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Relations, Quantified - Measuring the Value of Public Relations

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Today's PR professionals need to account for their costs, either by calculating precise return on investment or some other measurement.

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Relations, Quantified - Measuring the Value of Public Relations

  1. 1. Relations, Quantified - Measuring the Value of Public Relations Rachael Hesling
  2. 2. Relations, Quantified - Measuring the Value of Public Relations The events of recent years have made one thing very clear—the 21st century is the era of big data. Armed with cheap access to data storage and analytic software, organizations in the public and private sectors alike now have the ability to track and measure everything, thereby obtaining a significantly more granular view of performance. Of course, some industries are easier to measure than others. A CEO's success can be measured in profits and revenue, but how does one measure the success of a public relations campaign? Fortunately, the rise of big data has generated a number of techniques that help PR professionals show clients and colleagues the value of their work. In previous decades, PR firms had little ability to show the impact of a given campaign or press release. Today, however, search- engine data, in-bound website metadata, and post-campaign surveys, among many other tools, allow for relatively precise measurements. Despite this, many firms find it difficult to effectively measure their performance. One study of marketing companies in the financial industry found that 40 percent felt they underperformed in calculating return on investment (ROI), while 14 percent had no tracking in place at all.
  3. 3. Quantitative Measures ROI tends to be the starting point for most PR professionals interested in measuring their performance. Calculating ROI returns a simple dollar figure, which can be a very potent tool in attracting new clients. The process of arriving at this number, however, can be complicated, as it begins with establishing a Key Performance Indicator, or KPI. A PR campaign's KPI will be dictated by its purpose, but the most popular KPI involves tracking how many leads a company develops during a campaign. These leads can take the form of people who read a new article on the company's website or new social media followers, among other types of leads. Digital tools like Google Analytics, Mention, Followerwonk, and Open Site Explorer go a long way toward automating some of this work.
  4. 4. Quantitative Measures (cont.) After establishing the KPI, the next step is to put a monetary value on that. If one is using "number of leads" as the KPI, it is necessary to find the value of each individual lead. PR campaigns aimed at driving new business for a retailer might look at the history of web traffic at the company's online storefront to see how many new visitors arrive for every given sale. A PR firm working for a musician, on the other hand, may compare new social media followers to album sales. After one arrives at a dollar value per generated lead, calculating ROI is simple; add up the total value of the new leads, subtract the cost of the PR campaign or investment, and the result is the ROI. ROI is not the only quantitative measurement that PR firms can use. The raw number of leads can be impressive in and of itself. Many firms boast of the number of social media followers they obtain for their clients or the volume of web traffic their clients enjoy following campaigns. Using analytical software, firms can even show how the articles they seeded in the press resulted in surges of web traffic, social media sharing, and other digital metrics.
  5. 5. Qualitative Measures In the complex world of public relations, some campaigns are not easy to quantitatively measure. When a firm’s objective is to burnish a company's brand, minimize the impact of a client's scandal, or obtain positive press coverage for a startup, success can be difficult to communicate in numbers. Of course, long before the advent of big data, PR firms had ways to measure their success, and these methods are still in use today. One essential tool for PR professionals is the follow-up survey or focus group, which solicits feedback from the public. After the conclusion of a campaign, or when a user has spent some time on an organization’s website, offering a survey can be an easy way to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. The latter, of course, is most easily obtained in focus groups, where participants often share their opinions at length. This qualitative data can uncover information that the initial numbers often hide. PR firms can operate some qualitative analysis invisibly. Products such as Yesware, for example, allow users to track when e-mails were opened, thus providing instant feedback for press pitches. Experts also recommend tracking all press contacts in a single spreadsheet to keep a record of journalists' responses, social media reach, and other indicators of press pitch success.
  6. 6. The Limitation of PR Measurements Of course, the 14 percent of financial marketing firms that don't measure ROI at all are dwarfed by the vast majority of firms that quantitatively measure their performance. Nearly every firm assiduously counts their social media followers and calculates their ROI figures. However, some experts caution that these newer metrics cannot possibly tell the entire story of a PR campaign's success or failure, and they recommend taking a different view. Merely tallying social media followers doesn’t take into account that some followers are vastly more important than others. For instance, a single Twitter celebrity is worth thousands of normal users, especially if that celebrity can be convinced to tweet an endorsement of the client's product or service. There is also research to consider; a good firm will find out which leads are worth more than others. Finally, there is no way to quantify the value of personal connections, which are still crucial despite the new digital age. Successful PR firms cultivate excellent relationships with journalists, industry figures, and others, and these firms are then able to use these insider connections to market themselves.

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