PR measurement: you’re (probably) doing it wrong

PR measurement: you’re (probably) doing it wrong

If anyone tells you they’ve got the one true key to measuring PR, they’re either lying or they’re wrong.

Countless services have popped up in the past few years that claim to have PR measurement all figured out. For the low, low price of $3k a month, an automated service will collect your coverage URLs and spit them back out with an assigned value attached. It’s easy! It’s simple! It’s cleanly designed!

And it’s wrong.

The reality of PR is that it is by very definition about changing the way people feel — something that, try as we might, we’ll never be able to assign a neat little number to.

We can fumble and approximate and gesticulate wildly in the direction of the truth, but even our best and smartest numbers are only ever going to be numbers.

The most effective strategies in any measurement program, but especially in any PR measurement program, are the ones that combine thoughtful calculation with strategic analysis. Without analysis, you may find yourself reporting on key takeaways such as:

  • “We grew from 10 to 15 Facebook followers this week. That’s a 50% increase! Unfortunately, last week we grew from 0 to 10 followers, a 100% increase, so we must be doing something wrong.”

  • “Our story about hiring a new CFO received 2 billion impressions yesterday!”

  • “We used to receive an average of 50 Twitter shares per article, but in the past few months we haven’t received a single share. That must mean our content is no longer as shareable as it used to be (and definitely not due to a bigger problem, like Twitter shutting down the endpoint that allows marketers to track URL shares).”

The reality is, numbers are important. When calculated smartly and approached strategically, they can serve as benchmarks and jumping-off points for campaign ideas, strategy revisions and industry comparisons. But there’s always going to be an element of je ne sais quoi to PR programs, and that element should never be ignored.

Consider this: your client, Pizzazz, is dedicated to, uh, disrupting the pizza industry. A digital article in the New York Times might reach millions of readers, compared to an article in PMQ Pizza Magazine (yes, it’s a thing), which has a much more limited but targeted readership. A basic read of UMVs might lead you to think the Times hit was a clear win — but consider your audience: what if 20 visitors clicked through the Times piece, compared to 5 for PMQ, but all 5 PMQ visitors subscribed to the Pizzazz email list, and none of the Times viewers did. Which article performed best?

That is, of course, a trick question. To answer this, you’d need to take into account how Pizzazz defines success. Is it brand awareness? Lead acquisition? Inclusion of key messaging in a story? Only by taking a client’s goals into account can we truly make sense of the value of our work.

As communications professionals, we need to be asking questions and challenging assumptions — not just of statements and philosophies, but of numbers. You may have gotten into PR in part because math was never your strong suit (which - fair!), but now is the time to confront that numerophobia head-on. Build a data team and hire an analyst to crunch the numbers, but use your critical thinking skills to transform those results into shiny nuggets of insight. If we continue to blindly rely on algorithms and one-size-fits all dashboards, we’re not providing value to our clients… and may even be doing just the opposite.

Briana Severson heads up content strategy & analytics programs out of LaunchSquad's NYC office, where she builds things that solve problems — sometimes with numbers, sometimes with words, and sometimes with people.
Photo: Tape measure via Shutterstock

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