There’s a lot of data out there, and a lot of metrics telling us how to make sense of it. It seems like in today’s digital-first environment, every platform has its own acronyms and rules for making the most of them—CTR, CPC, CPL, ER, ROI—at this point, key performance indicators (KPIs) are starting to look more like a random smattering of alphabet soup than quantifiable indicators of success. To complicate matters further, navigating these metrics can quickly feel complex and overwhelming. Public relations reliance on impressions and Advertising Value Equivalents is both about the complexity of and lack of access to the data; PR is not on the front lines of data collection tools like Google Analytics which is often managed by web or marketing teams.
Now, however, public awareness and corporate communications have moved beyond calculating value in terms of column inches or print space. Impressions and similar counting stats account for little more than how wide a net is being cast. Nevertheless, whether it's the comfort of the AVE or the sheer number of impressions, many organizations still orchestrate the success and failure of their efforts around these outdated metrics.
How can we help shift that preference? After all, these KPIs have a direct impact on our very careers. Our budgets, teams, and departments all hinge on delivering on agreed-upon success indicators. If the success of our campaigns has to rely on a statistic, we want to make sure we're choosing the right numbers (and know why these matter).
For every milestone breaking-marketing campaign, there’s a PR team generating awareness at the very beginning. PR is there every step of the way; we just have to quantify our involvement. Inbound traffic, from coverage, shares of coverage, multimedia usage, and direct results and all serve towards that purpose. We’re not in the business of selling, we want to generate interest and shouldn’t try to validate our performance with sales metrics.
PR measurement has always been a far more ambiguous space than other organizational metrics, but establishing a clear status quo gives credence to the effectiveness of PR’s involvement. Regardless of the metrics involved, establishing a campaign performance baseline from before PR’s involvement, tracking PR’s impact over time, and comparing that impact against that baseline, helps establish a clear before and after narrative of the campaign at hand. We have to know the good and the bad from day one if we hope to attribute any difference to the public relations team.
Start with the data you have immediate access to—view counts, link clicks, inbound traffic, advocacy—each of these can help establish that baseline and demonstrate the uptick in awareness with the launch of a new campaign. Savvy PR pros can even fold in any increases in total website traffic for the first few weeks after a big launch as an impact of our efforts.
Beyond the traditional PR toolkit, average time on page, targeted reach, and share of voice are all great points of consideration when expanding our metrics. Average time with a piece of content is widely recognized as the biggest indicator of whether or not the audience will take action. Targeted reach’s focus on an ideal audience shows our ability to efficiently engage those most likely to act. Share of voice essentially measures the efficiency of your efforts against those of your competitors and can be used to engaged traffic.
The efficacy of any metric hinges on the goals of the campaign itself. Share of voice is great for awareness, but won’t highlight a user’s likelihood to act as well as Average time. Targeted reach can demonstrate how well you connect with the right audience, but won’t show attribution. The ideal quantifiable solution relies on identifying the right combination of statistics for a campaign’s goals and monitoring them over time.
For PR pros in search of more analytic support, link shortener services like Bitly help when linking to external sites and regularly track visits to each unique link. Likewise, sites like TweekReach and LinkTally will track how many times coverage pieces are shared. If that’s not enough, appending hyperlinks with UTM parameters will equip you to track inbound traffic activity and attribute the source of your traffic.
Finally, be critical of your placements. It’s understandable to want big name recognition attached to our releases—The Wall Street Journal has its legacy for a reason—but worldwide publishers often come with worldwide audiences and may not deliver the same quality of coverage as a more niche trade publication. Score your coverage pieces and target your publications based on the results. The right data equips PR teams to make more calculated connections. If the industry trade shows a stronger social resonance and drives more traffic than the Times, then follow the data.
The digital world's wash of data is constantly challenging how PR measurement tools capture the results of our efforts. When we identify and leverage the statistics that show actual value and quantify the outcomes we hope to achieve, PR professionals take another step towards proving their financial impact on the organization as a whole. It's not a silver-bullet, one-size-fits-all solution, it's a challenge, but one that constantly adapts and evolves based on the parameters around it, and a challenge we should be eager to embrace.
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