Why Measuring PR is No Longer Enough—The Difference Between Traditional PR “Measurement” and Today’s PR Analytics

Colorful measuring tapes pileBy Christine Perkett, CEO & Founder, SeeDepth, Inc.

As the PR industry ushers in a New Year, many marketing executives are taking a look at their toolsets, PR vendor partners and plans to determine what needs to change or improve in 2016.  Analysis of such means going beyond traditional PR “measurement” and taking a deeper look into what worked and what didn’t in the past year. Only when you take the time to analyze impact can you truly begin to position PR as a profit center vs. a cost center. For agencies and corporate communications teams, good data analysis can allow them to further capitalize on powerful insights, even making the difference for bigger budgets and contract renewals.

In the not so distant past, measurement often consisted of monthly status reports and quarterly or bi annual reviews of activity. These reports would list outputs such as the number of media outlets a PR team pitched, the number of articles in which a client or brand was included, or the number of awards and speaking opportunities a team submitted for or placed. Today, it’s no longer enough to report at such intervals – activity must be analyzed as it happens – nor is a review of outputs valuable without correlation of outcomes, including success and failures.

Analyzing campaigns with depth and honesty allows PR teams to build stronger and more accurate PR strategies for the long term, versus relying on “experience hunches” for short-term campaign direction. When we can look at what happened with a holistic view and begin to correlate activities, inputs and strategies to outcomes, we can repeat what works and pivot from what doesn’t.

For example, it was once enough to simply “measure” (count) the number of media articles a client was included in during a certain time frame. Additional measurement values might include circulation of the publication or column inches (or the dreaded AVE). Or, PR teams would count how many events were held, new followers were gained or speaking opportunities and awards were secured, with no further analysis of what happened after they took place. Today, there are many tools that can help PR executives to dig deeper and analyze how inclusion in such articles or events impacted the business, and to identify what patterns are happening across the most impactful PR activities. For example:

  • What is the social impact of a certain publication or journalist? Do certain journalists get retweeted and followed by a larger percentage of our desired audience than another? How does that correlate to the reach of our coverage when this journalist writes about our client or us?
  • What percentage of our coverage gets amplified across social networks, and which social networks play a greater role in driving interest in our brand?
  • Beyond counting the number of times our key messages are included in coverage, is there a pattern to show that certain key messages drive more referrals or leads?
  • When we win an award, is there an increase in website visits (and where on the site) and incoming leads, and if so, which awards drive the highest percentage of such? What is the cost to return ratio of each award?
  • Is there a company spokesperson who, when featured in an article or a speaking opportunity, drives more interest from an audience than another?
  • When considering the total cost of a speaking opportunity or conference presence vs. the return, are we looking at the entire picture? Not just the hours the PR team contributed to write the speaking submission or creating marketing materials and a booth, but also the hours dedicated to the presentation creation, travel costs, out of office impact and more. Adding the full cost and subtracting the return (leads/awareness) will give us a better view into whether or not these PR programs are cost centers or profit centers.
  • In analyzing influencer outreach, what are the times of day or days of the week that tend to elicit a greater response?

There are many patterns that today’s PR tech tools can help capture. Teams must take the time to analyze such information and correlate the data. When we do so, we can look beyond the obvious and truly identify strategies that have greater impact and ROI. This includes key messages, the importance of spokespersons, influencer strategies, social media campaigns and more. Further, identifying which PR activities are significantly impacting the bottom line vs. simply raising awareness can support budget and resource decisions.

PR teams who analyze activity can bring greater value to their client or internal team, proving impact and justifying budget resources. A PR agency who can show me how they build strategies based on historical data patterns is going to be much more convincing than one that still relies on guesstimates. Today, PR is data-driven. Upgrade your measurement activities to include both outputs and outcomes for considerably greater impact in 2016.

Christine Perkett is the CEO & Founder of SeeDepth, Inc., a PR analytics platform for brands and agencies. She founded SeeDepth after nearly 20 years as a PR professional, including as Founder & President of PerkettPR, an award-winning high tech PR agency she founded in 1998. Christine has won numerous PR and business awards and is often listed a top business & marketing expert to follow by entities including Hubspot, Forbes, Cision, Richtopia, Traackr and more. Follow her on Twitter @missusP.

  • Christine,
    I don’t disagree with your summary. But this has been a decades-old battle of proving the value of PR and while there are advanced analytics available today that were not 20-30 years ago, the challenge remains and we run risks trying to pin our value to metrics and analytics that are etherial at best.

    As long as PR remains PR, ours most telling metrics will continue to be largely qualitative versus quantitative. A client wants proof of ROI for our efforts and the causal relationship between what we do and the resulting effect are difficult to measure even with today’s technology. It’s not like we can use “click-through” rates, sales, “likes” or impressions to show our worth. Oh the luck of advertisers!…

    Example of how the qualitative trumps metrics:

    A recent release we did for a client who was looking to make some strategic partnerships. The release netted over a million impressions in their target market. Nice coverage, positive feedback but where’s the ROI?… Was it in the form of 1 million impressions? How many hits we got on the website? How many new social followers? Certainly not. It came in the form of one email from a billionaire investor to my client who said they saw the story and wanted to discuss working together.

    That is no doubt about the causality of that email, and PR can take full credit for landing that opportunity. But few of those obvious examples present themselves and I think the real answer is for us as practitioners to believe it is up to tutor our clients on the realities of measuring ROI from PR activities. That is where your historical analogy comes into play and I think perhaps the most important point you make. It will be those proof-of-concept historical vignettes that help us gain a seat at the table and keep it – as long as we eventually deliver one down the road.

