The value of PR has never been more clear
Here’s how you can use modern technology to show the impact of your efforts to build awareness and drive business outcomes.
Public relations is an investment meant to yield positive returns over time. The only problem? Most marketing managers still haven’t found a way to quantify those returns.
Recent research from IBA reveals that 89% of respondents struggle to measure their campaigns’ effectiveness. What’s more, 88% suspect that much of their PR spend is wasted, and most believe they spend more time on status calls than achieving measurable results.
These statistics are alarming, but not surprising. The perception of PR as a marketing initiative has long been negative. Executives and marketing leaders want tangible results, but beyond counting the badges on their company website, they generally don’t know how to see those results.
Many PR professionals have used the decades-old Advertising Value Equivalency approach to explain the value of their work to industry outsiders. The method treats a PR piece as an ad and quantifies its return on investment by the cost of the print space it occupies. Unfortunately, this approach fails to account for a multitude of variables and ignores the reality that PR is not advertising.
So what’s the alternative?
As the CEO of a content marketing agency, I’ve wrestled with this question for years. Rather than using AVE or other popular industry techniques, PR pros should consider taking an approach that centers on a singular goal that most companies share: growth.
Campaign-driven PR measurement
Although many executives might initially say they want to use PR to increase brand awareness, further investigation usually uncovers the real endgame: driving business growth. After all, brand awareness is supposed to be a precursor to more sales. This means that PR professionals must connect their work to sales growth—but that can be incredibly difficult.
For example, what if your firm handles only PR for a client? You might be garnering great press, but you have no control over the rest of the sales funnel and can’t guarantee they’ll capitalize on media hits.
The solution? Focus on the entire inbound funnel, with multiple content initiatives working toward the same goal. By helping clients with earned media like PR, on-site content like blog posts and case studies, and nurture content like email newsletters and whitepapers, you can have more confidence that campaigns are set up to achieve optimal results. This also provides more backend data to track and analyze.
But what if it’s difficult to gain access to that data? Some companies don’t have Google Analytics set up correctly. Some lack a marketing automation platform that can track referral traffic and engagement once leads land on their website. Some don’t use any platform at all.
To maximize value, make sure clients have the tracking and reporting tools needed to attribute campaign results.
Attribution won’t always be crystal-clear, of course. For example, a client could be mentioned in an online publication that won’t allow a link back to the client’s website. In that case, look for upticks in organic website traffic around the time that the mention went live. On the other hand, if a link is included in the press mention, look for referral traffic from the publisher’s site. But measure changes in organic traffic, too, because leads don’t always jump straight to the client’s site after reading an article.
For all published content, focus on metrics such as impressions, social media shares, press release syndications, backlinks and domain authority of the publisher’s site. Most importantly, report those metrics to clients consistently.
Beyond the numbers
The value of PR is not always easily quantifiable. Combat this by sending regular reports to clients on campaign performance, topics that are resonating with relevant audiences, and ideas and feedback to inform future initiatives.
We know that PR and content marketing can help companies achieve measurable results, especially long-term. But by providing clients with qualitative and quantitative metrics to create a holistic view of campaign performance, you can ensure that they know it, too.
Kelsey Raymond is the co-founder and CEO of Influence & Co., a full-service content marketing firm that specializes in helping companies strategize, create, publish, and distribute content that accomplishes their goals. Influence & Co.’s clients range from venture-backed startups to Fortune 500 brands.
This excellent report assumes the objective of PR is more sales but increasingly the PR objective is less damage by government. Three accusatory assertions by government are common.
.1. ‘THE RICH SHOULD PAY THEIR FAIR SHARE IN TAXES. Just as the government gives tax deductions to individuals for buying government bonds and electric cars, the government gives deductions to businesses for investing in technology that increases American jobs and for other “good for America” investments. But then some political publicity-seekers say “look how billion dollar companies are paying no taxes!”
.2. BIG COMPANIES SHOULD BE SPLIT UP SO SMALLER COMPANIES CAN BETTER COMPETE. But a big farm can have big equipment and computers that 100 small farms in that acreage couldn’t afford. A big auto company and drug company can do for the public what smaller companies could not. Could smaller newspapers do for the public what The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal do? Or fly people as well as our airlines? Or match the prices of Amazon, Walmart, The Home Depot, drugstore chains and other large companies?
.3. COMPANIES ARE UNFAIR TO THE PUBLIC IN PRODUCT SAFETY, DISCRIMINATION AND HARASSMENT. Discrimination and harassment surely happen but realistically is it likely that most companies gladly hire the best employees they can find, that flirting guilt is individual not corporate, and that repeatedly sued companies may care even MORE about product safety than critics who say “they don’t give a damn about us”?
Increasingly the objective of PR is to reduce damage by government by increasing public awareness of three TRUTHS.
.1. OUR COMPANY PROTECTS YOUR SAFETY. Years ago for Sears I wrote often about their lab to “torture test” products like luggage handles (0ne title: “20,000 Jerks!”) plus furniture and appliances for durability and safety. Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot and others surely have that kind of lab. Many companies are justly proud of anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Facebook has literally thousands of employees whose main job is to keep false or harmful information off their sites, and almost every company can do local PR on what it is doing for safety and how the public can help.
.2. OUR COMPANY HELPS OUR SOCIETY’S BUDGET. We pay state taxes, real estate taxes, school taxes, Social Security taxes, sales taxes, plus many other taxes, and we pay money into the economy via compensation to employees (who use some of the money to also pay taxes), purchases from suppliers and donations to hundreds of good causes that help people who need and deserve the help.
.3. OUR COMPANY IS TRYING TO PROTECT YOUR LIFE. Thousands of company executives serve on civic commissions, hospital boards, university faculties, police and traffic advisory boards and more. A growing number of companies may be treasured by the public as almost a blessing from God for helping “parts for hearts” research at Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins, the hunt for a cancer vaccine and CAR-T research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Covid research by Pfizer and others that my save millions of lives.
What the newer PR thrusts accomplish is to (a) reduce the calls for government action because a company is safer from falsehoods when the truth is better known, and (b) reduce the peril of government-caused injury because the public opposes accusations that the public knows to be false, and opposes government action that could reduce a company’s ability to keep helping the public and keep 5trying to protect our lives.
Some of this corporate work, like traditional “how to choose and use” media coverage, can sharply increase sales. If you show 150 million Americans how you are trying to protect their lives, will many of them not then prefer to buy what you sell?
PR firms are marvelous for piggybacking one PR message onto another supporting a different message. Edelman once had perhaps the best health PR management exec in history who–sometimes sweetly but firmly when necessary—got account group leaders to try supporting two or more PR objectives with every possible action. Burson did some of the greatest-ever Washington PR work at a time when most clients figured PR budget money is for selling stuff.
The great PR firms increasingly teach clients to accomplish more results by supporting more objectives. The marriage of product PR and corporate PR is not until death do us part but Is increasingly to prevent or delay that grim end from ever happening.