The most effective PR pros agree measurement is more than impressions, and yet clients and leadership keep requesting those numbers anyway.
How can we show stakeholders that taking PR measurement beyond impressions helps us better celebrate success — while also providing greater insight into what we can improve?
This has been a recurring topic at our “PR Pals” group dinners. After meeting a decade ago at an agency where we ranged in seniority (or lack thereof) from assistant account executive to vice president, we reconnected and now gather regularly to talk shop. We’re spread across three cities and work in different industries: nonprofit, health care, and food and beverage. But we’re all interested in keeping up with industry trends — and with continuously improving our craft.
After some lively discussions on the topic of PR measurement, we came up with five steps to help ourselves and our fellow PR pros make measurement frameworks more impressive than mere impressions:
1. Define your client(s). By “client,” we mean anyone who matters to you. Who do you need to dazzle? Who is your immediate client — and who are their clients? In our conversations we realized that when we approach our definition of clients as a question rather than an assumption, we discover opportunities to demonstrate the value of public relations beyond the communications team.
Your immediate clients should be obvious, but you might need to dig a little to discover who they’re trying to impress. Maybe it’s their boss, for instance.
Or maybe your client needs to secure funding to execute a larger communications plan, and is trying to impress a colleague from another team. There are always main clients if you’re on the agency side of the business, and oftentimes, marketing colleagues if you’re in-house. They could also be sales teams, C-level executives or board members who influence the role of PR at an organization’s macro level.
2. Determine what your client wants out of their metrics. Clients have different business challenges and opportunities, but it’s never to merely secure social media impressions. Whether they want to find new ways to build global consumer brands in the United States, ensure that patients, news media and investors understand the findings of an important clinical program, or challenge public perceptions about a complicated societal issue, we have to learn why clients want to use public relations to solve the challenges they face.
Besides figuring out metrics that will resonate more with clients, we can counsel them to establish baselines that will lead to more meaningful measurements. For example, one of the most common business challenges we see is creating greater brand awareness — but often, the real question is not asked.
But when clients say they want greater brand awareness, they may have other questions in mind — such as how to prepare a market to launch a new product, revive sales of a mature brand or increase donations and volunteer efforts. By digging into the client’s business challenges and asking specific questions at the outset, we can help them think more about baseline measurements that will make measuring the end of the program much stronger and more helpful.
3. Ensure sure your plan addresses your client’s challenges, and then measure it. It’s rather obvious that counting campaign impressions doesn’t help clients show their bosses how public relations helps achieve the organization’s goals. So the question becomes: What metrics will demonstrate the value of public relations? In one trend we’ve seen, clients are looking for PR programs that support sales goals.
When assembling a plan, think about metrics that will show the client how PR addresses his or her actual business challenges, and how you will collect baseline and post-campaign data. Where it’s more straightforward, as with consumer products, allocate time to work with customers (or with teams that work directly with customers) to see whether interest in your product increases after a PR event or campaign.
However, in industries such as pharmaceuticals, it can be harder to connect PR results to revenue, given the complexity of prescription-based sales. In these situations, try to offer creative alternatives for PR measurements, such as tracking patient traffic to a disease-screening tool or increases in online conversations.
4. Sell it in. Plans that directly address business challenges have helped us avoid being asked to include ad-equivalency metrics in our recap decks. If you still get that question anyway, explain your rationale for including those additional metrics.
Educate your client about other metrics to consider, such as tonality and share of voice. Be clear about metrics that will be more challenging to capture (such as those in pharma sales) and explain proxies that could be used instead.
5. Celebrate your measurements. When you define your client(s) in the first step, also take time to consider how you may need to present measurement data differently for each client’s particular needs. A communications client may be interested in volume of media coverage and message pull-through (maybe even impressions), for example. And while a marketing client will be more interested in lead-generation indicators, a sales client will want to know if customers noticed.
In addition to celebrating what worked, some clients may want to understand what didn’t work and why. Think of ways to create productive dialogues around that information and how to improve recommendations for the next time.
While discussions of “lessons learned” may not make it into your final presentation to the leadership team, such analysis is crucial for fine-tuning your campaign at a tactical level and showing the value of public relations in integrated campaigns. Measurement can evoke feelings of dread, but when done right it’s the best part. You get to celebrate the great work you did and its impact in the real world.
To make your PR measurements more impressive than impressions, take time at the beginning to map out who asked for support and why. Use our step-by-step approach to identify metrics that matter, manage expectations and find proxies for metrics that are trickier to track.
- Alessandra Simkin, Senior Manager, External Communications, Danone North America
- Erin Graves, Senior Director, Corporate Affairs, Epizyme
- Andrea Roley, Director of Digital Communications, Center on Addiction
- Shalon Roth, award-winning author of “How to Succeed in a PR Agency: Real Talk to Grow Your Career & Become Indispensable” and Founder of PR-it