“How does PR show return on investment?” is the question often posed by a client at the beginnings of a formal relationship with an agency. And rightly so. Gone are the days when companies have a budget line for meaningless ‘fluff’. Since the recession hit in 2008, marketing has been under scrutiny like never before. CFOs increasingly control the purse strings, meaning there are higher expectations for spend to be accountable and prove ROI. Marry this with the increase in marketing platforms that can and do offer inbuilt measurement capability and PR has a fight on it’s hands to ensure it’s preserve as a vital part of the marketing mix.
PR measurement: a brief history
Back in the dark ages, the way of measuring PR was rudimentary – all it required was a ruler and a calculator. A PR would sit and literally measure the column space in a newspaper in which they had secured their client a mention and then calculate what the corresponding space would have cost in advertising dollar. Moving forward, AVE or Advertising Value Equivalent became widely adopted and favoured by agencies as a metric because, simply, the figures made our industry (and our clients) look great in front of the bigwigs.
However, as far back as the early noughties, the efficacy of AVE was being questioned as a truthful and realistic reflection of PR. Although AVE makes it simpler for those outside of the media and communications to understand the value of PR, many have argued that it is a clumsy and inaccurate comparison; after all, ad agencies do not look to the PR industry for comparison of their own success and failure.
The Barcelona Principles
In 2010, AMEC (the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) convened a summit which brought together 33 PR practitioners to establish a set of guidelines for the industry. The result was the seven ‘Barcelona Principles’ that have widely become hailed as the standards of best practice for PR measurement.
The main thrust of the Barcelona Principles focused on measuring outcomes as opposed to outputs as well as recognising the increasing value of social media in comms. They encouraged the jettisoning of the AVE metric altogether; a move that has since been echoed by other industry bodies, for example, the criteria for most awards bodies no longer recognises AVE as proof of campaign success and indeed excludes entries that use them.
The Principles were updated in 2015 to further refine and develop their definitions to now read as follows:
These guidelines now offer both PRs and clients a useful reference point to hold in mind when setting a framework for the measurement of their success.
Applying measurement in practice
Although AVEs are a dying breed, some of our clients do still request them and in these cases we reluctantly accommodate them. Where possible, however, we encourage them to hold us to account with meaningful metrics. The first question to ask at the outset of any campaign is what is your objective and who are you trying to reach? Without clarity on this in the initial brief, it is very difficult to put together a strategic PR campaign. You would be surprised how many clients come to engage PR as a ‘nice to have’ without having fully thought this through. The more information about your business goals the better. Once this has been established, we work with you to create a plan for where to target those relevant demographics, at which watering holes.
Some of the other metrics we use might include: target publications, number of pieces of coverage and prominence of coverage. Although a note of caution on coverage numbers: the news agenda can be subject to force majeure, for example terrorist attacks or global events can dominate news headlines, giving your story less prominence. Do you want to be seen as an authority in your field and some corresponding thought leadership content to prove that? In which case, collateral output and thought leadership press and broadcast opportunities in specific outlets might be appropriate. If your objective is attracting signups to an event that you are hosting, our activity would be based around attracting a certain number of attendees. You may wish to educate the media about your new product, in which case we can set down KPIs for number of journalist meetings organised. Or SEO may be at the top of your mind and so we might be targeted on linkbacks. It all comes down to strategy and your business objectives.
Social media campaigns, content marketing and SEO provide many more metrics such as impressions, engagement, increase in followers, prominence, share of voice and positive sentiment. The best kinds of campaigns interface with an analytical element to help to track the performance of the PR, for example setting up dedicated microsites for campaigns and measuring visitors to site and conversions.
How does PR impact Sales Conversion?
Another question that I often get asked is “how can your PR impact my bottom line?” I always have the same answer to this question. Whilst PR is responsible for taking the proverbial horse to water, we cannot make it drink. Once we have raised awareness and brought the eyeballs to your brand, conversion is within your purview. Once visitors have been attracted through PR, it is your responsibility to make sure that your ecommerce system is working, that your site is user friendly and that your sales team is tenacious to close the deals down.
Although we can’t, therefore, guarantee sales as an outcome, we have many examples where can prove a direct correlation between our activity and business impact. We find that the most effective relationships are where we work in partnership with clients to ensure transparency and fluidity of reporting. And we love to share in your success and see the fruits of our labour translate into increased exposure, sales and impact on your bottom line.
I have written more about this in PHA Media's latest ebook How, |What, Why, PR Tips for Startups and Businesses.
Here is a 5 minute sample of an hour long live interview I did, talking about the value of PR.
I wrote this article on 5 Things Women Must Learn To Be Successful
I wrote for TVB Europe, celebrating ten inspirational women in the broadcast industry