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How Do You Measure PR?

Most public relations professionals now measure PR. Most clients expect some form of PR measurement, whether PR is managed by an agency, an in-house team, or both. But with no widely accepted standard for PR measurement, how do you accurately measure PR?

Can you imagine another marketing discipline that used dozens of methods for measuring results? Take search engine marketing for example. The standards are pretty cut and dry: visitors, page views, time on site, cost per click, etc. For email marketing, we have delivery, open rates, click-thru, unsubscribes, opt-ins, etc.

How do you measure PR? In a recent survey conducted by the American Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) and the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), 520 global PR professionals were interviewed about the topic of PR measurement. The survey found that 88% of PR practitioners believe measurement is an integral part of the PR process, and 77% are currently tracking their programs. Am I the only one that thinks this should be 100%?

The ugly truth is that most PR firms have their own approach to measuring results. And while the results of this survey indicate measurement is a priority, and a large percentage of PR pros are tracking results, I wonder how many clients and organizations really know how effective PR programs really are. If PR teams are in control of how PR is measured, it is too easy to cast results in the most favorable light.

So how are PR practitioners measuring PR? Here are some of the most common approaches:

  • Most PR agencies still emphasize publicity results – their ability to generate clips for clients
  • Some PR agencies will use advertising equivalency measures to evaluate publicity placements
  • More progressive agencies measure public opinion or audience sentiment – this includes time-consuming focus groups, polls, surveys
  • Benchmarking results is growing in popularity among PR teams
  • A few agencies use “share of voice” measurements, comparing press results to the results competitors generate (who has more mentions)
  • Many agencies are now using media evaluation tools to compile results

Some of the key findings of the survey include:

  • The overwhelming majority of PR professionals, 88%, believe measurement is an integral part of the PR process (70% believe this strongly).
  • While 77% of respondents claimed to measure their work compared with 69% in a similar survey five years ago, the survey results show that the PR profession are still not agreed on the best tools and methodologies.
  • Measuring ROI (return on investment) on communications is viewed as an achievable goal by the overwhelming majority of professional communicators taking part in the survey. There is, however, very strong agreement that it is possible to calculate ROI on communications, and that demonstrable ROI would enhance the budgets (and status) of PR practitioners.
  • PR Professionals still tend to judge their success criteria more by their ability to place material in the media rather than on the impact such coverage might have on shifting opinion, awareness, or moving markets, although there is evidence that this is changing.
  • The survey found that the tools used by PR professionals includes press clippings – still the favourite – closely followed by AVEs (Advertising value equivalent) and more rigorous tools including Internal Reviews, Benchmarking, and the use of specialist media evaluation tools. Various forms of opinion polling and focus groups also remain as popular tools.

The data indicates there are two camps – the output measurers (clippings and AVEs) and the outcome measurers who tend towards more cerebral – and costly- measures (internal reviews, opinion polls, etc).

Mike Daniels, the member of the Commission on PR Measurement & Evaluation and chairman of AMEC’s Business Development Committee, said: “The survey presents a clear challenge to the media evaluation industry that more education is needed within the PR industry to demonstrate the business benefits of proper evaluation rather than continue to rely on clippings and AVE’s.”

A full report with findings of the survey will be available for participants and the public at the end of July 2009 on

Most PR pros still judge their success by their ability to place material in the media rather than on the impact such coverage might have on shifting opinion, awareness, or moving markets.

How Should PR Be Measured?

Everyone has a different opinion on how PR should be measured. If we’re talking specifically about media relations, I like to use sales models to evaluate campaign success. On the marketing side of the equation, I consider media outlets to be “prospects”. Pitching media outlets is “outbound sales” – often telemarketing. With this model, each team member has a “sales funnel” with projected placements. Each “opportunity” is a potential close for the media relations professional, with each media target representing a different (albeit arbitrary) value. With this approach, status reports become nothing more than activity notes. The real value is in the organization’s ability to track conversion (call to close ratios) for their media relations efforts.

When you get into more complicated areas of public relations, such as public opinion or audience sentiment, it’s difficult to automate these processes (unless you have large budgets and teams). For smaller organizations, this level of effort around measurement can take away from time that should be spent pursuing results.

With the increased use of online strategies and tactics for PR, it only seems logical that teams would adopt many of the tools already on the market for measuring online marketing performance. Simply using unique phone numbers and URLs for each PR campaign can generate a lot of useful numbers to crunch. Monitoring traffic and lead generation from publicity efforts, all the way through a transaction makes the most sense for me. PR agencies should be able to show a contribution to increased revenue, improvements in customer retention, or some other measurable outcome that translates to the bottom line.

What Do Clients Think About PR Measurement?

The survey indicated that clients are becoming more price-sensitive about PR, but at the same time, they are demanding PR agencies measure in more effective and targeted ways. Some of the trends highlighted in the survey include:

  • Client demand for measurement of online communications increased from 29% in 2008 to 41% in 2009
  • Client demand for broadcast media evaluation is up from 15% of assignments in 2008 to 25% in 2009
  • 77% of clients commission single country measurement programs or projects
  • 69% of survey respondents say procurement specialists are becoming more involved in the purchase of measurement and evaluation services

Most PR professionals and clients agree that measuring PR ROI (public relations return on investment) is achievable. The real issue becomes how we should all measure the results of PR. This is an opportunity for professional organizations to step forward and establish some industry-wide standards. This will enable PR services vendors to adapt or develop new solutions to help organizations measure results more effectively. With a variety of new online and social media monitoring products on the market, there will no doubt be tools organizations can leverage to more easily (and accurately) measure PR.

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