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PR Measurement: How is Communications Proving Value?

A study shows PR and communications can improve measurement with a little more effort; here’s a look at the metrics most commonly cited

Measurement and proving value is the top challenge facing PR and communications, according to the 3rd annual JOTW Communications Survey for 2020.

So, how are communicators leveling up? It depends; there is more than one way to look at the data.

On one hand, 86% of respondents measure at least “sometimes” and almost half (48%) measure “often” or “always.” On the other hand, 51% measure their efforts just “sometimes,” (38%) “rarely,” (11%) or “never” (2%).

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The data site Marketing Charts, which focused in on this section of the survey results, characterized the results this way:

“One part of the measurement problem is a lack of activity: half (51%) of the respondents said they only measure the results of their communications or PR efforts either infrequently or not at all. Specifically, 38% say their organization measures results sometimes, while 11% do so rarely and 2% never do. This contrasts with fewer than 1 in 5 (18%) who say they always measure results.”

It’s hard to reconcile that level of effort into measurement with the finding that proving value is the top challenge facing the community. On the upside, some portion of communicators could make immediate strides to improving measurement simply by stepping up their activity.

The Most Popular Metrics PR is Measuring

The best approach to effective measurement is tying the chosen metrics back to the purpose of the PR or communications program. In other words, what is it you want to achieve?

If you do that effectively, there are still drawbacks. At least in the interim. In my area of expertise – marketing and PR for B2B technology companies – strategic communications programs take time to show value.

For example, the sales cycles in B2B tech tend to be long, require multiple touchpoints, and involve multiple stakeholders. So, attributing results to a specific activity is challenging. To that end, I strive to break metrics down into three categories: outputs, engagement and outcomes:

  • Output is a measure of work produced
  • Engagement is a measure of behavioral activity stemming from that work; and
  • Outcomes are the end result: sales, votes, or donations.

One challenge with measurement is that everything doesn’t fit in a box. Case in point: is a click a measure of behavior? I think it is since it requires a physical and conscious action…but I also think it can be credibly arguing that’s a measure of engagement because it’s a small step in any sales cycle.

The “right” answer will vary across organizations, which his why getting the whole team aligned is an important step. That’s also where a survey like this one is beneficial – you can gain some visibility into what your peers are measuring.

Here are the top 10 metrics communicators say they are currently using:

  • web traffic / web analytics 71%
  • impressions 63%
  • email open rates 51%
  • number of 3rd party mentions or placements 50%
  • estimated site traffic (i.e. SimilarWeb) 48%
  • clicks / CTRs 46%
  • earned media attribution 45%
  • executive feedback 35%
  • conversions / registrations / downloads 30%; and
  • customer satisfaction surveys 27%

Here’s what that looks like graphically:

Here’s the entire break out of communications and PR metrics which includes the percentages and number of respondents:

Some of the other metrics respondents wrote include message pull through, share of voice, sentiment, comparative analytics, coverage in target media important to stakeholders, net promoter scores (NPS), public opinion surveys and invitations to speak or contribute to reports, articles and other PR type activities.

>>> Looking for a B2B tech PR with expertise and execution? Give our services a try.

The Promise of Earned Media Attribution

Attribution is fairly new concept in communications and PR – it’s the ability to attribute a PR activity to an outcome – so we wanted to see if respondents were familiar with it. I was very surprised by the responses:

  • 65% of respondents indicated they were at least moderately familiar; and
  • About one in three (31%) were “very familiar” or “extremely familiar”

I’ve been following about 30 PR technology vendors for the last year, and writing about their activity on a monthly basis.  To my knowledge, there are just three that offer some level of earned media attribution: Cision, Meltwater and Onclusive.

These companies develop media monitoring tools that can tell you if a third-party mention leads to an action on your website – even days or weeks later. For example, if your organization is mentioned in an article, and a week later, a reader of that article visits your website and downloads a white paper these tools can attribute the activity to that article.

Broadly speaking, advertising technology tools inform advertisers of clicks on digital ads within or around an article (or video). Earned media attribution is fundamentally the same idea, only it’s attributed to the article itself rather than an ad served up with the article.

It’s worth pointing out, tools like Google Analytics (GA) can be customized to produce reports like this as well, but it takes work and constant fine-tuning. Meltwater has a neat little integration with GA to do some of this automatically.

The Tyranny of Metrics

I’m currently on Chapter 14 of a book titled, The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Z. Muller. In the book Mr. Muller, a historian, illustrates some of the flaws in the overzealous use of metrics. A narrow focus on metrics can have unintended consequences and worse, be gamed.

He goes through case studies for almost every industry: grade schools, higher education, medicine, finance, military and police.  For example, he shows how police metrics – the measures established by elected officials to determine whether or not the police are doing a good job – drive the entire culture.

Many police departments focus the volume of arrests as a metric, which cause the institution to focus on tactics that best serve to boosts that metric. That typically means targeting low-level criminals that are easy to nab – instead of kingpins that require resources and time and yield just one arrest. Does that make the streets safer?

Metrics are important in any function, including PR, but too often we get focused on the metric and lose sight of the overall objective. Metrics in PR and marketing are should be directional – showing us whether or not we are getting closer to our goal.

The full survey results are embedded below and can be freely downloaded from SlideShare.

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Image credit: Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

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