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There’s been a lot of talk about PR measurement in recent years. That’s a good thing; measurement is how we ultimately spot the path to success. But there’s a crucial aspect of measurement that doesn’t get discussed enough: benchmarks.

This summer I gave a PRSA talk on measuring campaign performance and included a few pointers on how to use PR benchmarks. Afterwards, an attendee asked me, “What are benchmarks for PR?”

Her question gave me a jolt. But it shouldn’t have because her question isn’t unusual; in one survey only 35 percent of businesses used benchmarks. But that same survey showed that more than 90 percent of those companies rated themselves as successful, while just 71 percent of the non-benchmarking companies said the same.

So let’s dig in and talk about what a benchmark is and why it can be your best friend in PR. We’ll start with some questions you’ve probably asked yourself: How am I doing? I think we’re performing well, but how do I know for sure – and how can I prove it to our clients?

That’s exactly where benchmarking will help you. The truth is, you can never really know how you’re doing until you know how to measure against benchmarks. By establishing benchmarks that tell you the standard return for a certain kind of initiative, you can assess your own effectiveness and show your boss or client that in fact you outperformed the status quo.

Because that’s all a benchmark is: a standard based on actual data to tell you how you rate in the scheme of things. There’s no more guesswork about what constitutes a “good” amount of media wins or social shares; your results are put in context, helping you demonstrate your success while identifying opportunities for improvement.

Benchmarks at Work

Top of Form

Let’s say your team is excited about a new campaign. You brainstormed ideas, came up with a bold strategy, a few excellent pitches, and now the whole team has thrown themselves into the execution. You spend all your allocated budget, put every hand on deck. Finally launch day is here. The team waits eagerly for a positive reaction – only to be greeted with….. eh, not so much of a response.

It’s devastating. But after you pull yourself together, you realize you’ll need to explain this failure to the client. Except you won’t really know the true reason, so you’ll offer theories on how maybe you got scooped by a bigger story or the influencer you thought would be interested just wasn’t, or you’ll say that PR is unpredictable sometimes. None of these explanations will satisfy and your team will look, well, not so great. You might even lose the account.

Rewind. You’ve got that bold campaign and you’re sure it will be a winner. This time, though, you do a few things first:

  • Go back and check your results from previous, similar efforts. Depending on the goals that you’ve agreed to with the client, this might include looking at website traffic, foot traffic, social engagement, or media wins to name a few elements.
  • You establish numbers or indicators for every “result” you want to achieve. For instance, if the last campaign like this one drove a 20% increase in website traffic, then that’s your benchmark for this campaign. If it drove 5 articles in your top tier media list, then your media wins goal is 5. If it drove 100 butts in seats at that user conference, your benchmark is 100 attendees.
  • Boom. Benchmarks. Now aim to beat them.

Now, sometimes, you look at the data and you realize that the last time (or times) you did a campaign like this it didn’t drive the kind of results the client wanted. So now you have the data you need to change the plan with the clients’ blessing. Maybe you decide to scale back in terms of team and budget investment, and you come up with another campaign that’s aligned with previous high performers. Or, you set your client straight with the data and convince them to step away from fantasyland.

In the end, you either turn in solid results or you have a better starting place to understand why you flopped.

PR Pro tip: clients can argue with your experience and instinct all day long but they can’t argue with data.

Making benchmarks in PR the norm

Let’s get something straight: the PR field does follow trends and patterns, even if people think it doesn’t. To illuminate these, it’s your team’s job to compile data on every aspect of performance. How do certain types of campaigns perform? Which influencers are most responsive? What about your team members – is one person a media bulldog while another is a better content creator?

This might sound time-consuming, but the data will pile up faster than you think. Before you know it, you’ll have a roadmap that guides your goals, your campaign strategies and your resource allocation. Not only will you set realistic expectations with clients, but you’ll be able to point to solid trends and predictive analytics that explain your reasoning. You’ll also be able to prove that your campaign results were pretty good compared to past campaigns.

 I don’t have to tell you that all of these benefits will thrill your bosses or clients. Benchmarking makes you look like a superstar, helps you turn in great results, and saves you time and budget. It’s one of the smartest ways there is to excel as a PR pro – so start collecting that data.

 Aly Saxe_ColorAly Saxe is a recovering PR agency owner, and now the CEO and Founder of Iris. A PR industry veteran, Aly started Ubiquity PR in 2007 when she saw a tech boom emerging in the Phoenix, AZ market. Ubiquity grew to have clients all over the world, and carved out a niche with B2B tech companies. Iris, the first SaaS platform designed specifically for PR, was born out of Ubiquity PR when Aly had enough of the chaos. Her agency used a myriad of documents, spreadsheets, and emails to manage its day to day activities. Unfortunately, opportunities were still missed and traditional PR measurement still fell short. Chaotic systems and a lack of visibility into her team’s performance pushed Aly over the edge. Iris was born and she hasn’t looked back since.


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