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5 Categories of PR Metrics Pros Should Measure

5 Categories of Measurement for PR Pros Should Measure

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.

1. Consumption.

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.

5 Categories of Metrics PR Pros Should Measure-shares


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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3. Leads.

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.

5 Categories of Metrics PR Pros Should Measure-sales

4. Sales.

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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5. Retention.

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.

* * *

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.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
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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)

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6 Responses

  1. Hmm.. IDK Frank, this is smart stuff but I’d argue these are marketing metrics, not PR. As you alluded, the scope of PR goes well beyond – it’s about business. Which is why I’d say the ultimate metric is not sales, it’s profit and sustainability. If the goal isn’t longevity, then the life cycle has to be planned to cash out at max value before shutting the doors. Remember the “You Got Mail” movie; all the shares and support and leads did nothing to help Meg Ryan’s sales, she lost. To a Borders-like book store who, b/c they neglected other means for leads and discounted at the expense of profits, would today also have gone out of business. 

    That typed.. “Often business problems can be solved through more effective communications, and that more than mere appearances, ought to be the specialty of PR professionals.” I totally and completely agree with that statement, across all silos and departments. Communications is I think one skill all professionals need yet is taken for granted, underdeveloped as a discipline throughout many companies – and not for nothing, ‘poor communication’ is often cited as the greatest fault line. While I know PR is more than ‘just’ communications, that’s at its core, yet many comms objectives that drive business success don’t include PR. You call it the glue; if ever I go completely nuts and try to write a PR book, I’d argue something along those lines. FWIW.

  2. 3HatsComm Love a contrarian position, Davina.  Tell me more.  What is a PR metric?  How does it compare and contrast with a marketing metric?
    As for business, I think you get at it, but I’d reinforce *cash* as the ultimate metric. A business can run at a loss if they manage cash flow.  Start-ups do it all the time, as artificial as that may seem, but Amazon has done if for years. Bezos has traded profits and time for market share for a decade.
    As for profitability, for the large swath of PR pros the margins and the factors that affect margins are well beyond the scope of PR’s capability. Pricing for example, a classic ‘P” in marketing is commonly defined by finance.  Marketing doesn’t even have a role in pricing any more.

  3. Frank_Strong I’ll get back to you on the compare and contrast, maybe a rebuttal post some day. :) In that argument, PR metrics would include qualitative measures like sentiment, value and reputation. 

    You mentioned marketing not setting price anymore; I’d also offer that PR has little influence on Employee Relations in some orgs, as HR has taken over. Thinking retention, recruitment, employer reputation in the community, employee advocacy in SM. Internal comms is important, I’d always advocate HR work with PR vs. silos we see. 

    I do get what you’re saying about share, about pricing.. in that is control of the narrative. P&G may tell great stories but they’re dumping a lot of brands b/c consumers no longer believe in their value. IDK — I guess I’m saying that brand, organization reputation play their part; so even if a biz doesn’t make profit exactly, they have convinced investors they have the share, the potential and strength of brand to do so. Ergo they’re worth more than what’s on the balance sheet. 

    Apple’s stock seems to underperform, b/c of the high expectations of the ‘next big thing’ vs. where they’re already winning, losing, market share, etc. Some start-ups; they manage cash flow via VC investment – often earned b/c of the reputation of the players involved as much as the business model they’re selling. But eventually, I think someone’s gonna want some performance — and yes sales! — an earnings report that shows them in the black, a healthy return for their investment. 

    Which I type totally wishing I’d had the money to buy stock in Facebook and Twitter when their IPOs struggled and the sharks smelled blood in the water. FWIW.

  4. 3HatsComm  Hello, Davina, you came back! Welcome back. 

    Reputation is a good metric, but it’s costly and time consuming to do it.  I’ve never seen a company actually do this in a meaningful way. And why should they when they have NPS scores?

    I’ve done a lot of work with sentiment and don’t think it has a lot of value. There’s too much noise for most brands and NLP — even the very best NLP — is deeply flawed. 

    Value — yes, value — how do you measure that with a number?

  5. Frank_Strong that’s why ‘maybe someday’ – how to measure these is the trick, something I haven’t figured out yet. 

    Take sentiment – it’s got value but only in context; it’s not enough to know the sentiment, it’s how strongly they feel it in context of their decisions. A lot of sentimental noise may surround this ‘bad tweet’ or that political view, but until it impacts jobs and sales and market cap, it doesn’t matter. For example, I may not care for a certain biz organization, but if a subsidiary had a good manager offering me a great job.. in all fairness, I’d put sentiment aside and take it. :)

  6. 3HatsComm Sentiment doesn’t work because of the nuance of language — English especially.  We have words and phrases that can mean multiple things depending on the context. Sarcasm is one of them. Code might catch up one day, but it’s going to be a while.

    As for measurement, then we’ve come full circle. There’s five good means for measuring PR that will a) demonstrate value to the business b) align with marketing c) earn PR credibility in the organization. As you say, in the FWIW column tonight.

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