5 industry leaders name their top PR success metric

There’s plenty of debate about how to quantify public relations efficacy. Here are what five experienced pros look for.

What matters most in public relations?

It’s a puzzler that falls somewhere between achieving world peace and figuring out how to peel a hard-boiled egg in one fell swoop.

To shed light on this contentious topic, we asked five data-driven PR professionals: What is the most powerful PR metric you use to gauge campaign success?

Here’s what they said:

1. Sales

“I know some people consider me a snake oil salesman because I advocate for PR-generated revenue, but the fact is if we aren’t contributing to the Profit and Loss Statements of our organizations, we aren’t doing our jobs.

“Sure, there are things that cannot be directly attributed to dollars—such as brand awareness—but we know that inherently does increase sales. To that end, the most powerful PR metric we use to gauge success is how much revenue we drive through our efforts, both for ourselves and our clients.”

Gini Dietrich

Founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich

2. Source traffic

“There are many (PR) metrics to consider, but the one I count on the most is source traffic. We’ve moved past impressions and hits. I’m sure I don’t have to remind everyone what HITS stands for (how idiots track success, according to PR expert and measurement queen Katie Paine).

“Source traffic reveals how your PR outreach to the media, influencers, customers and other stakeholders can be tracked. Every time you run an awareness campaign, launch a product, hold a media tour or fundraise, you can track whether people visit your website for more information and how they take action. It’s the top of the sales funnel, but it’s a very important starting point.”

Deirdre Breakenridge

CEO of Pure Performance Communications

3. Metrics tied to specific business outcomes

“Honestly, there is no PR metric I can’t live without. At the end of the day, I want to see business outcomes, so it’s the related social PR outcomes I focus on—whether those are number of downloads, signups or attendees to a webinar I’m teaching.

“Those numbers show engagement, interest and action—and you can’t reach desired outcomes without action.”

Shonali Burke

President and CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting

4. Stories in “goal outlets”

“The single most vital PR metric I use to gauge success right now is the number of placements per month in my clients’ top 10 most important outlets. How do you determine which outlets those are? The ones with the most prestige and credibility with their key audiences.

“What? A lame “small-data” metric? Yes.

“Social media engagement and page views can give granularity. Opt-ins and conversions obviously drive business. But the people who come to me are looking specifically to boost their credibility, so we start with finding ways to share their message with the third parties deemed most credible by the people who give them money.”

Michael Smart

Principal at MichaelSmartPR

5. A mixture of metrics, depending on the content

“Metrics such as unique views per month for media outlets and impressions are not accurate; they are an old-school approach to measurement. To measure PR success accurately, I take many things into consideration. I always have my clients track their Google Analytics to see where their website traffic is coming from. If there’s significant traffic coming from articles I’ve placed, that’s hard evidence that I’m helping create awareness for a client.

“Also, if I get a thought leadership piece placed and it is shared a significant number of times, then we know the article was a success. In short, I use a mixture of formulas based on the project or campaign.”

Kristen Grossi

Co-founder and CEO of talkTECH

A version of this article first appeared on the AirPR Blog.

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