Ask the question “How do you measure PR?” and you will get varied answers. Some believe measuring public relations is as mythological as a unicorn because things like reputation and trust cannot be measured. Very true; however, strategies and tactics can be measured, as well as how a message is perceived by its intended receiver — hence the science behind public relations.
Public relations practitioners have been slow to establish standards in measuring PR, but times are a-changin’. With a discerning eye on professional accountability, a true effort has evolved to establish accepted methods of measurement and consistency throughout the profession. Just last year, the Public Relations Society of America established a task force to identify best practices in an effort to show the value public relations has to organizations. But to break it down as elements of a plan, measuring PR has to be at the forefront of the planning, not the end.
Start at the very beginning with the end goal in mind
Really, you can’t measure unless you have a clear objective. Without that, measuring is futile because there is no way to identify success. You need to ask your organization/client what is it that you want to achieve. Establishing the right objective makes measuring PR strategies the easiest part of your plan. If you think about it as a road trip — your objective is to reach the destination; your strategy is the road map; and your tactics are the turn-by-turn directions. Well-crafted objectives state what is to be measured at an established level of success. Below is an example of a measureable objective:
Increase brand awareness of ABC COMPANY among tree care contractors in European markets by 75 percent over the next 12 months.
The strategy or road map to accomplish this is to educate tree care contractors on the productivity advantages of using ABC Company equipment and how it can make them more profitable. The tactics are the collateral pieces, such as direct mail, product placement, and leveraging media with advertorials and bylined articles that communicate the key messages on the advantages of ABC’s products.
So we have our plan in place with our measureable objectives, and we implement the plan. Next up is to execute tactics and measure regularly. Again measurement is easy to do if your objectives are written correctly. Whatever your message is and the channels you utilize, you can measure its effectiveness by identifying the outputs, outgrowths and outcomes of the tactics.
Measure your strategy with the Three O’s: Output, Outgrowth and Outcome
1. Output – did the audience see the message?
This is measured by number of placements, impressions and open rates. What was the open rate for an email blast to European tree care contractors?
2. Outgrowth – did the audience understand the message?
This is more difficult to quantify, but a call to action and audience engagement such as shares and click-thru rates shows that the receiver understood the message enough to do something about it. Did European tree care contractors engage the brand via website or social media?
3. Outcome – did the audience do something about it?
The unicorn. The golden goose. Whatever. Did the receiver do what you intended? If the overall goal is to increase market share, was there an increase in European sales? Measuring outcomes can be tricky if you need to measure customer attitudes, which would require voice of customer surveys and focus groups, but it provides the most important element of measurement — the receiver’s opinion of your brand.
To better illustrate, I will use an example of a PR tactic recently executed for one of our manufacturing clients. This is a global company, yet still maintains a small-business culture where company leadership still answers the main phone line. In this case, our tactic was to write and place articles in industry publications regarding a specific product highlighting its unique selling points and providing a third-party endorsement of the product from an end user. We interviewed the company that used the product to successfully accomplish a challenging project for their customer. The article appeared in a top industry publication with a large readership. The output was the magazine placement and its circulation reach. The outgrowth was calls from two contractors without prior knowledge of our client (the company VP answered the phone). The outcome was the inquiry from both individuals asking for information on the product featured in the article.
It is best to measure your plan’s effectiveness periodically throughout the established time frame. That way you can adjust your strategy based on its effectiveness. Not every plan is going to execute without need for correction. Build that flexibility into your plan.
Bottom line — we are accountable to our clients. We need to serve their needs. But when they are asking us how PR is measured — and that is not an unreasonable question given that there are standardized methods in advertising, direct marketing and digital — we need to be able to show them that PR can be measured. And we need to show clients what is important to measure.