    • Hi Paul,

      Thank you for reading and for chiming in. You provide a compelling example here of success, and certainly I understand it. It is, of course, a unique example and not one that I think the majority of PR teams experience on a day-to-day basis. (Congratulations, by the way!) My follow up question would be, was an engagement like that an original goal of the campaign from the beginning, or a lucky side effect? If the latter, what were the original goals and were those reached, in addition to this bonus? And if that email had not been received, what would you have been tracking as success?

      I completely agree with you that counselors need to tutor clients on what success looks like. For it to work, both sides have to agree prior to activities. Even if an agency/counselor tracks one thing, if the client wasn’t looking at that one thing as a metric of success as well, the agency doesn’t look favorable in their eyes. Often, those expectations are unrealistic or off course – and PR counselors need to educate PRIOR to campaigns in order to save a lot of headaches. And, to the point of my headline, when a PR team does reach success, what are the patterns that led to it?

      There is no perfect solution, that’s for sure. But I am encouraged at the industry’s renewed focus on measurement – with supporting data points – as a core to any campaign. I agree with you that quality and quantity matter – so at least we have moved beyond the days of just counting the thickness of a clip book as THE measurement of success!

      Thank you again for reading and engaging. Would love to stay connected.


  • David J. Therkelsen

    Mr. Swiergosz’ comments add richness to the original article. But both miss the critical point that public relations’ greatest value is to influence the actual behavior, of all key stakeholder groups. Very often – most of the time, actually, in my opinion and in my pre-retirement experience – this has nothing to do with media relations and everything to do with relationship management. Best practices in measurement remain elusive, but the best practitioners should be looking for them along this particular path.

    • David, thank you for your comment and for reading. I completely agree with you – and take to heart that I missed this critical point. Our job is absolutely to influence behavior. My point was that if we don’t analyze the patterns of success when we achieve that goal, we aren’t really measuring success. A “clip book” – for example – doesn’t tell us anything about influencing behavior. But when we start to track engagements from a “clip” – referrals, downloads, comments, leads – then we are analyzing, not just “measuring.”

      I appreciate your insights! Stay in touch.


  • Excellent piece, Christine. I particularly like that you draw a distinction between ‘measurement’ – aka counting – and actually assessing earned business value.

    As a former journalist, it was quite an eye-opener to field countless requests from PRs for the most basic readership figures about the publications for which I wrote. Reporting back to clients seemed (to me, at least) to consist of picking the highest number of estimated eyeballs on a piece of coverage, with limited regard for simple metrics like audience demographics, coverage prominence and placement. That’s without even going into the potential longer-tail impact on stakeholders as delineated by Paul, above.

    Having recently crossed the divide into marketing, it occurs to me that the purpose of analytics should be less about simply proving ROI (sacrilege!) and more about assessing performance – at least in the first instance. What are the metrics that matter to you/your client? Perhaps, as Paul and David (also above) allude to, it is not so much about impressions, but more about the value of having built a personal relationship with a key influencer.

    For what it’s worth, I worked on some of the research for this article on measuring the value of PR in the post “clippings-counting” era here: http://www.prweek.com/article/1354833/pr-measurement-stuck-past .

    Thoughts and feedback welcomed…

    • Thank you, Nick. I love hearing your experiences on both sides of the industry. Readership figures… ahhhh… a traditional “measurement tool” that really tells us nothing. No offense – but circulation doesn’t tell us a thing about what actually happened, only what might have or could have happened. This is what I feel the current evolution is – we’re going from “perhaps” to “definite” for the first time, ever. This is an exciting place to be! I for one, after having been in this industry for nearly two decades, am thrilled to be able to demonstrate and align business impact with PR activities. Too long PR has been the scapegoat when things don’t go well – because there was no insight to prove that it could be a profit center (vs just a cost center). That’s changing, and it’s exciting.

      I’m off to read your article again. Will share my thoughts and would love to keep connected and chatting about this evolution we’re experiencing. Thank you again for reading and engaging.

      All my best,

  • Pingback: The Future of PR Measurement, a Peachy New Social Network & Grace Coddington Steps Down at Vogue | PR Couture // Fashion PR()

We've updated our Privacy Policy. Read the updated policy →

PR Biz Update PR Agency News PR People Marketing Trends
Inbound marketing concept background
Has Outbound Been Replaced? Debunking the Myth That Inbound Marketing is the Only Way to Go in the Digital Age

In the digital world, with complex web technology and hyper-automated marketing,...

Holding On to New Talent: 90 Percent of Executives Say New Hire Retention an Issue, Korn Ferry Futurestep Survey Finds

Nearly all (90 percent) of executives polled in a recent survey...

middle aged businessman working with laptop computer and smartphone
Socially Awkward: CEOs Embrace Social Media, But Struggle to Take It to Engagement Level—Weber Offers Insights & Tips

Vast Majority of CEOs Are on Social, but Engagement Rates Lower...

Thought Leaders On Deadline
Why Companies Should Challenge the White House for Broadcast Airspace—and Tips on How to Do It

By Mercedes Marx, Lyons PR It has become increasingly challenging for...

Michael Kuznetsov
Depressing Turnout: Media Coverage of Election and Trump Presidency Having High-Stakes Impact on Audience Sentiment 

By Michael Kuznetsov, VP of Marketing, Talkspace  Public relations sits at...

small laptop with old projector showing film
Video Marketing Perspectives: How to Effectively Use Pattern Interrupt Elements to Shake Things Up in Your Videos

By Andrea Kalli, Video Designer, Editor and Marketer Have you ever caught...