PR Measurement Formula #Fails?

One of our clients, whom I respect enormously, wanted to run this PR measurement formula by you all.

“Say the client spends $100,000 on PR, in one year.  For the sake of argument, let’s say PR is the biggest (or only) marketing vehicle.  In that one year time period, the client gets 1M website impressions.  Could you not divide 1M impressions by $100K and claim PR is driving leads to the website at a rate of 10–cents per impression?”

IStock_000005669191XSmallI am such a hopeless case when it comes to math.  The “strategic part” of my brain shuts down and runs scurrying behind the elementary school–aged part of my psyche … which in turn quakes as if it’s been asked to solve a Physics problem in front of the classroom.  Yea, it’s that bad.

So I turned to Twitter and asked my friends there for their gut reaction.

Gotta love Twitter. One of the first responders was Chuck Hemann, VP of Digital Strategy & Analytics for Ogilvy 360DI and author of the upcoming Social Media Metrics for Dummies.  I think he’s qualified.  Chuck sagely replied, “That’s a feasible theory, if impressions were a measure of anything worthwhile. What if, of those 1.2m impressions, only .2m were target?”

Jonathan Gardner, director of communications at Vibrant Media, also weighed in: “I want conversions!”

Corianda Dimes told me to check out the Barecelona Declaration of Measurement Principles instead. I’ve heard a bit about this approach but no one is clamoring for it nor excitedly pointing to it as our industry’s holy grail, at least not that I can tell.

IStock_000002078841XSmallEdelman’s Dave Fleet suggested “Media Relations Rating Points” as an alternate approach.  According to the website, you can “Evaluate your media coverage (i.e. your clips, airings) for tone and criteria. Enter an audience reach number using the media outlet database provided by The MRP system will then automatically calculate your MRP score and your Cost-Per-Contact.”  (Sounds interesting … Anyone tried this out?  Care to report back to the class, with a sample report?)

Ultimately, pretty much all the Twitterati who responded barfed on the client’s “measurement proposal,” yet the varying REASONS for rejecting it spoke to the problem.  As I tweeted at the time: “PR flails re: measurement — thus clients make #$% up. What answer works for nearly EVERY client?”

It remains an industry conundrum.  “Pretty charts” is not the right answer. Can PR even drive the answer?  Or must CMO’s decide once and for all, “Thou shalt measure your PR results like so … ?”

Seems to me that there is no lack of enthusiasm for measurement; if anything, everyone is measuring everything, there is just no agreement on which metrics are meaningful, and how to assign credit for the good results across the marketing matrix.

After all, a reasonable reply to Mr. Gardner’s request for “conversions” might be, “PR can help widen the sales funnel by bringing in more (and more qualified) leads; but if the website sucks, or if your salespeople suck, we can not be held responsible for conversions.” There are too many complexities in the process to hold hard & fast to a conversion-based measurement model.

Likewise, Mr. Fleet’s MRRP system left the client cold. “Why should I care about the agency’s cost-per-contact?”

And whereas Chuck Hemann makes a fine point that raw web traffic is not as valuable as qualified web traffic, to a marketer trained in Web Analytics — who trusts the PR Agency to get coverage in relevant media outlets in the 1st place — the 1M net new visitors are good in-and-of-themselves, and hey, “If .2 of 1M visitors convert, no one’s gonna be complaining that we’re wasting money on PR.”

So, is that it?  Should PR be measured, simply, for “widening the funnel, i.e. driving website traffic, via relevant media placements?”

School me.

UPDATE: for God’s sake, read the comments on this post!

Posted on: February 14, 2011 at 9:01 am By Todd Defren
36 Responses to “PR Measurement Formula #Fails?”


  • Katie Paine says:

    I’m not sure I can add much to the conversation, but I will add my $.02. Shonali neglected to mention that what made her program so brilliant, is that we were able to prove a correlation between the increase in impressions and the increase in donations. HOWEVER, while there was a correlation, we never considered translating it into a value per impression because we weren’t showing cause and effect, just the correlation. In many cases that is sufficient. More to the point, if your media effort just drove traffic to your landing page, who knows WHY it got there. If you use a specific URL and measure the conversions from that URL, you might have a valid metric — assuming of course conversions were the goal. But what about the idea that the website is just the start of the engagement process. If your client were smart, he or she would offer some great content and get people to subscribe or register on the site, thereby starting an ongoing relationship. That way you might actually find out if the impression was worth anything at all.

