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Measuring PR impact

Measuring PR impact

The measurement of public relations performance has been neglected due to its lack of reliable metrics and comparable results. But the application of sophisticated media intelligence offers the PR function the ability not only to track its impact, but also strategically improve against past performance

The importance of public relations measurement

Without accurate measurement of their efforts, PR professionals are shouting into the void. With nothing to reflect back and measure the impact of media campaigns and messaging, they also lack data-driven evidence to communicate to the executive and the wider company. Without measurement, there is minimal scope for grounded reflection, and no ability to act on learnings when results aren’t as good as expected.

Media intelligence, the means of measuring the effectiveness of communications strategies, is as important as every other facet of business intelligence. Any organisation wanting to understand PR outcomes needs reliable metrics. These metrics can answer numerous questions including:

  • How is our messaging received?
  • What’s the breadth of our audience?
  • Is our media coverage is reaching its target audiences?
  • What’s the take-up of our products and services in response to our media presence?
  • How effective are we in combatting negative reporting?

Media measurement is equally important for demonstrating whether business outcomes reflect a good return on investment for the company’s PR spend.

Whether the aim is to increase positive perceptions of the business, position it in a particular area, grow its visibility in key media outlets, highlight a key message, or create a social media sensation, media intelligence scores PR pros’ efforts against their objectives.

The available metrics vary in complexity, from basic summaries of sentiment and volume of coverage, to sophisticated analysis of audience quality, location and retention. For example, with the shift towards digital platforms and ubiquity of online content, tools such as Google Analytics have been able to credit specific PR activity with peaks in website traffic.

Historic challenges in PR measurement

The ability to quantify the results of PR efforts is clearly highly desirable, yet for many years, public relations and communications lacked meaningful measurement. The inability to provide data-led results held them back from representation at executive level, or reduced their influence in the boardroom.

A 2017 PRWeek-sponsored survey revealed that 75% of communications professionals believed their industry could so better at measuring and proving its impact on business objectives. One of the biggest issues facing them was defining those objectives in relation to PR.

Another consequence of lack of reliable public relations measurement was an inexperience, and even defensiveness, on the part of the communications function when asked to quantify their results. Because they were underserved by the business intelligence industry, they were inexperienced in the use of PR metrics, a chicken-and-egg scenario that typically resulted in the commissioning and provision of vanity metrics. Specifically linked to the individuals and their aspirations, these were of limited use in understanding the true value of PR campaigns.

The weakness of the vanity approach is that it either encouraged unscrupulous providers to only furnish the PR team with the results it wanted to see; or supplied data that didn’t always fit the desired pattern.

As a result, attempts at PR measurement were often inconsistent or incomplete, beginning with the enthusiastic sharing of early reports showing impressive performance, then tailing off when an operational issue hit the business, website visitors fell, share of voice plummeted, and reluctance grew on the part of PR pro to highlight less favourable reports.

The evolution of measurement in PR

Despite these challenges, recognition of the need for quality data and effective measurement has succeeded in driving the evolution of media analysis for the public relations industry. Growth has occurred both the metrics available to PR professionals, and also in their experience and understanding of, and confidence in, using them.

At alva, we are increasingly supporting clients in communications who are asking for and comfortable using more complex performance metrics. Quantifiable results are opening the door to boardroom influence. Media intelligence solutions now allow the PR function to get detailed answers to more sophisticated questions about their performance, including:

  1. What’s our share of voice?
  2. What’s the sentiment of our coverage?
  3. Did our new campaign resonate?
  4. What is our visibility with our target audiences?
  5. Are we seen as leaders in this area?
  6. What coverage are we generating in Key Media?
  7. What’s the impact of our communications on sales?
  8. How should we define our future communications strategy?
  9. How do we prioritise different communications activities for the best returns?
  10. How can our communications contribute more to business performance?

As well as measuring the impact of PR efforts, these questions are tactical, and the resulting data allows users to base future campaign planning and prioritisation on solid intelligence rather than hearsay and anecdotal evidence.

Today’s more statistically confident, data-driven PR and communications teams will select the relevant measures from this broad toolkit of different questions as the tactical requirements of the business dictate.

The symbiosis of media and reputation intelligence

With its acceptance into the business intelligence suite, the next stage in the evolution of media intelligence is its unification with reputation intelligence to create a complete perspective on how a business is performing with its stakeholders.

Measurement of media outputs creates an inside-out viewpoint: how internally generated communications impact the opinions of external stakeholders.

Reputation intelligence, meanwhile, offers an outside-in view: revealing to the company how its various stakeholder groups perceive it.

The questions answered by reputation intelligence include:

  1. What is our reputation among our stakeholders?
  2. What are our stakeholders saying about us?
  3. What are the issues that matter to them?
  4. Why do we have this reputation?
  5. Why is our reputation better or worse than that of our competition?
  6. How has our reputation changed this year?
  7. What are our reputation risks and opportunities?
  8. If we do this, what will be the impact on our reputation?
  9. How do we enhance our reputation with different stakeholder groups?
  10. How can we measure the financial impact of our strong reputation?

When the answers to these questions, as they pertain to a particular business, are unified with the data surfaced by media intelligence, the PR function will be in a position to craft communications that speak directly to the needs and priorities of the business’s stakeholders.