Quantifying the value of PR: How to measure success

24 January 2014, Blog

PR has often been cited as a dark art, in part due to a lack of understanding that often stems from agencies not educating their clients. The measurement of PR is one of the most fundamental causes of this and subsequently holds the key to demonstrating its true value to businesses.

Below are some of the traditional measurements that have been used to evaluate the effectiveness of a PR programme or campaign:

  • Amount of media coverage – The total number of items of press and broadcast coverage, achieved with key media targets for your business
  • Advertising Value Equivalent – The amount of money that you would have paid to achieve the same coverage through advertising in a publication
  • Competitor analysis – Assessing the number of items of coverage, the circulation and comparison of positive and negative for your business and its key competition
  • Opportunities to engage with your brand – The number of readers, listeners, viewers and followers that your campaign has reached out to

Each of these has its own benefits and drawbacks, but measuring the success of your campaign ultimately comes down to your own individual goals and business objectives. It is imperative that your PR agency offers you the right tools to track the progress of your campaign. Setting out clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will help you to determine your objectives and define what success looks like.

The downfall of AVE

The PR industry has traditionally used Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) as a benchmark of success and a return on your investment. This approach relied on providing the comparable cost of advertising for each item of coverage achieved. However, this method has been widely discredited due to drastic over-estimates and under-estimates of the AVE, as well as only offering a measurement for the piece of coverage – not the wider implications on your business or brand, such as increased sales and awareness.

While many PR agencies and clients feel comfortable with this yard-stick, due to a clear comparison between PR outlay and comparable advertising costs, it does not benefit from a standard scale and therefore cannot be 100% reliable.

The industry is actively working to phase out AVE, and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations has offered guidance on how to assess the success of your PR campaign, known as the Barcelona Principle:

  • Key goals and methods of measurement need to be set out from the beginning
  • Measuring the effect on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs
  • The impact of the campaign on your business results can and should be measured where possible (e.g. increases in sales, website visitors, brand awareness)
  • Media measurement should assess both quality and quantity of coverage
  • AVE does not represent the true value of public relations
  • Social media can and should be measured
  • Transparency and replicability are paramount to longer term success (e.g. brand recognition and trust)

Let’s get digital     

With the rise in prominence of digital and social media, campaigns can now be assessed by analysing the direct impact on your business in a number of new ways. For example, it is possible to track the impact a media campaign has on the number of unique visitors to your website and the types of services or products they are interested in or buy from you. By joining traditional and social media, PR is becoming much more tangible, as is the impact on your bottom line.

Social media plays an increasingly essential part in this digital process. It is not simply a matter of gaining a quantity of followers, it is all about quality. Measuring the success of your PR campaign is always about reaching the people that matter most to your business; whether it be a story in a local, national or trade publication, or reaching an avid supporter on social media who will help to share your brand and your products.

One way in which we analyse our clients’ online reach is through assessing their ‘Share of Voice’. This allows our clients to compare how many people are talking about their company and its products and services, compared with their main competitors, as well as tracking the influence of the PR campaign. The share of voice is divided into positive, neutral and negative comments and allows our clients to build on the opportunities presented by the positive engagement and to manage any risks associated with the negative sentiments.

Your PR agency should also help you to develop your social media accounts in parallel with your media campaign, and this is a fundamental aspect of appealing to your clients that is often overlooked. Social media and company websites are now the first port of call of any prospective or returning customer, and poorly developed or maintained offerings can have a big impact on their impression of your business as a whole. Turn away customers at your own peril.

The power of print?

When it comes to good old-fashioned coverage, audience is king. Reaching millions of people means nothing if they are the wrong people for your business. A good PR firm will help you get your news and messages to the audience who is most likely to interact with your company – whether it is purchasing a product, enticing new staff or building your reputation.

It is important to remember that digital media is no less valid than its traditional print counterpart. In fact, with increased social media sharing opportunities, it can offer additional benefits that print cannot, so don’t fear that a web article is less valid than a full page in a newspaper – the readership figures are usually considerably larger online.

As long as a piece of string…

It is impossible to outline all of the analytical opportunities available to you in a simple blog. This is all about sitting down with your PR provider and finding what works best for you. An informed PR agency will listen to your needs and provide you with a range of options that will best suit your needs. Don’t be afraid to stick to your guns, but remember that they are offering an expert opinion and want campaigns to succeed as much as you do.

Finally, it is important to say that while the worth of PR to your business may be equated to quantity of clippings or followers, the true benefit of good PR is keeping you in the papers when you have something to say, and keeping you out when it matters most. Reputation management is our art.

Tom Spencer is a PR Consultant at JBP PR & Parliamentary affairs, working on a wide range of B2B and B2C campaigns. He is responsible for the strategy, management and development of a number of high-profile accounts at JBP.

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