  • The shift from only 30% assessing revenue from social media to 50% brings hope that at some point, all social media managers will realize that social media needs to pay its bills. Monetizing interactivity isn’t easy, but it needs to be done to justify the costs.
    Thanks for the insights.

  • Shonali is right — what is it we’re trying to do with a campaign? Once we define that, working backward from there will help us define what measures we need to put in place. Also – cost-per-impression can be a good metric against which to compare paid media cost-per-impression. It can help loosen up those budget dollars a little …

  • A lost hot-air balloonist saw a PR measurement strategist walking along and so lowered his balloon down so he could ask the guy, “Where am I?”

    Said the PR measurement strategist, “Compared to what?”

    That, in a nutshell, captures my view on PR measurement. It’s not what we measure that counts so much as what we’re comparing it to.

    In most cases, we compare it to objectives that are set at the outset of the campaign and, in such instances, whatever is important to the client — web site hits, media impressions, previous year’s performance, competitive or industry performance — is valid.

    We set objectives for three things: outputs, outcomes and impact.

    Outputs are the scope of work. How much PR activity is the client buying and did we deliver. Easy to measure, important to know but not terribly insightful.

    Outcomes are the number, scope, spread, placement and content of the media coverage — or analyst reports, or speaking engagements or whatever — our efforts are intended to produce. This is the one on which we usually hang the bulk of our reputation. We said we’d get you this number of articles across this selection of media outlets communicating these agreed-upon messages over this time frame. We said it would cost this much money to do so. You agreed that would be good value for money. Did we deliver? Did you get the return we said you would on the investment we asked you to make?

    Finally, we set objectives for impact: What did all those PR outcomes do for harder business goals? Are we brave enough to set objectives for the number of leads that will be directly attributable to PR and for the revenue those leads will create? Are we happy enough with proxy measurements like web traffic? Again, whatever business goals are important to the client are valid objectives against which the PR program can be measured.

    Bottom line: Compared to what are we measuring performance?

  • Seth Duncan says:

    As others have pointed out in their comments, earned media from PR is likely to produce higher conversion rates than advertising. I’ve seen this pretty consistently with the client’s I’ve worked with. That being said, an impressive 20% conversion rate from a traffic source that has the $100 CPM you described won’t always produce ROIs that are more impressive than online advertising. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that each conversion produces $200 for the client here. That would translate to a 399% ROI for PR—which sounds pretty high. But, what’s tricky for PR is that cheap online marketing tactics tend to produce similar ROIs even if they have a much, much lower conversion rate. If your client reached 1,000,000 viewers with an ad rate of $15 CPM (which is about what a site like TechCrunch would charge), you would only need a 3% conversion rate to match the ROI of the PR activity outlined above. If you apply the same marketing logic to ads on Facebook, which have a CPM rate around $.15, you would only need a measly .04% conversion rate to produce the same 399% ROI. Of course, this is just a hypothetical example, and there’s going to be plenty of situations where PR efforts will be associated with a much lower CPM. But, there is obviously some risk to applying digital marketing KPIs to PR. It’s not always going to help PR stand out compared to ads and paid search—at least not in a good way.

    It’s important to remember that PR produces greater long-term benefits than inexpensive forms of online marketing. Long-term customer equity is one. Another is that earned online media tends to last much longer than advertisements, and news stories will be findable in search engines months or years after a campaign has ended. PR activities can also produce cost-savings that other forms of marketing don’t. Ultimately, KPIs like CPM and conversion rates are an important part of any digital communications measurement dashboard, but they shouldn’t be the only metrics you use.

  • Frank Ovaitt says:

    Great blog, great posts. Several of them remind me of something that Doug Pinkham (president of the Public Affairs Council) says when he lectures to my graduate-level public relations research course at The George Washington University:

    “Resist the pressure to quantify performance before you define your value to the success of the organization.”

  • Great post, and great comments, too!

