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Does Your Public Relations Program Measure Up?

June 02, 2016 | By Julie Ogilvie

  • The value of public relations is often under-appreciated because its measurement can be difficult, poor or faulty
  • The SiriusDecisions Metrics Spectrum can help you structure a strong PR dashboard
  • Support your numbers with narrative – measurement should tell a story (but not one of fiction)

Take our poll on public relations metrics!

SiriusDecisions recently conducted a survey of marketing and communications leaders to find out what they were measuring related to public relations performance. We asked some pretty basic questions, like “How many press releases did you put out in the past year?” “How many articles of coverage did you receive?” “How many mentions were there of the company?” 

Other than the number of press releases, the most common answer to all of our questions was “I don’t know.” This leads us to believe that either public relations is not on the executive radar or there is very little measurement happening in public relations. Either reason should be a cause of distress for PR practitioners out there who want to demonstrate the value of what they do (I think that’s everyone!). 

Granted, measuring the value of influencers has always been tricky. What is the value of an article? We know from our research on b-to-b buyers that articles in publications rank as one of the top three content types with the most impact. But still, how can a practitioner of PR quantify its value? 

For years, the industry relied on “advertising equivalency” as a method for placing value on coverage by comparing the space of an article to the amount it would have cost to run an ad of equivalent size. This doesn’t work for a lot of reasons. For one, actual advertising rates vary greatly from what is published on the rate card. Also, in an era of primarily digital communication, the concept of ad pages doesn’t really apply anymore. Finally, there’s the fact that an article is not an ad. An article can be said to have greater credibility and thus greater worth, but if your company gets only one small mention in the last paragraph of a long article, it could also be argued that this coverage had less value than advertising. 

So, what should public relations measure, and what should a public relations dashboard look like? Our advice is to build your dashboard around the SiriusDecisions Metrics Spectrum. This framework is helpful because it creates simple categories of metrics: activities, outputs, impact and readiness. Just putting this simple structure in place in your dashboard will make a world of difference in your ability to tell the story of PR’s value, especially if you combine this with the program families in the SiriusDecisions Campaign Framework (reputation, demand creation, sales enablement and market intelligence). 

For many PR teams, the activities part of the dashboard (“Look! We did a lot of stuff!”), as well as the outputs area (“We got a bunch of coverage!”) is quite well populated. The impact section is often a lonely place, with a few dubious claims rolling through like tumbleweeds (“There was a customer who mentioned seeing an article and later signed a deal!”). Measuring impact is hard for any program geared toward awareness, but there are some steps you can take to begin making the connection between PR and business results: 

  • Be specific. The stronger the link between the coverage and a specific goal, program or product, the stronger your case you can make that your efforts helped produce the result. For instance, if you are creating PR programs and garnering coverage in relation to a specific audience and product, observing the impact in terms of visitors to the product Web page, incoming inquiries and social media followers for a specific corporate account is easier.  Also, build calls to action into PR content such as press releases to directly capture demand that is generated.
  • Stay the course. There are many, many different metrics to choose in any category, but the key is to focus on a limited number over a period of time. Don’t jump around to different metrics – this will only confuse your executives and make them think you’re trying to pull a fast one. Consistent data collection will also help you see long-term trends in what is driving coverage.
  • Tell a story. Be ready to explain any significant changes or events. What made coverage spike in a given month? What PR programs are driving the most Web traffic?  What conversations are growing? What is helping sales get traction? These kinds of stories help executives understand what is happening and why. Pull out a few examples with every monthly dashboard to illustrate what’s working and what isn’t.

B-to-b buyers value earned media as a credible source of information and advice, so we know public relations has an impact. With a little more polish on the public relations dashboard, that value will shine through.

Julie Ogilvie

Julie Ogilvie is a Senior Research Director of Strategic Communications Management at SiriusDecisions. She has held a variety of leadership roles in marketing and communications in her 20+ year career, for both B2B and B2C companies. Follow her on Twitter at @julieogilvie.

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