Measuring the value of PR – The long and short of it!

The findings from PRWeek’s annual top PR consultancy rankings provide important insights into the status of today’s PR industry.

The report reveals that the emergence of ‘Goldilocks’ agencies, so called because they are big enough to cater to clients’ needs with an increasingly diverse offer, while providing an alternative option for clients who don’t want a global network, are making significant contributions to a ‘buoyant’ PR industry.

Some specialist technology PR firms appear in good shape. They are generating new business and growing revenues due to their ability to communicate their value while offering PR and marketing expertise across a diverse range of industry sectors, such as cleantech.

Resonates’ services are diverse and its ability to offer PR and marketing to companies of all sizes – from global corporations to seed funded start-ups – puts it firmly in the Goldilocks category and we know that the results consistently achieved for our clients often exceed expectations and agreed KPIs.

Agencies that fail to measure and communicate such results in a meaningful way to their clients, particularly new ones that are perhaps unfamiliar with the nuances of PR activities, can find themselves having to spend time explaining the value PR brings to integrated marketing campaigns.

Such conversations aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They should be positive and constructive discussions that help manage expectations, demonstrate success and, if necessary, help to realign efforts if things aren’t going to plan. However, they should take place during the early planning stages, rather than when a campaign nears completion.

Trying to explain ‘value’ is meaningless unless we’re able to back it up with evidence that clearly demonstrates the importance of ‘outcomes’ rather than ‘outputs’.

Figuring out what ‘good’ looks like in terms of results and what constitutes success at the start of a campaign is key to building trust and maintaining stakeholder interest. If overlooked then any measurement data becomes worthless and risks being ignored.

AMEC, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, acts as the voice for public relations research and measurement. It provides an international forum for sharing knowledge and best practice about communications research, media intelligence and insights.

For years, the PR industry has used the now much derided AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent) metric to measure campaign results. AVEs are simple to produce and claim to put a financial value on PR and communications work. However, they have fallen out of favour with official trade associations and with forward-thinking PR agencies. The IPR (Institute for Public Relations) views such arbitrary ‘weighting’ schemes as ‘unethical and dishonest’. The CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) states that AVEs have ‘no place in modern, professional PR practice’ while the PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association) states that ‘AVEs measure nothing other than the vanity of those reporting them’.

AMEC offers a useful step-by-step guide for clients and agencies to work together to provide a more effective measurement programme and suggests putting the following steps in place before the start of any campaign.

1. Clarify organisational goals and have a broad and realistic idea of what you want to achieve. For example, are you aiming to increase revenue or customer engagement? Or, are you trying to strengthen brand awareness or improve reputation? This will help provide focus throughout the campaign.

2. Research and prioritise key internal and external stakeholders that will prove most important to achieving these goals. Once you’ve identified your internal stakeholders, ask them what success might look like. These might be senior managers or employees. External stakeholders, such as the media, should be monitored to find out what is being reported by analysing media content.

3. Once the initial research has been carried out and you’ve decided which goals and stakeholders will take priority for PR and social media measurement, it’s time to set specific objectives. For example, you might set a measurement outcome (% change), implement a timeline, select a target audience or formulate an action statement.

‘To sell 50% more IoT-enabled devices to home owners aged 25-55 in rural areas of England’

4. Set realistic KPIs for each objective. These are quantifiable measures that demonstrate progress over time. These might include web visitors, content downloads, sales orders, registrations etc.

5. Benchmark your results. Decide whether you intend to measure your results within your company or compare performance against your competitors.

  • When benchmarking, look at PR activity – what did you actually do? How much content was created? How many interviews were secured? Did you make any new media contacts? How many social media posts were written?
  • Think about awareness, knowledge, interest and support when assessing the response from the media and other influencers. What is the tone and sentiment of the media coverage? Are they hitting the right messages? What’s the volume of coverage like compared to your competitors?
  • Finally, what action has been taken by your target audience? Web traffic, lead generation and increases in sales can easily be measured using data analytics and marketing automation tools. When it comes to brand awareness, customer loyalty and satisfaction levels then surveys, reviews and web analytics will provide useful data when comparing earned, owned and paid-for media.

6. It’s essential to analyse the results and compare this with campaign costs. Data will only provide actionable intelligence for strategic planning if it can be analysed and interpreted correctly. Only by doing this will you get a true indication of your return on investment.

7. You’ve invested considerable time and effort in ensuring your campaign is measurable, having identified target audiences, agreed on metrics and set KPIs. It’s now time to present your findings to key stakeholders in the business. Web analytics data, survey results, trends, reviews, feedback and other ways of showing correlations between PR activity and outcomes will feature in these reports. Dashboards or scorecards that show metrics and performance trends will resonate with key decision makers.

Setting specific and measurable objectives that link to both PR and wider business goals at the very start of a campaign will help maintain focus and demonstrate the value of our work.

Only when we start asking the right questions about PR campaigns, will we then receive more informative and enlightening answers.

A good start might be to avoid focussing on the quantity of media coverage generated or the number of news releases written and start concentrating on the things that really matter – outcomes.

Instead, try asking, “How has this changed behaviour?” This is after all the purpose of PR, isn’t it? That way, we’ll start to have a much better understanding of what good really looks like.

Resonates offers a range of PR and marketing services for businesses of all shapes and sizes from different industry sectors. Why not find out if we’re the right fit for you. (We also appreciate a good night’s sleep and warm porridge!)