By Molly Borchers, Sr. Communications Strategist
For decades, public relations practitioners have struggled to prove our worth. To complicate matters further, our field is getting more and more convoluted. Today, a single tweet from a Kardashian could be worth more than an entire advertising budget.
Many companies put such a focus on ROI based on the dollar amount, yet there is often forgotten value outside of that box, such as keeping competitors out of news, publicizing positive versus negative content and developing a relationship with the community. Measurement just isn’t as cut and dry as it used to be.
The number-one reason that (good) PR measurement is so important is because we can deliver better and more effective communications to help our client partners achieve goals when we have the right data and insights. Not only does it prove the value, but it enables the practitioner to optimize their strategy and be more successful in the future.
For example, we recently found in one of our campaigns that broadcast TV had been reaching more people and driving more positive coverage than print and online outlets. With that data, we were able to make a strategic recommendation to the client partner to increase their PR support of the popular program and other stories that target local TV news stations, creating a bigger positive impact on public perception.
That’s why it was our 2015 resolution to invest in training on measurement. Here is a look into our process.
The Barcelona Principles
In 2010, a group of PR industry leaders gathered in Barcelona at an AMEC conference and developed the Barcelona Principles. There hadn’t previously been any industry-wide measurement standards or guidelines, and too many practitioners were still using Advertising Value Equivalency (AVEs). For those who don’t know, the AVE is an outdated approach to valuing editorial coverage that was developed in the mid 20th century. AVE is what your editorial coverage would cost if it were advertising space. Many folks like it because it actually puts a dollar value to PR results, but it’s now widely accepted that the metric is inaccurate. Here’s a post that explains a few of its flaws.
The Barcelona Principles were developed to fill the need of an accurate, universal standard of measurement.
These principles contain seven general guidelines for practitioners to implement:
- Importance of goal-setting and measurement
- Measuring the effect on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs
- The effect on business results can and should be measured where possible
- Media measurement requires quantity and quality
- AVEs are not the value of public relations
- Social media can and should be measured
- Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement
For a detailed explanation of each principle, take a look at this post.
Measurement Starts with Planning
There’s a reason why goal-setting is first in the Barcelona Principles: effective evaluation starts with effective objective setting. We cannot measure what we cannot benchmark. At its simplest, PR evaluation is simply checking that the objectives set have been met.
As a best practice, WOC begins any client partner program by defining “SMART” objectives – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-based. Our programs are then measured based on those objectives, and strategies are developed in a way that takes people through the communications funnel.
Starting with awareness – “I have heard about that company,” to knowledge – “I know a little bit about that company or brand,” to interest – “I would like to know even more,” to preference – “I will consider them above their competitors for a purchase,” – to action – “I am making a purchase.” One may also argue that there is a level beyond action that we should be striving for – advocacy. This is the development of brand evangelists who will support your brand for life.
Earned Metrics Framework
With the Barcelona Principles and Communications Funnel in mind, WOC takes our goals and objectives and develops an “earned metrics framework” to identify possible metrics for individual PR programs. They are not intended to be the definitive rules of measurement and therefore do not include every possible metric.
The matrix was constructed to reflect the simplified process of how PR works:
- Public Relations Activity – Metrics reflecting the process of producing or disseminating the desired messages (or inputs)
- Intermediary Effect – Metrics reflecting the third party dissemination of the messages to the target audience (or outputs)
- Target Audience Effect – Metrics showing that the target audience has received the communications and any resulting action-driven outcomes (or outcomes)
In the chart above, the communications function is on the horizontal axis, the phases are on the vertical axis and the goal is to get down to the bottom right corner because measuring the effect on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs.
Let’s delve into how this can be applied:
- Start with your inputs or activities – this may be pitching magazines, writing contributed articles or coordinating a speaking engagement
- Next, look at the intermediary effect – these metrics all correlate with the media in which stories are placed and have to do with “outputs” as we typically know them
- Finally, we’re looking at the targeted audience effect or the outcomes. Once we get this row through the communications funnel, we’ve reached our goal, whether that may be leads generated, sales, market share, customer loyalty and so on
All this information would be useless if we didn’t put it in action. Here are some first steps to implement these measurement best practices into your campaign:
- Adopt an Earned Metrics Framework in annual planning to determine what metrics to measure and set up your media tracking to reflect these metrics
- Discuss outcome goals with client partners
- Create SMART objectives
- Start talking to client partners about measuring sentiment and share of voice, if appropriate
- Track links and integrate campaigns with Google Analytics
- For B2C companies, plot PR volume spikes against sales data
- Do what makes sense for your client partners – think in terms of outcomes rather than outputs