There’s an old saying in advertising that half of the budget is wasted, but marketers don’t know which half. Today, there are enough analytical tools today to avoid wasting half of the marketing spend.
The demand for measuring effectiveness in marketing is on the rise too, according to an eMarketer report titled, Execs to Marketers: Show Me the Metrics. The report combined data from two surveys issued by three different organizations.
Eighty-five percent of marketers said the pressure to demonstrate business value had increased this year over the previous year. Such reporting is expected on a monthly basis as respondents, “reported marketing metrics to their CEO and leadership teams at least monthly, up from 55% in 2013.”
PR Measurement Isn’t Quite the Same
Many marketing programs are designed to collect data – primarily contact information — and storing it in a sales automation system, or CRM, for tracking. When a deal closes in 30, 60 or 90 days, marketing ought to be able to trace the contact back to an original source such as a trade show, webinar or email marketing offer.
For PR, metrics and measurement tend to be a little trickier: How do you quantify the value of a brand mention, whether that mention is in mainstream media or otherwise?
While there’s a ton of blog posts from PR pundits telling you what you can’t do for measurement — and they do so with a frightening zeal that borders on religious fascism — few offer pragmatic advice. What PR needs is a framework to think about measurement and organize itself to measure. Digital publishers offer a simple yet solid model worth considering.
In the book Epic Content Marketing, author Joe Pulizzi offers four broad categories for evaluation: Consumption, shares, leads and sales. I’d add one additional category for retention, because current customers are pretty important, especially for business models running on a subscription basis.
Implementing this model requires a little preparation, namely that PR needs access to the analytics and webmaster tools, or they need to be really tight pals with the SEOs that do have access. I have always used Google Analytics (GA), though there are other tools that function in the same manner. Just as important, PR needs to be familiar with how these tools work -(which is one of many reasons why maintaining a blog is useful from a professional development perspective).
5 PR Metrics Categories for Organizing Measurement
Once you have access, you can begin to look at the framework offered below. You should also note that this perspective is written from a B2B enterprise sale perspective. Consumer-oriented PR should have an even easier time taking these measurements.
No editor is likely to report page views or “sessions” as GA now calls these, however, you can observe referral traffic. Review the top 20 or 30 sources of referral traffic to a particular site. In my experience, PR is likely to find 50% or more of referral traffic comes from 3rd party mentions. More importantly, this is usually high-quality traffic because someone that read about your organization thought enough of the story to actually investigate your site more closely.
Referral traffic excludes organic search and direct traffic sources. For most websites, including blogs, organic search traffic is usually the single largest source of traffic by a wide margin. The links earned from 3rd party mentions contribute significantly to organic search traffic. It’s hard to say exactly how much, so for a consumption metric, PR metrics should count backlinks from credible sites. This works for press releases too and if you do not see referral traffic from your press releases in your web analytics – it’s time to switch services or reevaluate the quality of your releases.
Google’s Webmaster Tools (GWT) will give you and overall count that’s fairly reliable benchmark. You can also use any number of free backlink checking tools — just be sure to use the same tool for benchmarking over time; there are differences in how these tools report links. The downside is most of these tools, including GA, do not provide an easy way to view those links easily.
For that I tend to use either the Analytics App by Inblosam and since I’m obsessive-compulsive about checking analytics, I’ll see a new link PR can claim just about the time it happens and I’m sure to save it – and later check the referral traffic (Google has since launched a mobile app for analytics, though there are aspects of Inblosam I liked better).
You can literally spend days tabulating all this data, but for most PR pros, the top 10 or 20 links and referral sources will be enough to demonstrate business value. If you’ve got the time or need, by all means, feel free to dig deeper. More importantly, you can analyze this in just a few hours a month and the mental exercise will provide insight on how to improve. Check with your SEO for tools they may have purchased (Moz for example) and can help, but don’t rely on them solely for reporting – there’s incredible value in doing
some most of it yourself.
