I recently saw an article about the immeasurable nature of PR. Its main point was that PR specialists are just using random metrics to prove how important their work is, while in fact said metrics are useless. The author believes that PR can benefit businesses, even if its results cannot be measured. It is allegedly possible to evaluate whether a PR campaign has worked or not using indirect results such as getting an incoming request for services because someone has seen your company’s case on the Internet.
I immediately decided to write a response, because measurable communications is one of my main approaches to PR. I believe that it is impossible to achieve the right business goals without an understanding of quantitative change. How so? Read on to find out.
If a marketer or a PR specialist say they have been working in the industry for 20 years and that PR cannot be measured, and they use this argument in discussions, you should fire them or choose another candidate, because it means that this person is very good at explaining what they did («it’s cool and always works»), but not at planning or achieving specific business goals. In other words, they do not understand what needs to benefit the company now or in a year, and why it should be done a certain way and not another.
If we acknowledge that business is first and foremost about making money, then a PR specialist should know, even before starting their work, how communications and changes in PR strategy affect profits and not assume that PR does nothing of the sort and therefore the employer should just trust them.
Indeed, PR people often act indirectly (through journalists, influencers, media appearances, etc.), and there is not always a direct correlation between their actions and results. But that doesn’t mean they should not set measurable (qualitatively or quantitatively) goals and not try to connect their actions to the desired effect.
For example, if you work only with media publications, you could track statistics on the brand’s website: analyze traffic spikes, increases in the number of relevant target queries in Wordstat, conversion from website visits to purchases, etc. In the b2b segment, you can survey new leads to find out where they came from or learned about the brand and its offer, what materials they read, and what kind of videos they watched.
We can deliberately change only that what we can measure. PR can really change brand perception and awareness, behavioral patterns, and audience attitude toward the object of communication strategy. And if we act randomly and feel happy with what we have, then it’s not about PR. It’s about zen.
Modern communicators have the tools and understanding of how they can be used to achieve goals and measure results. Traditional PR has been replaced with integrated communications and a pool of PESO channels in the digital space. All PESO channels are equally important. The use of paid and owned communications may not only complement earned channels (traditional PR), but also help businesses to achieve the necessary results, while shared content helps to measure strategy results.
We need metrics to see whether our business and communications change. They may be relative rather than absolute, but we still need them if we want to move meaningfully toward our business goals through PR.
For example, we recently wanted to boost our agency’s b2b sales. To achieve this, we decided to use expert content generated by our employees. To measure the strategy’s efficiency, we looked at the number of incoming leads.
We ask all new clients where they learned about us. After the launch of the campaign, the main responses were «from the ratings» and «from your employee articles».
During a year of actively promoting the agency by broadcasting the expertise of our employees, we saw the average number of incoming quarterly leads go up by 55% in the absence of active or cold outbound sales. Changing this criterion clearly showed that our approach worked, and we made significant progress toward our business goal.
A PR manager should understand how their activities may affect company profits. Maintaining that PR has no effect on profits is harmful. Here is an example of how our agency was able to increase client sales by 100%. By the way, this case won us the NATIVE ADVERTISING AWARDS in Berlin.
To get to the bottom of things, you may use the method of five whys, which helps to identify the cause and effect of a specific phenomenon. For example, your company’s sales are declining, and you think PR could solve the problem. Answer the following questions honestly:
The main results of PR activities are outputs (quantitative metrics) and outcomes (changes in target audience behavior that we discussed above). Communication results should be identified separately for every stakeholder, society as a whole, and the organization itself.
Here, too, you can use the five whys approach. How will you know that brand awareness has changed among the right target audience? How will you know if brand perception has changed? How will this change affect other business metrics?
Don’t be afraid to ask yourself questions and answer them honestly.
We believe that measuring and evaluating PR activities is the only way to see whether a PR specialists has done a good job. We also believe that every communication campaign should have measurable SMART goals. You can find a confirmation of that in the new edition (3.0) of the Barcelona Principles.
Some 15 years ago, there were no measurements in PR. Even five years ago this topic wasn’t so hot. But today, if a PR specialist tells you it is impossible to measure the impact of communications on business, it is a clear signal that you two should part.
At 2L, we believe that measurements work, and our experience so far shows that we are right: our clients get warmer leads, and social media metrics clearly show that brand reputation changes as a result of our actions.