Measuring PR: a guide to the metrics that matter

Why measure the impact of a PR or communications campaign? Surely the bottom line is the only thing that matters? Yet large organisations can spend hundreds of thousands of pounds every year on media monitoring, evaluating coverage, and understanding how activities have affected sentiment.

This level of investment is beyond the reach of most scale-up businesses, and often unnecessary. A lot of the time and effort spent by large organisations on measurement is to help justify investments in PR people and agency support to internal stakeholders.

While this audience is an important one, the real value in measurement comes from showing what’s working (and what’s not) and then using the numbers to drive a cycle of continuous improvement.

All businesses seeking to expand and scale-up their operations should put in place some metrics to help guide progress, and measuring PR activities need not be hugely expensive or time-consuming.

There are hundreds of different metrics you can track and evaluate using free or relatively low-cost tools and techniques. We advise keeping things simple and focusing on a small selection of metrics that matter.

Precisely which metrics to use will, ultimately, come down to what the campaign seeks to achieve. Most of the organisations we work with are investing in PR to do one or more of the following:

  • To build brand awareness
  • Attract more customers
  • Impress those they want to do business with

Each of these objectives requires a subtly different set of measures.

Brand awareness

There are several techniques for measuring how many people are aware of a business as a result of campaign activity. Some are more robust than others, but each shows whether campaigns are moving a brand in the right direction:

Media Reach: The total number of people that could have been exposed to a brand through the media in a given period or campaign. Also known as Opportunities to See, this metric includes the combined circulation of all coverage secured and the number of impressions achieved by social media posts. Although imperfect, as not everyone that consumes an outlet will see everything it produces, this measure shows which stories are most popular and what channels work well.

Estimated Views: We can apply some working assumptions to Media Reach data to help overcome its limitations and show a more realistic level of brand awareness. Not everyone who visits a particular website will see a specific piece of coverage, and the same is true for print titles too. Articles on the front page of a publication or website will gain more attention than those hidden in the middle or on a secondary tab.

Audience Polling: For the most thorough understanding of brand awareness, organisations can commission audience research to show what proportion of respondents are aware of a brand and how familiar they feel towards it. Research companies offer options to suit a range of budgets, while it is also possible to use sponsored social media posts to survey specific customer segments. This kind of research should take place periodically and include a more in-depth analysis of audience sentiment and message retention.

Attracting customers

Most businesses wanting to use PR to help attract new customers would benefit from using a selection of simple metrics that align with the famous AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) model of marketing communications and blend with broader inbound marketing and sales techniques.

Awareness: Typically, we would suggest that organisations start with the Media Reach and Estimated Views figures detailed earlier, and analyse these figures to see whether there is a relationship with some of the other metrics described below.

Interest: It is easier to gauge interest than awareness, particularly for companies with a straightforward online presence. We look at popular analytics packages to see the volumes of New Visitors to a customer’s website, as well as levels of Social Media Interactions and the New Followers those accounts attract.

Desire: There are two kinds of interactions that indicate desire, or a deeper level of interest. The first is Return Visitors, the number of people who come back to the website to discover more. The second, which shows greater desire, is Potential Prospects, the number of people willing to exchange their contact details in return for further information.

Action: This is the point at which your PR and inbound marketing efforts become sales opportunities. We like to measure the number of Inbound Sales Requests from people who’ve seen an organisation in the media or have engaged with their campaign content online.

Impressing stakeholders

There are a few ways to understand whether PR and content marketing activities are impressing an audience. One way is to look at how the people who share a company’s messages, such as journalists, interpret its actions. Others consider how various audiences, or samples of those audiences, feel about the company.

Media Sentiment Analysis: This involves looking at media coverage and performing basic sentiment analysis. There are kudos to scale-up businesses deemed worthy of coverage in the media, so measure the number of Positive and Neutral Articles. We also track and respond to Negative Articles to minimise the damage they create and learn how the issues raised can be avoided in the future. This approach can be extended to the realms of social media too.

Key Message Analysis: Research shows that people feel more favourably about the brands they know and understand. It takes time and frequent repetition of key messages for an audience to become familiar with them, which why consistent communication is so important. We recommend that businesses take steps to understand how their Key Messages translate into media exposure and which gain the highest level of attention.

Social Media Analysis: Social media can provide an excellent level of insight into how people feel about a company or an issue it is discussing. The number of social media interactions will show whether people are interested in a specific development or piece of content. Analysis of blog comments and posts on social media will indicate how people feel. These are not perfect measures, but they do provide near-instant feedback and an indication of how people think and feel.

Audience Perception Audit: While Media Sentiment and Key Message Analysis will show how the levers of a campaign are performing, audience research is the most powerful way to understand how they are influencing the audience. Businesses can conduct audience research or customer polling to find out how people feel about them and their levels of understanding. For the most thorough understanding, we recommend businesses look at how their audience perceives they perform against the relevant components of corporate reputation.