According to the PRSA (Public Relations Society of American), “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Building positive relationships is a good thing and a key element to establishing a brand. But for public relations to live up to its promise, those relationships need to be beneficial to the brand.
If you’re currently working at a PR agency, or as an in-house PR representative, you inherently know that the relationships you forge with editors or publications, or the positive reputation you develop on social media is good for the company you represent. Unfortunately, just knowing that is not enough and until public relations professionals start proving their worth, much in the same way marketing has for many years, people will keep declaring the practice “dead”.

Public Relations Can (and should) Be Measured

Before we begin the discussion about measuring public relations efforts, we’ll need to dispel some misconceptions.

  1. First, public relations efforts can be measured, maybe not in the exact same way as advertising, but they can be measured.
  2. Second, measurement is not a separate cost item.
  3. Third, you need to make a case for your success, even if no one is asking.

Now that we have that out the way, let’s talk about how to create an environment and a workflow that lends itself to measurement. If you’re waiting until a PR campaign is over to try to prove your worth, you’ve already lost the battle. You can’t prove anything unless you’ve set benchmarks and goals up front and you can’t set goals in a vacuum. Here’s where you use your honeymoon period with a new client, or your first meeting with the C-suite at your company, to your advantage. Capitalize on the initial enthusiasm for new PR efforts to get the information and buy-in you need up front.

Match PR Goals to Company Goals

If you’re serious about showing measurable, actionable results from your public relations efforts, you’ll need to match your goals to overall company goals. Here are some questions you’ll want to ask before you propose a new campaign or start a new relationship:

  • What results do you expect from PR efforts?
  • What are the overall corporate goals for the year?
  • What are the marketing goals for the year?
  • What problems or misconception about your company are you hoping to change?
  • What positive perceptions are you hoping to magnify?

You’ll have lots of other questions, but these questions will help you set the KPIs for the public relations efforts. Now you can start to see where public relations efforts can fill the gaps and help contribute to the company’s bottom line.
Setting goals that matter will contribute to your success in two ways. First, you’ll be taken seriously in the organization. When you ask for an executive comment, or want to schedule a press interview, you’re more likely to get cooperation from someone who perceives you as part of the revenue generation team. Secondly, you’re more likely to retain a client or keep your job during a market downshift because what you’re doing won’t be perceived as “fluff”, but as a tangible, solid contribution to the bottom line.

Here are some public relations goals that matter:

  • Increase revenue by X amount in the next 12 months.
  • Increase conversions by X% in the next quarter.
  • Increase website traffic from X visits to Y visits per month.
    • Break out by new vs. returning visits
  • Increase media visibility from X mentions to Y mentions in target publications.
    • Tie media mentions to the bottom line
  • Increase social media engagement shares and mentions from X to Y over the next quarter.
    • Break out KPIs by social media channel
  • Increase percentage of positive mentions over next the quarter.
  • Decrease percentage of negative mentions over next the quarter.
  • Increase number of contributed articles from X to Y over the next year.
  • Increase number of speaking opportunities at target conferences for executive staff from X to Y over the next year.

When setting your goals for media mentions, it’s important to be specific about what you intend to achieve, because not every brand is going to make the lead story in Forbes or the Wall Street Journal. Sometimes, that’s a hard pill for a client, or your boss, to swallow. Employ this media coverage matrix developed by Erin Robbins O’Brien, President & COO, GinzaMetrics to help set expectations.
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The Measurable Public Relations Plan

Now that you have your goals, you can decide what activities and deliverables will help you to meet those goals. Correlate each of your proposed activities to one of your goals and then link your KPI to an overall corporate goal.
Traditionally, public relations efforts have been heavily dependent on media outreach and gaining mentions and visibility in target publications. While those efforts are still relevant and necessary, it might be time to include some other, measurable deliverables in your plan.
If your raison d’etre is to create mutually beneficial relationships with all the publics and audiences of the brand, then why do you have to create those relationships through a third party? Consider reaching audiences directly with your corporate message on a variety of mediums.
For instance, create a video series on YouTube that focuses on stories to promote and communicate a positive corporate image by interviewing individuals at the company, or highlights philanthropic events or contributions. Start a blog that features individual employee stories, their contributions, and their experiences with the brand. Create a slide share that talks about the history of the company and its mission. Ask employees to submit pictures of their daily lives at work, or pictures at company events and include them in social media posts. Find unique and interesting stories inside the company and write them. Do something new and identify unique opportunities to build relationships with target audiences.
What you do will depend on your goals and the KPIs you’ve set, but consider creating deliverables that communicate the corporate message yourself without passing through the media gatekeepers. After all, if your goal is to get more positive attention, it doesn’t matter how you get it, just that you get it and that it’s positive.

Use Measurement to Inform Future PR Efforts

There’s a certain level of fear around setting goals because it opens the door to failure. Looking at any on-going effort as a lose or win proposition is short sighted. Public relations, marketing, and advertising are all efforts that may make some difference in the short term, but whose real value comes from the long-term effects of on-going efforts. That’s not to say that there isn’t value in measuring efforts on a regular basis.
You’ll want to measure your efforts at the end of a defined period of time, or at the end of a particular campaign to show growth against benchmarks. However, you’ll also want to monitor your efforts closely all along the way and make adjustments based on the data you collect before the campaign or time period has expired.
How you report the data you collect is as important as the data itself. Don’t shortcut this phase of the public relations program. You will likely have a lot of different types of data to choose from. Create reports that highlight only the data that is relevant to your efforts. This is where you can position yourself as the thought leader and public relations specialist. Analyze the data and provide commentary about what worked and what didn’t work. And here’s the most important part, make recommendations for the future.
In your analysis, you can include some of the qualitative data you’ve collected along with the hard numbers of the quantitative data associated with conversions, page views, and media mentions. Make a case for the combined value of all the data and come to a logical conclusion.
There is no one-size fits all solution for creating and measuring a public relations program based on KPIs, but then there’s never been a one-size fits all solution to PR issues and challenges. One thing’s clear, either public relations starts showing its contribution to the bottom line, or the dire predictions will come to pass and PR will continue its path toward extinction.