    My two cents:

    What makes PR measurement even more complicated is that PR also has an effect on the performance of other marketing or communication channels. For instance:
    - A better brand awareness or image will boost your marketing performance (you’re more likely to pay attention to a banner or click it if you already know the brand);
    - More online media mentions will help your SEO (with more backlinks, etc)…

    Bottom line: in a real-life scenario, you can’t isolate the results of each separate channel. Even traditional marketing indicators (including traffic of conversion indicators) become biased when there’s PR in the mix.

    Which is why, in a certain way, these indicators are really interesting to watch if you want to assess your PR performance. I’m not trying to advertise here, but at PressKing we’ve developed a tool that helps companies track various performance indicators, such as online (& social) media mentions, website audience, number of backlinks, Alexa Rank, number of Facebook/Twitter fans/followers and interactions, etc: most of the times, what we can see is that all these curves are strongly correlated.

    My conclusion is that we should start by paying more attention to the indicators we already have, keeping in mind that they don’t reflect the performance of a single marketing / PR / communication channel, but of all these channels altogether!

  • David Brown says:

    Hey, awesome blog post here. I’d say your math seems to be there with correct calculations. In response to the theory of projection singular to each cause as independent effective methods seems a bit off to me. Say .2 million of that traffic was targeted by PR representation, does this mean in attempt the profits were only double of the 100k in a year? My answer would be no. I believe like a viral market, an image grows viral as well. Perhaps 1 million arrived to this site by other sources, how many were of those 1 million impressions were targeted by viral success and spreading word of mouth due to proper PR. With any association, all must be looked at as a whole for each one pushes the other with independent features and dynamics merger. The question should be, is this dynamic of our business pulling it’s weight, are we satified. If so, let it grow and if not, try new alternatives.

    I’m not the most qualified to make this statement but this is my opinion for that matter. My business is still in it’s early stages and we are looking for the best methods of marketing to match our budget. Perhaps you can assist me on a current task on my business agenda? We need something like this that creates free branding concepts?

    Do you have any thought on this?

  • Thanks so much Todd for the provocative post and to everyone for the amazing and thoughtful string of comments. What an excellent discussion of some of the fundamental concepts of PR and measurement. I am going to suggest to our Measurement Standard readers that it is required reading.

    Oh, and my two cents is that (as several people have already touched on) first off your client is confusing PR with marketing, and secondly, your client is confusing impressions with something worth measuring.

  • Trace Cohen says:

    I am new to the industry and this is one of the first questions I asked my boss and colleagues to only be surprised by no solid answer. The PR profession has been around for who knows how long and yet we still find inherent value in it, though we can’t really measure it’s true value. From my experience now, my question is are we trying measuring the wrong thing or only a piece of the whole?

    There is more to PR than just publicity and delivering “results” through coverage, and sadly they are just as intangible in terms of measurement.

    The majority of the time I spend with my clients revolves around, strategy, timing, branding, messaging and all the other “ings” you can think of. PR is a very intellectual profession and our clients rely on us when it comes to a new release or announcement to make the right decision. As a few comments have already stated, it is all about setting the expectations and not leading with your chin. How can you measure analyzing the situation that your client is in based on the market conditions, competitors in the industry to finely tune each word in a release to resonate with your customer?

    Social media truly is one of the only measurable aspects out there – Page views, comments, retweets, Facebook likes, stumbles etc. Can you correlate it to sales? Maybe. An uptick in traffic through coverage that was passed around in addition to the media’s readers.

  • Matt Koppelman says:

    There has been a lot of sharp discussion above, but Jeff Stolarcyk brought up a much larger matter in the very first response: What PR can measure doesn’t matter unless a clear idea of what success looks like is constructed first.

    I had a colleague who, while sitting in a prelim meeting regarding a credit card company, asked ran off the following questions:

    “Do we want people to spend more/less? Do we want people to pay their balance faster/slower? Do we want people to spend their money on a certain product set or with a certain vendor? Do we want to convert a competitor’s consumers? Do we want to keep our consumers with our card?”

    The short version: what are we actually trying to accomplish? You have that tidbit and you can backtrack -maybe direct links, maybe indirect links- back to the single measurable piece you need to abide by.

    Impressions, bringing us back to the original example, is a single tool – but it doesn’t go into every toolbox.

    The type of questions you should be asking before pen even lifts off paper can be appied within each subset of “PR” (a catch-all term, but that’s for another time and place), as there can be an overwhelming amount of data to collect and analyze.

