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The essentials of PR measurement

A short guide to PR KPIs

When it comes to measuring success, public relations and corporate communications professionals tend to get the short end of the stick.

Unlike digital marketers who can measure the cost per acquisition (CPA), click-throughs, and campaign referral traffic, PR has traditionally been measured by PR campaign key performance indicators (KPIs) such as media coverage reputation, potential readership/viewership, and coverage sentiment.

Three pretty obscure metrics that, in at least one case, are simply defined as “positive, negative or neutral.” And, considering the pace at which technology advances and the number of PR tools existing today, there has to be a better way to measure success.

So, coming from the pros, the following five PR KPIs are worth noting, focusing, and reporting on to improve visibility and, ultimately, results.

1. Number of Impressions

Admittedly, this isn’t an exact science, it's still worth keeping as a KPI, since the PR measurement tools can track the number of possible impressions provides context to the coverage.

When it comes to gauging the effectiveness of a PR campaign performance indicators like circulation numbers or unique visitors per month (UVPM), coverage from news sites and publications with a higher number of potential impressions tend to hold more weight, especially when reaching a key target audience or demographic.

And remember, coverage by one major media outlet can often be matched by multiple pieces of coverage by several smaller outlets.

The goal is to spread the word to the right folks where they are looking for news and information as often as possible.

2. Website traffic and referrals

One of the major benefits of marketing and PR efforts working hand-in-hand is the ability to align and measure efforts across the board.

The PR measurement tool insight provided by Google Analytics, for example, can shine a light on where incoming website traffic is coming from—making it more imperative than ever before for PR pros to ask for backlinks whenever possible. All you need to do is head to the "Acquisition" tab and look at the Referral traffic, which will tell you where people are coming from when they come to your website.
Through Analytics, marketers and PR pros can discover what’s driving website traffic, thereby making it easier to identify PR campaign performance indicators “wins” and attribute traffic to conversions.

NOTE: Backlinks connect one website to another through the use of a hyperlink. The more backlinks you are able to secure pointing back to your site, the better your search rankings will become over time. Read more on building backlinks and improving your SEO here.

3. Social Media engagement

Content, even the news, is written and shared with the goal of building awareness (for an issue, person, company, etc.) and engagement can be measure by PR tools.

A very real KPI PR pros can zero in on and measure week over week or month over month is social engagement for the brand. Nowadays it's pretty easy to keep tabs on your social media activity, going one step further and monitoring not just the number of impressions made in the newsfeed, but the interactions tied to the coverage such as likes, shares, and comments.

4. Sentiment analysis

Whoever said, “Any press is good press,” never had to deal with a crisis. There is such a thing as bad press but there’s also neutral and good press, all of which can help to build brand sentiment for any organization regardless of size or industry.

Obviously, the more positive and neutral press, the better. Every media coverage report should also include a sentiment analysis that can be ascertained by artificial intelligence but should, in every case, PR campaign performance indicators be confirmed by the PR pro responsible for the mention or coverage.

5. Share of voice

Perhaps one of the most interesting KPIs to watch, the share of voice compares brands against their competitors—from the number of potential impressions and media outlet reputation to sentiment and even brand prominence in coverage.

Using the PR measurement tool is a great way to begin understanding the media landscape is to set up alerts for the competition in the news. Consider the following bits of reportable and actionable data:

Is it from a trusted and reliable media source?

What is the size of the media outlet’s audience?

Is the brand sentiment positive, neutral or negative?

Does it link back to the competition’s website?

By considering the above questions, PR pros can see at a glance whether or not they are winning or losing when it comes to owning “media share.”

As a result of tracking this KPI, you can create a new list of potential media contacts to reach out to because of their recent work with similar/competitive organizations.

Measuring PR in a broader communications context

As with digital marketing, the ultimate goal of website traffic is to drive visitors towards conversion. Whether it’s through filling out a form to learn more or registering for an event, conversions can quickly tell marketers and PR folks whether or not a campaign (or story) is working.

Good PR campaign performance indicator should result in better quality leads and a more educated and aware target audience that is ready to learn more and engage with a brand.

So, it’s reasonable and even recommended, to tie lead quality (not necessarily lead volume) and even revenue to KPIs for PR pros.

These metrics shown in the PR measurement tool force PR pros to go after the right media outlets and media contacts to reach target audiences with the right story, right where they go to get information.

These five KPIs for PR pros are a great starting point but are not the end-all-be-all of PR measurement. The best places to start when developing KPIs and annual PR goals are the organization’s business plan and communications strategy.

A good PR plan should complement and strengthen the marketing strategy and KPIs should be tied directly to organizational goals that further the mission of the company. 

Working on your PR strategy? Check out our guide to PR Strategy and Planning to make sure you've got a solid base and will be able to make decisions and keep your activities organized.


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