Measuring PR: Size is Not All That Matters

Good Public Relations (PR) should be about more than bragging rights,  increasing media hits and obtaining coverage in tier-one media.

That being said, it is often the case that coverage, impressions and media  attendees (at a press conference) are often used as Key Performance  Indicators (KPIs) to gauge success. Being mentioned on CNN, featured in  Forbes or having a million tweets are all impressive feats (and require  gigantic PR efforts), but do these really matter to your business?

Go Beyond AVEs

Often such measurements show whether a certain PR tactic, not the overall strategy, is working. Referred to as Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs), these have traditionally ruled PR reporting across the globe.

AVE is what your editorial coverage would have cost if it had been an advertisement. To figure out what that cost would have been multiply the column inches (or time if it is on radio or TV) by the ad rate for that page (time slot). After you do the same for every clip in that month, add up all of the costs to get a total. The total cost is the cost of the ads that theoretically could have occupied the space (time) filled by all your editorial coverage for that month.

I am not going to go into the nuances of AVEs, as they do have their strengths and weaknesses -especially in understating the value of editorial coverage. However, AVEs are the reason why many people wrongly view PR as ‘free advertising’. It’s not even advertising!

More importantly, AVEs cannot tell you whether your PR strategy is feeding into your marketing funnel, creating the right opinions or helping to drive qualified leads.

The key reasons for this are that AVEs:

  • Cannot capture the true outcome of a PR campaign – they limit it to the context of advertising
  • Do not measure the variety of messages delivered via media
  • Cannot measure the value of keeping a client out of the media spotlight, especially in crisis communications
  • Cannot distinguish the value of being mentioned in a publication that may have a direct impact to the marketing funnel (as opposed to the number of global readers)
  • Cannot properly measure the impact of social media and blogs

PR’s Real Reason

It’s time to get back to the basics. For us, PR has always been about driving engagement. Often we try to impress the media so that they will be persuaded to write an article that in turn will increase the visibility of a key product, service or a particular organization’s viewpoint. This, we hope, will influence readers or eyeballs into potential customer leads, which will then drive them to engage in a way that is favorable to the company.

Measuring this engagement is becoming increasingly important in the social media and connected era. In the “yester-world”, information was not available on tap, and press releases and events played an important role in driving the right engagement. Becoming noticed by the right media had a huge impact on a business, although sustaining that interest is where many PR efforts falter even today.

In today’s connected world, where everyone is glued to online and social media, driving the right engagements is even more important. Without having a solid take on how to measure these engagements, you may lose out on potential leads, or in some cases, even be blindsided by detrimental views of your company.

Take a Holistic Approach

Instead of depending on AVEs, having a strong scorecard system is essential. It needs to be created based on the target audience, tone, prominence, message delivery and the inclusion of a recommendation or endorsement.

This needs to be supported by tracking surveys that measure how well PR efforts are influencing the audience through engagements and educational programs that can help bloggers and other media understand the company’s value proposition. After all, if they don’t, their readers won’t either.

Lastly, we need to measure PR like we do sales. Using current marketing analytics and surveys allows this, and all of these need to then be tied to the company’s overall goals.

More importantly, measuring PR should be a part of an integrated communications program. It should not be seen as separate. Such an approach will ensure that your PR efforts are feeding your marketing funnel.

Measuring PR effectiveness is critical, but the days of using advertising numbers to gauge PR are long gone. We need to understand how PR is driving engagement. Those who have a clear idea on how well they are engaging can then make the right strategic decisions. If you are doing anything else, you run the risk of being overlooked and ineffective in your efforts.