Which PR metrics matter, and how can you generate them?

As nearly three-quarters of industry pros struggle to measure their efforts for increasingly skeptical executives, attaining goals seems elusive—but identifying the right goals is crucial.

Which PR metrics still matter?

Why are so many agency and in-house PR pros completely baffled by measurement? 

According to Muck Rack’s State of PR 2019 report, measurement remains PR pros’ biggest challenge, with 72% of respondents struggling to measure the business impact of campaigns and 65% saying they lack quantifiable metrics to measure.

Measurement guru David Rockland, who led the development of the Barcelona Principles, says the measurement industry didn’t do itself any favors by selling itself as a way for PR pros to prove their worth to clients and for clients, in turn, to prove their worth within organizations. 

Because of that, people began to associate measurement with a CYA reason to exist. Sure, it’s great to see how we did, but it’s better to know what we’re going to do next and how we’re going get better at what we do.  It’s a shift in mindset, he emphasized.

Rockland insists that the key to great measurement is simple: Set specific goals, and use common sense to measure them.   

In 1981, in the journal Management Review, George T. Doran offered the SMART approach: Goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Almost 40 years later, it couldn’t be more relevant.

In accord with Doran’s thinking, Rockland says: “You can’t measure if you don’t have good goals. So, when a client says, ‘I want to measure and be better at measurement,’ the first thing is to get better at goal-setting. And if you can get goal-setting figured out, then the measurement just flows off it. But if you can’t get goal-setting figured out, then you might as well not bother measuring. If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you even know you got there?”

Rockland continues: “Most importantly, goals need to be set in a way that connects communications to the reason the company exists in the first place. In other words, what are they trying to do? What are they trying to sell? What business metrics are important to them? Customer loyalty, retention, sales, earnings per share, or do they just want a great reputation as a thought leader?”

Once goals are set, he urges collecting information that aligns what communicators do and what the company wants to achieve.  

Thus, having a million “likes” or impressions or a pile of media coverage won’t mean anything if it hasn’t indicated a perceptual shift or behavioral change from the baseline within the targeted audience. 

This is where the common sense comes in. Rockland recommends ignoring elements such as “impressions” that don’t mean anything to anyone.

Instead focus on these three levels of commonsense metrics:

  1. How loud were you? How big was your voice? Did you get the word out? 
  2. Did anyone actually hear you? Did you reach the people you were trying to get to? You may have made a tremendous amount of noise, but if you didn’t reach the right people, then you didn’t hit level 2.
  3. If you reached the people you cared about, did they reply? Did they engage? Did their beliefs shift? Did their behavior change?

Sure, clients demand shiny dashboards of vanity metrics and agencies love selling them, but it’s only because company executives are demanding data to see where their money is going. 

Yes, PR is tricky to measure, but that’s no excuse. According to Muck Rack’s report, 88% of us still rely on traditional metrics, with fewer than a third linking PR results back to sales. It’s no wonder that executives who don’t understand the power of PR often favor marketing, which generates clearer return on investment (ROI) metrics.

It’s our duty as PR pros to show company leaders that measurement is a valuable tool to both refine campaigns (always preferable to fail fast and cheap) and track our discipline’s contribution to the advancement of the business’s objectives alongside marketing and sales.

Shalon Roth is co-author of the book, “How to Succeed in a PR Agency: Real Talk to Grow Your Career & Become Indispensable,” and is founder of PR-it. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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