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.