PR measurement can be a bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On one hand, it gets dinged for a lack of measurement. On the other hand, measuring some PR activities, like earned media, is far more challenging than other forms of marketing and communications.
But it’s not impossible, and there are a lot of resources and ideas for understanding the impact. That’s the theme for this week’s Unscripted Marketing Links [UML].
As it is on the occasional Saturday, I ferret out three important links from the web, wrap them in insight, and present them here for your perusal.
1) Earned media is sales enablement.
A tech PR firm recently published a study that showed promising effects media relations can have on the sales cycle for B2B marketing organizations. Atlanta-based ARPR compiled a combination of web analytics and survey data – from 115 tech sales professionals – to produce the report.
Here are some of the statistics that stood out for me:
- Web traffic originating from media coverage outperforms other sources. Traffic from earned media was 56% more likely to complete a goal (i.e. registrations, subscriptions and downloads) and these sessions lasted 33% longer.
- Quality referral traffic from press releases. While referral traffic from online press releases accounts for just .12% of the total, the average session lasted 59% longer and had a 12% higher goal completion than other sources. The study suggests “momentum” releases were the highest performing, followed by partnerships, new hires, products and award announcements. The study suggests announcements about financial transactions like funding or acquisitions didn’t convert.
- Online newsrooms are highly visited. The study found online newsrooms accounted for 6% of page views and visitors spent 8% more time with the content there.
- Sales teams find media coverage useful in selling. “93% of sales reps say they leverage their company’s media coverage in communications with prospects.” In breaking this down by stage 40% said its “most helpful during exploratory conversations”; 20% said during a presentation phase; 17% said “decision-making phase”; 6% said during “pricing negotiations phase” and 17% said “media coverage is a helpful sales enablement tool at all phases of the B2B buying process.”
Comment: This study provides good measurement ideas to model, or augment your existing measurement models that you have in place already. In reading through it, I had several points worth making here.
a) Results may vary.
Referral traffic from media mentions and backlinks isn’t what it used to be – quality matters. The authority of the publication, prominence of the mention, messaging that comes through and the volume of people who actually read it (which is why impressions are so problematic) all have a conclusive impact.
b) Press releases still have a place.
Press releases get beat up. For example, Josh Bernoff, recently wrote:
“Your press release is worthless. No one will read it. According to Christopher Penn, the median number of clicks on a press release is zero.”
Mr. Bernoff is both right and wrong.
I have seen firsthand in my own analysis – across many B2B tech press releases – that readership has fallen precipitously. But it is not zero, and if the quality of traffic is higher, as this ARPR study suggests, then that’s a function of how the effects have changed, rather than whether they exist.
Let’s take one example: Mr. Bernoff picks on “award releases” while the ARPR data shows these are the best performing. Why? Because these external award announcements have an effect on employees! People want to be proud of their employers and this gives them an opportunity to do that publicly.
Does this mean you should fire off a dozen press releases? No. Be smart about it. Consider your audience – you know them better than anyone else – and write quality announcements about the things your company does that matter to them.
c) Financial transaction releases do not underperform.
While the ARPR study finds these announcements don’t realize the same analytical effects, I would argue they are among the most important to B2B technology businesses. These may not drive referral traffic, but, when done right, these do produce more coverage than any other announcement – by an order of magnitude.
For many startups, a funding round is the biggest news you’ll have in a while and shows why your company matters. Why? Because people follow the money. Funding is a form of validation and acquisitions signal a strategy – those things impact the market.
d) Online newsrooms still matter.
The online newsroom has always attracted a lot of visitors – and these have always been neglected by brands. In recent years, the trend has been for website templates that blend news, press releases, blogs and resources together. It’s a terrible idea that results in a mishmash of stuff.
In these cases, a reader, reporter, analyst, prospect, or customer that’s looking for something can’t find what they need. When you want to see press releases for the record, you don’t want blogs. If you want blogs, you don’t want press releases. When you are looking for product information, you don’t want either of those things.
Moreover, segmenting these will force you to improve each section and will simplify the overall measurement.
- PR Measurement: A Pulse Check on How Communicators Show Value
- Earned Media Poised for New Prominence Several Studies Find [UML]
- How to Generate Media Referenceable B2B Customers with a Blog
2) Earned media can drive sales.
There are other studies that have shown a more direct correlation between earned media on sales. For example, an academic research project, that was written in 2012 and updated in 2014, about the microlending market studied:
“…how traditional and social earned media affect sales and each other…Traditional earned media has a per-event effect on sales that is much larger than the corresponding per-event effects of social earned media.”
