Can PR Actually Be Measured?

Claire TopalianPosted by

Measuring PR is one of those age old questions. Many agencies will refuse to try, others will claim they can give you detailed metrics. The truth is, you guessed it: somewhere between those two options. One of the biggest challenges in measuring PR is that media outlets, in part, stay competitive by refusing to provide detailed reports of how your pieces performed. That said, there are secondary indicators you can look at — they aren’t perfect, but they get you started somewhere.

Here’s how we recommend measuring PR impact, and a few benchmarks you can actually rely on when monitoring your outcomes.

Understand why you want PR

Companies pursue PR for a variety of reasons and with specific goals in mind. This is why there is no “one size fits all” approach to measuring the impact of your PR (and there certainly isn’t just one strategy). These are the top reasons that our clients choose to invest in PR:

  1. Brand awareness & share of voice
  2. Investment dollars
  3. Customer acquisition
  4. Executive leadership publicity

These goals are all different, so of course, each one requires a unique strategy. When our clients tell us that they are looking for user acquisition, for example, we stop pouring all our energy into landing Tier 1 features. Why? Although Tier 1 coverage is always exciting, we know that it doesn’t result in enough new customer conversions for the time spent (in most cases). In these situations, we actually steer clients in other directions — like niche blogs and publications where their ideal customer is spending time.
PR is an investment in your brand and your credibility — business growth outcomes like increased traffic and customer engagement can be supported through PR tactics, but we actually don’t recommend PR as tactic #1 in many of these cases.

The PR Scorecard

Once you’ve established the main motivation behind your PR investment, we recommend creating your own scorecard that captures exactly what you want to see come from your PR investment. As previously mentioned, there are only a few key PR outcomes that you should be focused on. The table below provides some realistic KPIs associated with each category.

GoalKPIs
Increase brand awarenessWebsite traffic, inbound links, media mentions, new website visitors, referral traffic, blog/newsletter subscribers, domain authority.
Increase market sharePre- and post campaign survey of brand awareness, number or leads generated, share of voice.
Improved customer engagement/loyaltyEngagement on social media, tone and sentiment of mentions, brand preference over the competition, customer referrals or reviews.

Once you’ve honed in on the category that is most meaningful for your business right now, you can develop your own scorecard for PR measurement. If you’re working with an external PR person or firm, having a solid grasp on these pieces will ensure that you get more out of your engagement.

Sample PR Measurement Approach

Most of our clients just want to see a certain amount of media activity and then watch their own metrics. We’re happy to work with people on creating their own model or a mixture of a few different approaches. Since we’ve worked with a lot of startups, we know that proving the investment upfront is a big deal, especially for tight budgets.

The McMedia Index is one popular approach for measurement. Here’s how it works:

  1. Outlet: How relevant are the outlets to their audience? Rated on a scale from one to three.
  2. Visibility: What is the potential reach of each outlet? Rated above average to below average.
  3. Story type: What is the tone and content of the coverage? The article may highlight an emotional benefit (three), rational benefit (two) or just mention the product/brand (one).

Another method, adopted by Echosign, appeals to many startup clients in particular:

We developed an almost Fibonacci-esque scale for all PR hits, from 1-15. TechCrunch, WSJ, NYT were a 15. A “1” was a blog written by someone decent but with little traffic. Then our VP of Marketing would assign targets in between these two extremes. We’d take a multiplier x1 is Echosign was prominently mentioned in the piece. We’d add a x3 if the article was solely about Echosign. All press/PR hits were worth a rating of 1 to 45.

What we would add to this approach would then come in the form of secondary tracking. Depending on your own scorecard, keep a list of your outcomes that can be observed through site traffic, social engagement, new leads, app downloads, etc.

When you know, you know

Lastly, try to keep in mind that even when PR can be tough to measure with specific data points, there is a strong abstract value that can be observed when a huge win is secured. Recently, one of our clients was featured in a Tier 1 publication. In a very simple / quick look at Google Analytics, we could plainly see the impact of that hit on site traffic by isolating the date range around the published article (see below). Even though this client wasn’t leaning on a specific scorecard, the impact on the brand itself was evident — and they may be seeing results from that one feature for years to come.

As always, we recommend taking a close look at your own goals for PR ahead of time, and then engaging with a professional team. If you have any questions about PR measurement, get in touch with us — we’d love to help.