Measuring the value of PR is a topic that pops up a lot. It’s been discussed and distilled for many moons and no doubt moons to come. It’s a conversation on Clubhouse I’ve had a lot over recent months with PR measurement tool custodians (AKA, PR tool sales reps).
There’s a camp that think you can. There’s a camp that think you can’t.
There are absolutely ways you can apply some measuring metrics to PR efforts (coming up in the next blog). But after 27 years in the business, compiling reports, testing out the latest qualitative and quantitative technologies and reporting back on the impact of campaigns to convince even the most apprehensive client that PR is worthy, I truly believe it is PR that adds the beating heart to a business and which cannot be accurately measured.
Yes, there are elements of PR tactics that you can measure and insights are insightful. They help to create big picture mapping, especially for publicity. But the word measure implies exact. And while elements of publicity can be measured and tactical executions of PR can be measured, the impact of PR holistically cannot be measured exactly, ever. So much of PR by its very nature is intangible.
That said, it’s important to have an open mind; things change, technology advances. Perhaps one day there will be technology that measures thoughts as they happen, per human on a global scale. Let’s hope not.
You can’t put a dollar figure on someone’s thoughts, how often they have them, share them with others or their perception en masse about a person, place or thing over a lifetime. You can’t put a dollar figures on changing perception. It doesn’t always denote a sale or call to action that is trackable.
It’s important for PR professionals and their work that their worth – their impact, their loyalty and dedication to move brands up the consideration ladder in the right way, at the right time with the right people – is not up for measurement.
While the introduction of more measuring tools is great for reassuring components of PR executions, it is not the whole picture. Reporting on contribution is important, yes. Reviewing impact as part of a report, yes. Mapping execution against visible impact can be helpful to analysis but it is not the complete picture; it’s only part of it. A very small part.
Let’s be collectively cautious about how we talk about measurement to ensure more peace and understanding about what PR is and why and how it’s of value to a business beyond a few stats on a page.
Yes, it’s important that we report back on contribution and impact. But it is never the whole picture. Measurement by its very nature has a start and a finish. It is actual. Factual. It takes into account size, quantification, length, height, depth, weight, value. None of these things can be inclusive and conclusive when it comes to PR.
Firstly, let’s look at the need to measure.
For far too long PR professionals have experienced a whole lot of battle scars. While there’s a wonderful current of PR changemakers in the trenches and on the horizon who are setting out to collectively change this, there is still a collective, cultural wrestle for PR professionals, globally. It needs to stop. And reporting on value is one of the things that will help.
But a lot of the wrestle comes down to a misunderstanding of what PR is, how it works and the attachment to measure that which cannot be measured.
Some of the reasons working in public relations can be hangin’ tough:
- Most business owners know they need it but there is a lack of global understanding about what PR is, and how it works.
- The inability to report on value and the client demand for it.
- Scarcity (project to project work adds pressure on agencies).
- PR is intangible, mostly.
The lack of global understand about what PR is
PR at its core is knowing your purpose, your messaging, your unique point-of-difference; taking ownership of and amplifying your stories. PR is getting what you’ve got into the hearts and minds of people who need it most. PR is reputation management. PR is what amplifies organic conversations about an entity. PR is about building a brand.
Public Relations is relating with people.
PR wrongly gets bundled and interchanged with the word ‘publicity’.
PR is not publicity. Publicity is one potential tactic of PR. One potential execution in a PR campaign. And media coverage (aka publicity) is one potential outcome of media relations.
Yes, there are elements of publicity that you can measure. The emphasis is on the word elements. You can’t however, measure its entire impact. And measurement by its very nature, means exact.
Yes, there are elements of tactical executions within a PR campaign that you can review and report on.
But you cannot measure PR. And you can’t measure the true impact of publicity over a business’ lifetime or even accurately during the campaign.
The inability to report on value and the client demand for it.
If your budget has enough buffer in it that you can dedicate to ‘impact reporting’; then that’s great. It helps to paint a picture of what did and didn’t work to a degree. It helps to put ‘Mister and Mrs Mc Stat’ at ease about their PR investment. And it’s some form of proof in the pudding.
But it’s a slippery slope, because by measuring the visible diffuses the time and effort of work that went into achieving the cherry and only the cherry on top. And a cherry that is not guaranteed and out of the PR pro’s control.
What about the purpose you defined?
What about the key messages that were clarified?
What about the Style Guide that you created that will unify and inform communication?
What about the target audience that you identified and reached out to in more ways than publicity alone?