There are a lot of social media gurus that bash social sharing as an unreliable metric that isn’t worth measuring. They are right that it’s not the holy grail of measurement, but discounting shares is foolish. Likes, RTs, +1’s – they all matter because that’s how word of mouth works in social media. Count shares. I do, and I can tell you based on my experience, I tend to get about 3 visitors for every social share and that’s been true across both corporate and personal sites like this blog. Again, for most proficient PR pros, it would be exhaustive to count the shares of every mention, so again I’d suggest picking the top 10 or so each month to provide a sampling of data.
One free tool I like for this purpose is ShareTally which will tabulate social shares from more than 20 different sites, including the four or five largest social media sites. PrimeLoop, a paid tool I reviewed on this site previously, will also do this automatically. In effect, you “clip” links as you peruse the web and PrimeLoop will automatically count social shares. The data can be exported into an Excel spreadsheet for easy tabulation. [Disclosure: PrimeLoop gave me free access to the tool for review, but had no editorial influence on my review; the company has since folded].
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Even with marketing automation tools, it’s hard to measure leads from 3rd party mentions. If your organization is savvy enough, it will survey registrants as to where they come from (i.e. on a registration form), but by far and large, most of the data you’ll be able to gather will be anecdotal. Anecdotal data is hard to come by and most salespeople won’t tell you when a prospect mentions a new story (unless it’s negative coverage) because there is no incentive to do so.
There are some workarounds and it means tracking traffic from 3rd party referral sources through to conversion. For example, this means tracking a visitor that comes from a 3rd party mention, their navigation path in-page, to exit point where they convert – sign up for a newsletter, webinar, demonstration or similar transaction-oriented activity.
Two points here – again you probably don’t need it for every single mention – but you can review the data monthly to pull out the top 10 or 20 examples. Second, a good SEO should be able to help you establish goals in analytics for measuring this activity.
No organization I’ve ever worked for – on the agency or client side – had the sophistication or process maturity to implement the systematic means of reporting that would pinpoint PR as an origin of sale. You have to do it yourself and you do this by being “head’s up.”
The sales team and business leaders track sales deals very closely, and it’s likely that tracking comes out in the form of a spreadsheet emailed to a distribution list by finance. PR needs to be on that distribution list, and it needs to read deal trackers carefully looking for familiar brand names. The data you will capture will be anecdotal, but after a while, you’ll be able to rattle off several sales deals in meetings. That matters because of the 2nd and 3rd order effects.
This is an important point because while seemingly a weak means of measurement initially, once you’re able to point to a few examples, suddenly the interest in measuring this activity grows at the top. PR will be invited to those marketing automation meetings and you’ll begin to have a seat at the table that defines the process of measuring sales.
The sales cycle today is asymmetrical, rather than the traditional funnel, a fact that more and more businesses are beginning to recognize. PR’s role in facilitating sales (or donations, or votes, or petitions, or clicks, or even behavior-change) has become more important, not less important. In an ideal world, an organization will have marketing automation in place that tracks deals throughout the cycle and in the end can demonstrate where PR touches moved the sales needle.
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If sales are weak initially, retention is perhaps the weakest of measures, because when a customer decides to leave for a competitor, it’s usually a sign of a product or a support issue that in some way can be linked to a misunderstanding (think PEBCAK). Smart businesses survey customers on a regular basis and as part of that survey, understanding the content connection points with the customer is inherently valuable. Where are existing customers getting their information? From account managers, social, blogs, or newsletters? Are they hearing about new features and functions from the trade media, rather than from the company?
It is a weak link, but I believe PR is the glue between marketing and sales, and also between service and support. How many customers or prospects does PR talk to on a weekly basis online, or in social media? It ought to be a lot. Often business problems can be solved through more effective communications, and that more than mere appearances, ought to be the specialty of PR professionals.
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The ultimate metric in business is sales. The more closely PR can align its own measures to this end the better off it will be, in terms of support, staffing and budget. These categories are good guiding waypoints for organizing how to measure, which is often the hardest step.
It’s important to get started because the eMarketer report mentioned in the beginning of this post is likely just the beginning. The pressure to prove business value is liable to increase across the board in the future – because it’s a good way to ensure half a budget isn’t wasted.
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Photo credit: Flickr, Intel Free Press, Social Media Buzz…(CC BY 2.0) and Flickr, Steve Snodgrass, No Sale (CC BY 2.0)