PR pros can’t seem to agree what the best metrics are for gauging and proving their value.
Despite almost 10 years with the Barcelona Principles, some PR practitioners still rely on ad value equivalency (AVE) to show their effectiveness. Others say you should measure impressions and unique visitors—but some argue that those metrics are just a starting point.
If the Barcelona Principles say we should be measuring outputs and outcomes instead of inputs, what are those outputs? What data are most valuable?
Barcelona Principles chief architect David Rockland, in a recent interview with PR Daily, said it’s time to get more specific:
Rockland also urges getting more precise about key metrics. He identifies the three buckets the principles identify: outputs, outcomes and organizational business results, but he concedes the principles could be more specific.
“When talking about outputs, I often mention to clients things like voice, reach and engagement,” he says. “How loud were we? Did they engage?” He agrees that a new draft of the principles might nail down certain metrics in more exact terms.
So, let’s get specific.
New tech, new perspectives
Chad Latz, chief innovation officer and global president of digital for Burson Cohn & Wolfe, says the new tools available for measuring campaigns change everything.
“The abundance of touchpoints that can be used to earn the attention of the public has grown exponentially, largely as a result of the proliferation of digital media,” he says. “The primary means by which audiences experience news is ‘in feed’ and across the digital ecosystem, all of which are measurable events. In addition, we can now tether outcomes and endpoints to our communications programs with measurement technologies and data science capabilities that far exceed where they were in 2015.”
His conclusion? It’s time to update our playbooks.
“By virtue of these facts alone, the Barcelona Principles are in need of a re-think,” he says.
However, Latz doesn’t give weight to all the metrics you can track online. “The expectation is that the effectiveness of PR can (and should) be measured alongside other marketing disciplines,” he says. “By virtue of this fact, impressions or unique monthly visitors (UMVs) alone are meaningless metrics. The ad value equivalent (AVE) metric was introduced to try to establish a parallel value measurement for PR that advertisers and marketers could understand. That desire, to see PR on equal footing with advertising, is well intentioned. It just doesn’t apply the right metric.”
That doesn’t mean that all your “vanity” metrics, such as impressions and page views, are meaningless.
Securing a foothold
Gini Dietrich, co-founder of Arment Dietrich and author of “Spin Sucks,” argues that those data sets are a good starting place—and serve as important indicators if something is wrong with your campaign.
“We always start with the vanity metrics because, without them, we don’t know if something is working or not,” she says. “So, for instance, you might track the number of followers, website visitors, and time spent on site. While those don’t prove ROI and value, they do alert us if something is wrong.”
Yet, most PR pros (including Latz and Dietrich) agree that impressions and UMVs are insufficient to show your campaign’s value. So, what should you measure?
The answer—frustrating as it might be—is that you have to take it case by case. What matters to the campaign, and is therefore essential to measure, will vary depending on your client.
“We begin each engagement by asking the client what the most valuable outcome is for the brand and the business. From there we know definitively how we should construct KPIs, and what the best mechanism will be to go about moving people toward an outcome,” says Latz.
Mixing and matching for clearer focus
A lot of metrics can be informative for helping you track your effectiveness, and you should probably be using a combination of several.
Latz says, “We take a performance media approach to how we target, optimize and measure the impact of PR programs.
“Article readership as determined by deep links (rather than UMVs), shares of news content, engaged reach, owned site traffic driven by news and social, retail footfall, organic search rankings, sales conversion, lead generation, material shifts in perception and reputation are all critical components to consider.”
For Dietrich, the most important step for qualifying your metrics is attribution.
“Did a prospect or lead enter our marketing-qualified or sales-qualified funnel from something we did?” she says. “If so, we attribute that lead to the PR efforts and we follow them through their buying journey.”
“Those metrics include website visitors from something specific (earned or owned media content, social media, native advertising, etc.), pages they visited, where/when we collected their email address (typically from a piece of content we created), and what they did from there (downloaded more content, attended a webinar, asked for more information, requested a demo, requested a proposal or pricing).”
Factoring in time and money
Client needs should also drive the frequency of your measurement efforts.
“If you’re a restaurant or retail store, you want to do it daily, because sales happen constantly,” says Dietrich. “If you’re a services firm that invoices monthly or an organization that sells B2B products that have a long sale cycle, you can do it monthly.”
Latz says measurement, done correctly, shouldn’t be seen as a sunk cost for PR pros.
“I often hear PR practitioners gripe about not having the budget for measurement, or that clients see measurement as a ‘cost of doing business’ to prove the value of their work, rather than something to pay for,” he says.
“This highlights the inherent failing of measurement in PR and the gap in connecting communications to business outcomes. From our perspective, the value of measurement isn’t done solely for the purpose of proving value, but instead to be used as the cornerstone of a strategy to optimize our media approach and deliver ongoing value.”
Accessing the power of data
PR pros should be pitching a more valuable service—one that comes with a scientific method and real-time insights. “This is a process fueled by data and one which clients are willing to pay for,” Latz says.
Big data is here to stay, and for Latz and many other PR pros, denying the power of data is futile—and folly.
“The belief that clients will always choose ‘big creative’ over data-driven approaches that effectively targets audiences, but can also deliver measured behavioral outcomes, is a naïve view of PR and marketing and the expectations of clients,” he says. “Billions of marketing dollars have been cut by the world’s largest CPG companies. This should be enough of an indicator that clients expect to see PR outcomes that can be tied to business results.
“Big creative must be driven by and engineered atop of data.”
It doesn’t have to break the bank, either.
“You can get really fancy and use Trendkite or AirPR,” says Dietrich. “Or you can do it with Google analytics, a CRM, marketing automation, and Google Data Studio. If you do the latter, it does take a bit to get it all set up, but once you do and it’s running, it’s easy to pull reports from Data Studio as often as you want/need them.”
What are the most important metrics for your campaigns?