Measuring the value of PR on a shoestring

For decades the public relations industry has been trying to up its game when it comes to measurement. Now that PR increasingly is considered a function of marketing, the pressure is even greater.

Unlike marketing, however, PR struggles with trying to measure results that often are difficult to quantify, including attitudes, perceptions and engagement. Traditionally this requires significant upfront research and ongoing focus groups or surveys to benchmark and chart these trends. Lately a few software solutions have emerged to fill the void, but these approaches often are priced out of reach for many growing B2B companies.

The fall-back position was to assign an equivalent ad value to media placements, but this approach has been discredited by the industry, and for good reason.  Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE) only look at the output of publicity, a small portion of what PR does. What’s more, it’s generally acknowledged that earned media (publicity) carries more weight (value) than advertising.

B2B firms shouldn’t give up the effort. There are several ways that companies can measure the effectiveness of their PR efforts without spending a fortune:

Map results to goals. At the outset of your PR effort, and regularly after that, marketers should define specific goals for a successful PR program. This can be as rudimentary as increasing exposure in specific publications or as advanced as filling the sales funnel. Goals should be as specific as possible so they can be measured regularly. When possible, associate results to business goals, such as lead generation, increased sales and enhanced funding opportunities.

Build in measurement vehicles. Look for easy ways to measure every effort. Embed links into articles and blogs. Create good content that is shareable via social media. Offer a white paper, study or infographic that can be downloaded from your website. Then measure the results of these efforts. We did a PR campaign for a company that included an infographic and a companion white paper, which was gated. The infographic whet the appetite, and the white paper provided detail. Those who downloaded the white paper entered the sales funnel, so we were able to track that prospect all the way through the funnel. (By the way, the ROI on this was 6,900 percent!)

Look beyond traditional measures. Because good PR positively impacts attitude and perception, it’s okay to look for “soft” measurements that really contribute to the company. For example, one company we worked with told us that their sales reps noticed that the sales cycle started shortening as the PR program took off. That’s because reps didn’t have to spend so much time upfront educating prospects about their company. Other companies we’ve worked with had successful exits that executives credited in part to their increased profiles.

Account for quality. Not all results are the same. Some automated measurement tools treat all media placements as equal, so a press release appearing on an obscure blog is given the same weight as a byline thought leadership article in a highly targeted publication. Measure the value of the output as well as the quantity by devising a matrix that scores articles on sentiment, credibility of the outlet, suitability of the outlet, messages conveyed, accuracy of quotes, etc.

Watch for trends. A good indicator of the equity your PR program is building can be found by benchmarking metrics such as website traffic, website keywords, new/repeat website visitors, social media followers and amplification, and search engine rankings, then measuring at regular intervals to chart how these metrics are trending. A solid PR program should build awareness and contribute to the growth of these metrics.

Share of voice. You can get an idea of how your PR program is performing by tracking outcomes to those of your competitors. This can be done by setting up Google Alerts and tracking the sentiment of these articles, along with their quality and reach. There are software services that can do this automatically, but they often can’t distinguish between high-value and low-value placements.

Finally, give PR programs an adequate amount of time to perform before starting to measure (three months is a good start), and use what you discover to tweak your program. For example, a client was surprised to learn that one of its coveted publications actually did very little to drive sales leads. With this knowledge we were able to pivot our efforts and devote more time to channels and outlets that delivered desired results.

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