Is ‘return on PR spend’ the next big metric?

Public relations professionals should take a page from our advertising cohorts and start documenting the cost-benefit analysis of campaigns.


“Return on advertising spend” (ROAS) is a key metric ad people use to show the worth of their work. Why don’t we have something similar for PR?

Recently on Twitter, New York Times writer Farhad Manjoo debated common misconceptions of what constitutes PR success. His argument highlights our industry’s failure to adopt a definitive set of data points we can use to justify our existence.

It’s time to develop a “return on PR spend” (ROPRS) metric that can demonstrate the ROI of any given PR campaign.

Here are some thoughts on how to develop a more substantive measurement similar to ROAS:

How ROAS is calculated

ROAS measures gross revenue generated from each dollar spent on advertising. It represents revenue generated from an advertising campaign as compared to the total campaign cost.

With this metric, marketing is a necessary cost, rather than an investment to incrementally produce profits (as is the case in PR at times).

Defining ROPRS

ROPRS would measure revenue generated for every dollar spent on a PR campaign. Compare revenue produced by a PR campaign to the total campaign cost.

PR campaigns can be product or service launches, announcements, events or other initiatives with a defined budget. The cost for a campaign will vary depending on how each organization defines a relevant expenditure. This could include staffing, agency partners and—if you incorporate paid strategies into PR—any related costs for influencer placements.

Why ROPRS could be beneficial for PR

The disparity between how advertising and PR teams report results in relation to business objectives continues to propagate the illusion that PR doesn’t “move the needle” as much as advertising. This is false, but the onus is on public relations pros to convince skeptical execs.

Advanced attribution, measurement and reporting have begun moving the PR industry toward more business-focused metrics, such as website traffic and website interactions driven by PR content. Using a defined metric like ROPRS would be another crucial step in the right direction.

Tracking ROPRS could be a useful strategy for PR practitioners keen on transforming their business models and pricing—not to mention becoming more transparent and focused on producing tangible success.

Instead of focusing on vanity metrics, showcase what you’re doing and how effective it is in terms of quantitative business objectives, not just how far it reached or how many impressions it generated. Doing so can help PR professionals—and the public relations industry—gain more of the respect we all deserve.

Kelly Byrd is a senior PR engineer at AirPR. A version of this post first appeared on the AirPR Blog.

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