Fiction: PR can’t be measured – Take 3

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This is the next entry in our “Best of” series, in which we venture deep into the vault to replay blog opinion and insight that has withstood the test of time. Today’s post hails from February 2008. We welcome your feedback.

By Francis Moran

As part of my continuing series of Francis’s favourite PR fictions, subtitled “Everything I know that’s wrong about PR I learned from technology company executives,” I have written a couple of posts on PR measurement addressing the common myth that straight lines can’t be drawn between a company’s PR efforts and any kind of real evaluative yardstick. I return to the topic today because I am getting some interesting comments on the subject. Clearly, it’s something that people are keen to explore.

Our approach here at inmedia is to measure outputs, outcomes and impact. In my first post, I described what we mean by outputs, which are little more than the critical path, or a list of how much PR stuff the client is buying. While most PR agencies and practitioners will set clear parameters for their outputs, too few are prepared to go any further than that.

We insist that every program go at least one step beyond this minimal evaluation to set, and measure performance against objectives for outcomes, or the amount, nature and content of the media and analyst coverage our efforts are expected to generate. In my more than 20 years as a communications practitioner, I have found distressingly few others who will commit to being held accountable for the actual results of their programs in clear, unambiguous terms that allow the client to make a rational ROI analysis about whether the promised level of media and analyst engagement is worth the cost of the program.

Fortunately, there is a growing and increasingly sophisticated audience of both practitioners and clients insisting on this. Many are deploying simple yardsticks that go well beyond what I call “thud value,” or the noise the clippings book makes when you drop it on the boardroom table in the hopes the client will be impressed by the sheer number of column inches. These yardsticks, which we commonly use, include determining which media outlets and analyst firms are the most influential — we designate them Tier 1 — and then telling the client exactly how well the program is expected to do in terms of percentage of Tier 1 targets engaged, types of stories, the nature of the messaging, numbers of analyst briefings, speaking engagements, and so on.

Many practitioners go well beyond this to provide granular analysis of the actual content of the media coverage. Although few of our B2B technology clients generate the volumes of media coverage that make such a statistical exercise either practical or meaningful, I am a huge advocate of media content analysis as both a strategic research and a program evaluation tool. I will write more about this topic in a future post on PR measurement because it deserves fuller treatment.

My second post described how even measuring outcomes often falls short of meaningful evaluation, especially in cases, admittedly rare but real nonetheless, where there is masses of coverage but no persistent impact on the client’s business objectives.

Which brings me to the final, most critical, hardest to implement and most elusive category of objectives we strive to track, impact. I will present case studies over my next several posts to illustrate how many of these have been used to help our clients calculate a reliable and meaningful ROI on their PR spend, but here is a range of common metrics that can be used to measure the impact a program has on everyday business objectives:

  • Web traffic, measured in hits to a company site, Google mentions, search engine rankings, and so on.
  • Demand creation, or what used to be known as lead generation. I like the newer term because it distinguishes between mere enquiries and actual demand for the product or service.
  • Sales cycle acceleration.
  • Customer interest in the media coverage.
  • Investment secured.
  • Increased sales, revenues and profit. (Now THAT is what we’re really talkin’ about!)

I’d be intrigued to hear from others as to what they think of these metrics, and also to hear about other yardsticks that are used. Subsequent posts will deal with how the data required to deploy these metrics can be gathered, as well as presenting, as mentioned, specific case study examples.

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