What about the impact you had on design assets?
What about the media you reached, who you had a great interaction with and will tell a colleague but who didn’t have capacity to publish your story?
What about that grassroots activation you did that created positive sentiment and brand memories in a community that will last a lifetime?
What about the point-of-sale copy you wrote that shopping centre foot traffic saw and remembered?
What about that campaign shoot you directed which resulted in incredible imagery that without you wouldn’t have been achieved?
In a world where media is so fragmented, PR professionals will and should rely less on publicity as the linchpin to an effective PR campaign. Moving away from publicity measurement reporting is important and it’s where PR peace can be found. For us all.
You can report back on:
- Spikes in web traffic pre, post and during the campaign
- Number of media coverage placements compared to before
- Spikes in financials; sales or contributions to a cause
- Number of ‘meaningful’ mentions on social media
- Number of times a hashtag was used
- Number of times a key message was printed, or spoken in media outlets
- Increase in ‘meaningful’ social media DMs
- Website and social media page impressions
- Circulation figures
I definitely didn’t include paid influencer placements (the horror that PR agencies report on this!), or Ad Circulation Equivalents (AVEs), which are, pretty much guestimates with fairy floss on top.
I’ve reluctantly included many of the above, some of which can be compared to measuring a perm that is high and wide (not meaningful or useful).
For example, it’s silly billy stuff to measure anything much on Instagram; when most figures on the platform are and can be faked in some way. It’s not a fair or transparent playing field by way of stats. The best way to measure anything on social media is via well-placed, well-positioned, meaningful and re-purpose-able content. Along with DMs. And that’s about it.
I also think it’s tenuous to measure the impact of sales. PR is not and should never be regarded as a sales function. It’s a communications function. It does impact sales over the lifetime of a business; and well-placed publicity can contribute to spikes in sales, but for the most part I recommend avoiding PR for sales stats comparisons. It undermines the true value of PR and how it works.
The Pressure for PR Professionals to Measure Value
When clients invest in something they want proof it works. They want apples for apples. They want to know that if they spent $50k on PR services, that they’ll get $50k or more in sales.
But PR is for the most part intangible. It just is. It’s what sits inside someone’s heart and mind about a brand. Much of the impact a PR professional makes on a brand can’t be seen or measured. It’s like trying to measure the value of a friend. You know that ‘hype friend’ that always has your back and is cheering you on?! You can’t measure that. Nor should we want to.
Just one example of why you can’t measure PR
One single person might see a piece of publicity, or read some compelling copy, or be exposed to a beautifully designed asset or attend an event that were all influenced by a thoughtful and strategic PR campaign.
That one person had a positive experience. They didn’t know about that business before. Now they do. They have formed an opinion. They bank that information in their mind for when they need it. And then two years down the track they mention that business to a friend. That friend banks the recommendation in their mind. And six months later make a purchase with said business. They have a positive experience. They tell a friend the next day, week or month. None of this can be measured against the impact of the PR pro’s effort.
Market Research Groups
One of the most accurate but still inconclusive ways to measure the impact of PR is to vox pop your customer community or social media community about what they perceive about you and your services in comparison to your competitors.
Do they feel that they belong, do they feel satisfied, engaged, delighted, empowered even?
What’s holding them back from shopping with you? What do they think about your recent campaign or what would they say about you to a friend? What are their shopping behaviours? Where do they consume media and why? How can you better reach them?!
Market research offers another way to measure an element of the impact of PR tactics to a brand. But it is only an element and it is not and never the full picture. Also I’d much rather sink budget towards getting results and executing tasks than measuring or market researching them.
I think the quicker we come to terms with the fact that PR cannot truly or accurately be measured, the better for PR pros and the clients that invest in PR.
Let’s report on the incredible services we complete to a high standard in a timely fashion that bring about communications clarity and empowerment. Our perception about a business sits in our hearts and minds and thoughts; our deepest emotions.
PR changes a business’s position to a better one. And the best way to measure it is by way of tasks completed – that over time, a lifetime, always and forever contribute positively to the business that invested in it.
PR cannot be measured accurately. PR works because we know it does.
We know this to be true from the centuries humans have relied and prospered upon connection through story.
Words by Jade Roberts
raraPR Founder and Creative Director
raraPR is above all the sum of people who together help build brands and share stories. We are present in our determination to make a positive difference to the world by representing individuals and businesses that are doing good. We are an extension of the personal stories within us, those that we exist for and those within you that need to be heard.