    Asking it may be the first step, but making sure it gets answered is a BIG step. It could also potentially be the most important one of your campaign since everything else flows from that point – I mean, why would you bother with tactics that can’t/don’t illustrate the type of impact you are being graded upon?

  • So, typical of my nature, I’m going to offer a completely different angle to think about. Much of the discussion here revolves around PR’s upside: generating leads, generating favorable brand impression, etc. As such, there’s a desire to compare it to other vehicles that create a similar upside, like direct marketing, banner ads (CPM, CTR), etc. That’s a fair thing for the client to try, but the many problems with this are outlined in the comments to this article thus far.

    But let’s look at it the other way. Let’s look at “downside mitigation” versus “upside creation.” Every day in our personal and business lives we use downside mitigation techniques called “insurance.” Now think of it this way: If I paid my premium and did NOT have a house fire that year, did my insurance company do a good or bad job?

    Proving a negative is always impossible. However, one can assess the performance of the insurance company on a few measures. First, what did they do to prevent/limit fires? That’s in the interest of both of us and, in fire insurance, caused the creation of Underwriter’s Laboratories. You also get a discount if you have a remotely monitored fire alarm to encourage you to adopt this key mitigation tool. Second, if there were a fire, what did they do? Did they act quickly and intelligently to mitigate the damage? Third, did the insurance enable me to get on with other important aspects of my life, like getting a mortgage or signing a contract? And so on.

    PR is a bit like insurance in this sense. A solid PR presence can coach company communicators to help prevent fires, and can detect fires early. A solid PR presence can mitigate the damage caused by a fire, we all know that. And a solid PR/AR/MR/IR presence is the key to an IPO as well as a threshold requirement for numerous branding activities. Given all of that prevention of downside… and upside from lead generation is gravy!

  • Even if PR is the biggest or only marketing effort, that doesn’t take into account word of mouth, search, Yelp, and other forms of consumer generated traffic. It doesn’t take into account the staff talking to their friends and families. It doesn’t taken into account existing awareness from previous marketing efforts.
    My biggest question is: Why are they measuring site visits? Have they taken into account bounce rates, time on site, etc? Shouldn’t they be measuring conversions instead? Even that is dicey because you may have 1 million impressions and only 100,000 make a purchase today. 6 months from now when the company has moved on to other tactics or another vendor, a percentage of those original impressions is back for a purchase.
    I know many companies and marketing managers get really hung up on measurement because they can then back up their decisions. But the fact is that marketing has been around far longer than it could be measured. Unless Ford put a tracking device on everyone that watched it’s commercials, there is no way to know what impact their $4 million spot had on sales. You can infer some numbers based on sales for the next week or so, but past that, how do you know the commercial had any relevance.

  • sTUART BRUCE says:

    Interesting post and comments. But you’ve got to start from what you’re trying to achieve and what public relations actually is. Public relations is NOT marketing communications, although it can and does play a massive part in that. Public relations is about reputation, what you do, what you say and what people say about you. Therefore your objectives and ‘big’ measurables should all be related to that. What you can then do, and what we’re talking about here, is setting some related KPIs can that provide indicators (but not evidence) of success. So your example is a good indicator of success, alongside lots of others such improvement in search rank, Twitter followers, Facebook likes, positive/negative coverage etc. None of these mean that much in themselves, but they can be useful indicators. Each KPI can be ‘mapped’ to one of your communications objectives, which in turn can be mapped to your business objectives (sales, recruitment, share price – whatever). Evaluated intelligently they give a good indication of if your communications activity is working. But as KD Paine would explain more eloquently than me, that’s not the same as ROI.

  • Wittlake says:

    Todd, great post and great comments. Being a marketer without in the weeds PR experience, this was particularly enlightening to read. There are corrolaries to my background in digital media (please, no more clicks, tell me what actually happened!).

    Reading the comments, one thing that is clearly there, but not directly said by many, is that as marketers we need to drive change. Impressions, clicks, web traffic, etc isn’t enough. Before we even get to discussions of driving revenue, we need to stop talking about absolute measurements. Are we increasing traffic? Increasing mentions? Improving perception? In a few instances, we can measure the results of our efforts directly, thus the overused impression or click, but these are just the starting points (if they even start something!) and don’t give us measurement of what we changed.