How much of an effect on sales?
“Traditional earned media activity has the largest per-event long-run impact: an extra unit of media publicity from a TMO [traditional media outlet] approximately generates an additional 894 new and 403 repeat sales. This is much greater than the per-event impacts of blog posts (90 new and 63 repeat sales) and community forum posts (99 new and 48 repeat sales). This is not surprising since TMOs have larger reach.”
The researchers didn’t leave it at that – they went back and tested for the absence of the earned media activity:
“The largest impact on the system happens when online community posting cannot affect the other media variables, resulting in drops in long-run effects on sales of between 21% and 37%. Specifically, the impacts of traditional earned media events on sales drop by 21% (new) and 23% (repeat) when online community activity cannot affect the other media variables. This highlights the “behind the scenes” role played here by online community activity.”
“…since traditional earned media events are usually rare and difficult to instigate, marketers hoping to generate sales through earned media would likely be well served by focusing on trying to generate social media activity and WOM [word of mouth].”
And if you do earn coverage, be sure that you use it because what you do with it is just as important as getting it in the first place.
“Reaching a more engaged audience through more focused targeting efforts may improve the effectiveness of traditional earned media in driving sales.”
Full report: The Effects of Traditional and Social Earned Media on Sales: A Study of a Microlending Marketplace (2012) published in the Journal of Marketing Research by Andrew T. Stephen, University of Oxford, Said Business School and Jeff Galak, Carnegie Mellon University (PDF)
Comment: In a recent episode of the Marketing Today podcast, Ty Shay, global chief marketing officer for Norton LifeLock, explained to Alan Hart, is that one way he identifies effects of marketing is to turn them off and studying the effects.
I love this idea. However, it is also a high-risk approach, especially in B2B because, because the laws of physics — like inertia and moment — seem to apply in marketing. Media coverage begets media coverage because nobody watches the media like the media.
- PR, Social Media and the Imperative of Content Marketing [UML]
- 12 Things You Should do to Amplify a Media Mention Once You’ve Earned It
- Why Content Marketing and Public Relations Need Each Other
3) Earned media improves advertising effectiveness.
It’s not a matter of PR being better than advertising, they each have their own benefits and drawbacks. The better question is how these two can work better together – and that’s what a study by the Institute of PR set out to explore.
The study analyzed media clippings supplied by Hotels.com and AT&T to see if the media coverage improved advertising effectiveness – and that seems to be what happened. The study compared “Net Positive PR Impressions against advertising creative scores for Hotels.com and AT&T over nine-months and the results were promising.
A television “ad was measured with scores varying over the months from an ABX Index of 85 to 91 – which is a large enough change to be statistically significant. The correlation was very high at a Pearson r=.87. High correlations and ad-score changes suggest PR may well have impacted ad effectiveness.” [emphasis added]*
“The ABX Index scores for each ad showed strong correlations with Net Positive Impressions averaging a Pearson r=.945. However, the variation in the advertising scores was only 4 points over the nine months. Since the ABX Index 95% Confidence Interval is +/- 3 points, the 4-point spread wasn’t high enough to be statistically significant to show PR had affected paid. Still, a correlation of r=.945 between AT&T’s Net Positive Impressions and ABX ad scores is too high to ignore.
Seeing a high correlation between PR and ad scores, in this case, was not a surprise, and suggests great power in PR to increase the value of the paid media spend.” [emphasis added]
* Note: ABX stands for “advertising benchmark index” which is an invention by an employer of two of the study’s authors.
Comment: I definitely have found anecdotal evidence of the halo effect of PR in advertising. Facebook said as much in a recent study about brands on Instagram. SEOs will attest to the effects paid search can have on good organic search. I’ve seen this with paid social too – brands should put a little paid social spend behind their earned media after it has run its organic course. These are cost-effective ways to punch above your weight class in marketing.
Full report: How Does Non-Paid Media Impact the Effectiveness of Paid Ads? by the Institute for Public Relations (PDF)
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- Paid Social: Cliff Notes to 3 Social Media Studies
- 3 Landmark Studies that Sum Up the State of Creativity for the CMO [UML]
* * *
In summary, these three studies show us that PR activities like media relations and earned media has a demonstratable effect on sales, provide sales teams with tools and touchpoints, and can improve other aspects of marketing.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
The Top Challenges in Journalism According to a Survey of Journalists and the Cliff Notes to 3 Studies by PR Tech Vendors [UML]
Image credits: Unsplash and respective studies.