the number of impressions really can’t be equated to actual value. This is no different in PR. That’s not to say that you should ignore the size of a publication’s readership or an influencer’s audience. That is important information, but the number of your impressions is only useful in conjunction with the leading indicators and KPIs that we already discussed.
Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE): AVE is an outdated method of measuring PR results that conflates earned media mentions with paid advertisements. The math is simple, you calculate what it would have cost you to buy an advertisement of the same size that the space your media mention filled and, presto, you know how much your PR is worth. However, because PR and advertising are, in fact, very different and impact the KPIs in different ways, the equivalency is false and misleading. The other measures we have discussed are far more accurate for PR results tracking.
Understanding PR results is an imperative if you want to improve outcomes and communicate success. Fortunately, technology is available that makes both accurate tracking and visualized reporting painless. The right metrics will lead you to the best strategy for increasing your brand’s awareness and achieving underlining business objectives.