    – @wittlake

  • Ari Herzog says:

    I suck at math, too, Todd, but if I can step back to the meat of the question, why would any organization spend $100,000 to talk to people? That’s PR, right? Talking to people? Continuing to be an influence for customers and a new place to know for prospects.

    How do they figure $100K unless salaries are involved?

  • Kelly Rusk says:

    If a company has a holistic measurement framework in place than it’s easy to measure PR.

    Unfortunately most do not, and as others have mentioned, the reason PR measurement is such a messy free-for-all is it is often at the absence of measurable objectives that are tied to business outcomes.

    There’s no one-size-fits-all approach but industry standards on measurement would be an enormous step in the right direction. This is what the Media Relations Points system (that Dave Fleet mentioned) aims to do in Canada, however the fact that it’s tied to one vendor is unfortunately limiting.

  • Thanks for continuing this conversation, Todd. It’s an important one. First, we need to try and stop talking about the marketing funnel when we can. Why? Because it spits in the face of what we as communicators are trying to do — build relationships. Check out David Edelman’s recent piece in the HBR about customer journey. It is a lot more in line with how companies should be thinking about PR, communications. The funnel pushes sales (which are of course important) but doesn’t push any type of relationship building before or after. Thus when we get in front of execs, we immediately look for the highest number we can find, no matter the relevance. Targeted impressions and resulting actions are much more important than 1M impressions.

    I’ll go outside right now, put a client’s product next to me on the table, shout a few key messages and look — 2 million impressions because the population of Kansas City is around 2 million. Of course, I’m exaggerating. But not by much when you think about it.

    How about setting measurable objectives and seeing if our PR efforts achieve those goals. How about asking people via survey how they heard about our business when they make a purchase? The rest of it is more about culture and less about numbers. Do you think Tony from Zappos actually did a lot of these calculations? Or do you think he just believed in customer service, created a culture based on it and demanded his employees provide it at all costs. Oh, almost forgot, he watched the company sales go up and sold it for $1 billion too. And I have heard Dan Cathy, COO of Chick-Fil-A, say that their culture is to create raving brand fans. Always has been. Ask for proof in the numbers and he says look at our sales. His POV: “They’re higher than most other chain restaurants and we’re closed on Sundays.”

  • Chuck Hemann says:

    Todd – Thanks for the shoutout here and for raising this very difficult question. As the other commenters have noted (including the ultra smart Shonali) the real issue at hand is that we’re overly focused on impressions. By the way, this isn’t a problem relegated to just PR. It’s frankly a scurge on all of communications. To answer the comment above about 1m impressions and only .2 million of them being target that’s obviously the ideal scenario. It’s much more likely to be .02 versus .2, but I think that’s kind of self-explanatory.

    My broader thought is why wouldn’t we think about using some sort of brand reputation index? Plenty of samples online for us to use. Similarly, wouldn’t be hard to create a quick index of your own that looks at:

    1. Mention prominence
    2. Sentiment
    3. Target publication (yes/no)
    4. Spokesperson quoted (yes/no)
    5. Number of mentions (raw overall)
    6. Impressions (I don’t think they are evil. Just overused as the ONLY metric to measure success)
    7. Hits to the website from target pubs (we can all check out referring traffic these days. why not use that data)

    There are obviously others, and you should pick those that matter most to the client. Anyway, you could/should create your own index like this to help guide the client away from impressions. It usually works.

    • Dave Fleet says:

      I’m on-board with Chuck here. Sadly, Todd, the MRRP website doesn’t let people see a demo report – if it did you would see that CPC is a tiny, tiny part of the system so your client didn’t have the full picture.

      It isn’t perfect – not by a long shot – I would still rather measure outcomes than outputs (which MRRP still measures). Still, the criteria Chuck lists are a step in the right direction, and are precisely the kind of thing that MRRP lets you measure.

      While I was at my last agency we showed our MRRP reports to the US colleagues of a Canadian client (MRRP is a Canadian system). They were absolutely floored that we went into so much depth with our reporting. In fact, they ignored the impressions number in favour of the other metrics.

  • Great post & conversation starter, Todd!

