Patrick Brightman - 05/25/2021
Digital tools help to create a new era of KPIs to evaluate the effectiveness of a public relations program. Read our blog on which ones reveal the true value of PR.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) have been the “Great PR Question” since I began my career. After all, public relations is earned media, which makes it inherently more difficult to establish benchmarks compared to other marketing tactics. PR value can be better determined, thanks to some new digital and analytical metrics.
So How Do You Prove PR ROI?
The key to establishing an accurate public relations return on investment (ROI) is the same as it is for any successful agency-client relationship – collaboration. The best starting point when developing KPIs and PR objectives is the sharing of a brand’s goals and communications strategy. A good PR plan should complement and strengthen the marketing strategy and KPIs should align with the company mission.
That’s a broad stroke to define goals. We can use a more refined brush to paint a better picture of how PR success should look. Here are some clear examples:
- Increase leads by an agreed-upon amount
- Grow monthly website traffic by a certain percentage
- Increase media placements from the previous year in target media properties
- Exceed more contributed articles from the previous year by a set amount
- Land a designated number of executive speaking opportunities at target conferences
Break from Tradition? Sometimes
For decades, KPIs for PR were tangible numbers that reflected work performed and results. Often, it was an agreed upon amount of press releases/media pitches. A better goal was overall media placements. Some clients attached advertising equivalencies to editorial coverage. These old-school approaches were not highly effective years ago and – unlike a fine wine – have not gotten better with age.
Other traditional metrics, such as share of voice (SOV) and audience reach/impressions, have aged slightly better. The main reason is that digital tools can refine them to be effectively with digital tools. Let’s delve a bit more into each, plus some others.
SOV – Earning more favorable coverage for a brand, products, or designated spokesperson than competitors has tremendous value. At the start of a PR campaign, agree on several competitors and establish benchmarks. It’s important to note that SOV can be tracked by volume or reach. Most times it’s not the number of placements as much as it where the editorial coverage is secured.
Potential Reach – One traditional KPI for PR has been impressions. That number has always focused on total circulation, viewership, and/or listenership of an outlet. It also encompassed unique website visitors. Now, however, there are tools to determine the actual number of readers/viewers/listeners of your online media placements. It’s a more accurate representation of the effectiveness of a media placement and truer metric of reach.
Active Coverage – Not all editorial coverage is created equal. Effective public relations should result in better quality leads and a more educated target audience that is ready to engage with a brand. So, it’s possible to connect leads (quality over quantity) to PR actions. These metrics emphasize targeting the most valuable media properties based on target audiences.
At the onset of a program, the agency and client prioritize channels, based upon objectives. For example, national broadcast outlets with millions of viewers are not the target, if the goal is lead gen. Rather, it will be the B2B property with a very loyal audience that your brand covets.
Key Message Penetration – Editorial coverage should be segmented by key themes to measure how strongly your brands are associated with each. Knowing the percentage of quotes attributed to your spokespeople is an indicator of your message in editorial coverage. Quotes amplify your message and reduce misinterpretation while humanizing the brand and raising visibility of your officers. This metric is measurable and comparable over time.
Sentiment – The adage “any press is good press” and “just get my name right” is not a smart approach. Not now, not ever. Tools are available to measure if editorial placements are positive, negative, or neutral to gain a better understanding of the quality of media placements. Sentiment and SOV determine overall media presence, which gives a snapshot of the competitive landscape.
Digital Metrics – A Panacea? Maybe
Websites are the central hub for every brand. Public relations has the ability to leverage owned properties such as websites, if done properly. As such, the KPIs for a PR program should include web impact.
Earned Traffic – Media placements have tangible and intangible effects on a brand and its website. Measuring them requires a few different tools – most notably Google Analytics. Editorial coverage that drives visitors to your website can be determined this way.
In a tangible sense, you can see how much traffic was generated from media properties that included backlinks to your website. As an extension of this effort, brands should establish a link framework. It will include the type of links you need, where they point to, UTM codes, and other criteria.
Google Analytics can also provide clues to PR effectiveness indirectly. Establish a baseline of traffic prior to initiating a PR campaign. Then, monitor increases in overall traffic via organic search. Spikes that occur when major placements appear show the intangible impact of public relations.
Domain Authority (DA) – Backlinks are important when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). Securing backlinks on media properties with high DA can help improve your brand’s website organic rankings on key search engine results pages (SERPs). It is becoming a more important KPI in the world of PR, as a result.
Is a Third-party Endorsement Valuable? You Bet!
All these metrics help determine the value of PR and can be used to determine KPIs. What they do not account for is one of the most important aspects of PR – the third-party endorsement. Countless research has shown that the public trusts editorial more than advertising, so securing a media placement has a level of cache that cannot be matched – even after all the data analysis. Brands should never forget that.
Contact me to discuss how public relations can be a valuable piece of your marketing mix and how it can help meet your goals.