PR’s Measurement Problem

We recently had a client ask us if we could provide a report that showed exactly how many people read each of the articles in which they were featured. The answer, of course, is no.

While I’m aware of at least one start-up that’s working with a select group of publishers to monetize their information about page views and time spent on pages, the cost for this data certainly will be prohibitive for B2B companies with modest marketing budgets.

The bigger problem, however, is that this is the wrong question to ask in the first place. After all, what difference does it make whether someone reads an article if they don’t take action?

For as long as PR has been an industry, executives have struggled to measure results that are difficult to quantify, including attitudes, perceptions and engagement. This requires significant upfront research and ongoing focus groups or surveys to benchmark and chart these trends. What growing B2B company has the time or budget for this?

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, not its value. Then again, we’re back to the original question: how can we be sure readers saw the article?

A better way to measure the value of earned media is to determine if it is helping the organization reach its marketing goals. At the outset of a 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 gaining a greater share of voice, or as advanced as filling the sales funnel.

Goals should be as specific as possible so they can be measured regularly. Whenever possible, associate results to business goals, such as lead generation, increased sales and enhanced funding opportunities.

Build in the right measurement vehicles

Look for ways to be able to claim ownership of the fruits of your PR efforts. This can be done by embedding unique links into articles and blogs that will track back to your site and are associated with PR or a certain campaign.

Create good content that is shareable via social media and track it. Offer a white paper, study or infographic that can be downloaded from your website using unique URLs that PR owns.

We created a PR campaign for a company that included proprietary data insights with actionable information. We communicated the information using 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!)

Because good PR positively impacts attitude and perception, it’s okay to look for “soft” measurements that provide value. 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.

Finally, Google Analytics can provide a good indicator of the success of your PR program by benchmarking metrics such as website traffic, search keywords, and user acquisition. You can correlate traffic spikes to the publishing of an article or news release, and look for trends in these metrics as your PR program matures.

The key to all this is to set goals and measure against those goals.

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