    Two ways to answer your question:

    1- Your client couldn’t claim the 1M impressions for $100K PR investment BUT they could ‘claim’ 1M impression minus the baseline or adjusted by a control group (# impressions with without any PR). P&G used to (not sure if they still do) measure effectiveness of TV ad campaigns by carving out control group markets where no ad was displayed. In reality, especially in the online world, this is a very impractical approach.

    2- The real answer though has already been articulated in your post and comments: what do 1M impressions bring to their business? Traackr has built great case studies from clients showing that there is only a very loose correlation between website traffic or impressions and sales: getting coverage from those who have built trust and authority with the target audience will probably yield much lower web stats but offer conversion rates off the chart.

    Taking even a bigger step back, I’d say that putting the emphasis on measuring PR (or more generically measuring capability) is bound to fail. Instead, measuring the success or failure of specific initiatives provides much better data and insights and helps management build the right capability mix to serve these initiatives. I wrote a piece on this issue around the absurdity of trying to measure social media ROI:

    Thanks again for the post!

    • ken Liatsos says:

      Great question Todd and great blog!

      On this issue, I believe Pierre has addressed maybe the key issue. One MUST seek to measure the INCREMENTAL contribution a marketing effort achieves, whether it’s PR, advertising, direct mail, or social media marketing. Measuring against a control group (in a qualitative or quantitative way) is one common way to do it.

      I’d add that its also critical to understand what you’re trying to measure and why it’s important to your marketing effort. Sales is probably the ultimate goal, but conversions, a whole host of web site metrics, impressions, and any number of qualitative sentiments are worthy metrics to measure against. The key is to set out clearly, in advance, what you will measure, and make sure that you can actually measure them (I know this sounds obvious. But you wouldn’t believe the number of sophisticated marketers that chose metrics to measure that they simply won’t be able to isolate in a campaign). And don’t forget to measure the INCREMENTAL contribution your marketing effort generates!

      When looking at the value of measurement, also consider — and try to put a value on — what it’s worth to know what DOESN’T work. Knowing that a particular PR or marketing effort flopped, because you measured it, is worth a lot since you won’t be condemned to repeating that losing campaign again. It gets to that old marketing saw: “I know that 50% of my marketing budget isn’t working, I just don’t know which 50%.” Smart marketers will try to eliminate the stuff that doesn’t work just as hard as they try to identify the stuff that does.

      Also, really enjoyed Pierre’s post behind his link. We’ve been able to execute some hard ROI measurement for clients in social media but only by running really tightly executed and measured CAMPAIGNS, with test cells.

  • Sean Howard says:

    Why is it always about validating an argument to prove a desired outcome AFTER THE FACT?

    Let’s take the above posted example.

    If a client has $100k to spend on all of their marketing, it would be good if in advance of spending any of this money they first define the success outcomes they are looking for.

    Does traffic to their website really matter?

    Isn’t there something else that we should be trying to impact?

    If they are an e-commerce operation, then traffic to their website is important, but we really need to identify conversion. If a million people come to their site, but no one buys, did we succeed?

    Finally, if they really want to show the impact of their spend on the website, then at the very least, they should look at the shift in spending from previous fiscal and then compare that with the increase in site traffic from previous fiscals. But this assumes the $100k was the ONLY thing in market.

    • Rockin’ answer from a fellow “Sean.” Sales is not the end-all of communicating. Sometimes it’s awareness, understanding, commitment or action that isn’t buying. Certain products have lengthy sales cycles with more attitudinal inputs than PR (particularly B2B). User experience might affect receptiveness to messaging, and as the ever more learned Mr. Hemann notes, impressions aren’t the bomb, unless you’re looking through a marketing lens.

      So too @Shonali’s comment — PR is often a weigh station toward sales, but we cannot take 100% of the credit very often (Southwest Airlines’ use of unique URLs and 800-numbers notwithstanding.)

      We can affect three different parts of the communications pie: Outputs, outtakes and outcomes. Our contributions are valid in each of those, though the Powers That Be will always, rightly, privilege OUTCOMES. The outcomes just don’t have to be direct influence on sales. The preponderance of BS metrics in both PR and Social Media speaks to the need to better understand how we measure and why, not necessarily rearward facing, CYA, post-campaign justification.

