Home > Corporate Communications, PR and social media > Getting Real on Measurement

Getting Real on Measurement


Ask a communications professional how to get more media coverage and the answer comes quickly. Ask how to increase mindshare and sit back and get ready for a 20 minute infomercial regarding PR strategy and tactics. Want thought leadership? No worries, a decent PR pro can create a number of ways to do so. Need ways to get more hits to your website? No sweat, let us count the ways to get it done.

But, ask a communications professional how to measure success and all too often you’ll see that deer in the headlights look.

It is not that we are afraid of measuring our programs and it isn’t that communications folks are simply bad at math (okay, this may be part of it). Honestly, most are happy to pull together the quarterly board of directors ‘PR Program’ PowerPoint slides highlighting recent efforts, but creating a measurement process is often met with dread.

Now, let’s be clear, measuring PR isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t impossible, but it isn’t easy either. Creating metrics at the outset of the program is critical. Measuring retrospectively is okay to establish a baseline, but not an effective way to measure an ongoing program.

Like a PR program itself, setting the goals upfront is critical and must include all stakeholders. If what a client or executive wants to accomplish via measurement isn’t properly defined, the program is in trouble from the start. While wanting to drive results these often-random measurement goals can focus PR on the wrong goals. For example a vague point-per-clip measurement could encourage the PR team to focus on the low hanging (3rd tier outlet) fruit. Having 100 clips in insignificant outlets is rarely useful.

Over the years I’ve been involved in PR programs that have been measured by:

  • Number of hits
  • Advertising dollar equivalent
  • Custom charts awarding certain number of points for categories like: key publication, includes quote, type (feature, news brief, product review, mention etc.) number of key messages conveyed, and the age old tone (positive, neutral, negative)
  • My favorite measurement ever was – number of ‘framable‘ articles per quarter
None of these ever really completely met the mark. The reality is that a measurement program isn’t cookie cutter. It must be customized and should include some combination of the following:
  • Quantitative and qualitative. Numbers are cool and there are several measurement tools that provide pretty graphics and handy charts, but in my opinion none of these tools can tell the entire picture. A true measurement program must include human analysis.
  • Short term – Creating goals for 12 to 24 months in advance without taking into consideration what assets are available is simply folly. Just like annual PR plans are often completely outdated before the end of the first quarter, long term measurement programs created without a top quality crystal ball isn’t worth the digital paper on which it is created.
  • Regionally and opportunity applicable – Sure worldwide PR goals can be created and met, but there needs to be consideration and acknowledgment  that different regions have different opportunities. Meeting a journalist face-to-face is always going to be more successful in UK, Spain, France, and German etc.
  • Flexible – Sometimes throwing away the book is the best way to learn. A program can exceed expectations, yet still fail to meet a numeric goal. Example: Establish spokesperson as thought leader is a common goal that is often measured by number of quotes published. But, if that spokesperson is named by a leading trade publication as ‘person to watch’ that may only count as one hit. Throw social media into the measurement mix and things get exponentially more difficult. Not all tweets or likes are created equal.

Lesson: a PR measurement program that only ‘counts clips’ will result in measuring a program forced into mediocrity.

Image by Paul (not me).
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  1. April 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    This is a good challenge to PR folks, Paul. Luckily, in my last job, I had an executive who was constantly drilling for metrics, so I always have them top of mind in most all projects that I do. While I wish there was an “easy button” for PR metrics, I like your point that it isn’t one size fits all.

    We have to do our homework to idenitfy what metrics or benchmarks best fit our specific strategies. While I no longer work in a PR agency, I still have my “measurement mindset” that I plan to implement in my current job. It never hurts to have something good to show for in any professional setting 🙂

  2. April 26, 2011 at 6:59 am

    Post-project etc undertake market research (cheap and cheerful and not so accurate to full blown) to determine impact of PR programs on objectives, which are of courser business-relevant in themselves. You can get subtle, of course, but this is it. Will your organisation invest in the research? Is the PR leader clever enough to integrate it into the plan?

  3. rdonegan
    July 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    I agree, quantifying PR strategy results can be a daunting task. However, if the business’s unique organizational goals are clearly defined from the very beginning during the creation of the company’s PR plan, it becomes much easier to measure the success when it comes down to proving your results. This puts the company in charge of what strategists will strive for and creates a working relationship that is aligned with the organization’s overall goals rather than focusing on details that are too minute and often in the end irrelevant. It is important to focus on these large,overall goals of the organiation first and then focus in on a subset of smaller goals to achieve the company’s overarching plan.

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