PR measurement lessons from Election Day

There’s a lesson PR pros can learn from campaigns. If your efforts don’t prompt a change in behavior, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

I think every day should be Election Day. I’ve said that since 2001, when I worked on my first political campaign. (Truth be told, Election Day is my favorite holiday!)

My PR career started at an agency, which wasn’t your typical firm. We specialized in public affairs and did political campaigns for candidates and issues. I loved the rush that came from knowing that all our hard work led up to a specific day, and on that day, voters decide. In theory, if I did a good job, my candidate or issue would win. Conversely, I didn’t do my job well enough if we lost. (I know there are other influences that determine the outcome of elections, but go with me on this …)

That’s why it drives me crazy when PR people try to justify their work by counting impressions or putting together inflated ad equivalency reports. First, PR is more than just media relations, but that’s another discussion.

Second, in political campaigns, it doesn’t matter how many people saw a media clip. If our PR outreach didn’t move the needle—sway votes—then it didn’t matter. The same standard should hold true for businesses. It doesn’t matter if 100,000 people see a story about your product, or that it would have cost you $300,000 to place an ad of similar size and reach. If your media relations activities don’t shape perception, encourage people to take action, increase sales, or generate business leads, then what’s the point?

I’m not naive. I know that research is expensive, and that most companies won’t shell out thousands of dollars for polls. That doesn’t mean that you should settle for bogus measurement standards.

Here’s the million dollar question: Small business owners, how do you measure the value of your PR efforts? Along those same lines, PR people, what metrics do you use to measure your impact?

Heather Whaling is the founder of Geben Communications. A version of this article first appeared on prTini.

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