      And, BTW, research belongs UP FRONT in the planning, not at the back end, desperately justifying the spend.

      Mazel tov on a good discussion and Post!

  • Mike Layton says:

    The short answer to your client’s question is “no, you cannot claim that.” The bigger question here is “what are you going to do with that data once you have it?” If you present those figures to upper-management, can you defend them? If next year it’s at 11-cents per impression, does that mean your client was not as successful? The answers are no and maybe, respectively.

    The bottom line is that brand visibility and favorable positioning are positives for an organization. Maybe they differentiate you from the competition, maybe they allow you to charge a premium for your products and services, and maybe they allow you to build up enough goodwill amongst your audience for a point in time when you need it. A strong brand contributes to success in many ways and effective PR contributes to a strong brand.

    I understand the need to “prove” PR’s worth and tie PR to outcomes but it’s just not that simple. As for impressions, they do matter. They represent people. The problem with impressions is when we are unable to break down what their sum means. Who do those impressions represent? How does this media exposure position your brand? What was the subject matter at hand? Do they stem from proactive efforts? Once you start to answer these types of questions, then you have measurement that is meaningful and, in turn, actionable.

  • You nailed it right on the head when you said that it can help widen the sales funnel, but is not a guarantee, based on outside variables.

    When new clients sign on to my company, I provide them with a new client welcome kit. In this kit, I include a FAQ page, which asks and answers some of the most, well…frequently asked questions. One of these is “Great! You’re getting us a lot of press, but we’re not noticing an increase in sales. Why is this?”

    And my answer is along the lines of that all we can do as a PR firm is generate media exposure for you (of course, in addition to many other important related services), but other factors still have to be considered. I’ve had clients in the past that had a lack of product distribution. Or had a website that went down every time we would get them a big placement. Or the big thing – they aren’t budgeting for any marketing or advertising efforts, which all work in tandem to maximize PR efforts. At the end of the day, our press efforts can only help to bring prospective clientele to them, or in general, visibility and awareness.

    Measurements can and will continue to be debated, but if the client doesn’t understand them or consider them as a reliable source of information, it doesn’t matter. All that matters, in my opinion, is managing client expectations and educating each and every client about how the process works.

    - Steven Le Vine, grapevine pr

  • Todd, what you *could* say – and I learned this from the erstwhile Katie Paine, when she and I worked on a measurement program together some years back – is that if X dollars of PR investment (that’s ALL your costs, fees + expenses and including any internal costs such as salary, etc.) resulted in Y impressions, then you can calculate what your cost per impression was by dividing them up… which shows your level of efficiency (or inefficiency) in generating those impressions. IMHO that doesn’t really help when it comes to measuring outcomes, but it’s a starting point.

    As Jeff says, it’s practically impossible to determine perfect causality between PR & web traffic. However, you *can* correlate the two and by following trends over time, determine what the most likely reason is for that traffic, particularly when there have been noticeable bumps/lows.

    The biggest problem that we face as an industry when it comes to measurement, IMHO, is that we are stuck on measuring impressions. What we should be focusing on are the outcomes and impact of our programs. So while “widening the funnel” is a good thing, we need to look beyond that, and figure out what exactly we are trying to get people to do in the first place: buy something? Sign up for something? Etc. etc. If we work backwards from there to determine what we’re going to measure, how we measure it will become much clearer.

  • Well said. Measurability is great, but what is it that you want to measure?

    Even if PR is the only advertising outlet for the client, those impressions can’t all be guaranteed to come from PR – organic search, traffic through links from bloggers who’ve had a *negative* experience with the client’s brand, people who mistype URLs. And some other outlier cases that bring people into a site but have little to do with successful public relations outreach.

    In a perfect world, you could segment out the traffic you’re getting directly from your campaign with tagged links or something, but can you get a newspaper to use a link with a big string of UTM parameters on their website, and how do you track offline-to-online traffic?

    Maybe the best thing to do is use GA (or whichever Analytics platform the client is on) to set up segments to track performance of traffic from specific sources and compare it to the site average. That’s still plenty imperfect, but it shows you how ‘your’ traffic behaves in comparison to a baseline.

    PS I think that sentiment analysis shouldn’t be left out, either, but then with enough time, I could build a report that even a minotaur could get lost in.

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