Measuring results in PR: Have we cracked the code?

It’s no secret that we all want to see results when it comes to PR campaigns. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting a tangible ROI from your budget. But measuring PR efforts isn’t always simple.

The question of how we measure results in PR is an age-old challenge. And for those of us who’ve worked in PR, we know more than anyone how difficult it can be to quantify the success of campaigns. Often, we are left with an incomplete picture. But are the tides beginning to turn?

The times are changing

In the world of PR, much of the work we do centres around brand awareness and salience. The goal is to get your audience to know the brand, have a positive impression and associate you with a particular product or service. Sure, this might lead to a specific action later, but it’s not the immediate goal of the campaign. So how do you measure success when the goal is so intangible? 

Traditionally, PR results have been difficult to track, relying on metrics like the amount of coverage, media tier, readership, circulation and domain authority. These metrics give us some indication of where the brand is being mentioned and discussed. But when it comes to understanding how the audience responded to that mention, we’re virtually blind. All the coverage in the world doesn’t matter if the reader discarded yesterday’s Times before finding your advert or article.

But over the last few years, things have started to change. Digital marketing and PR, while certainly not the same, are increasingly beginning to look like two sides of the same coin. By integrating the two, we can unlock a whole new world of metrics, including page views, bounce rate, time on a page, click-through rate and social media engagement. 

The key change here is we can now definitively say that a piece of content or byline has generated, or contributed to, a specific number of leads. So, have we finally cracked the code to the age-old PR problem? Well, it’s not quite that simple…

Balancing the scales

PR may have advanced over the past few years – no longer sitting in its print media silo – but that doesn’t mean it is all plain sailing when it comes to measuring results. Effective PR can still be a slow burner.

There is still a place for building awareness without hard leads. Long-term awareness is much more difficult to measure – but without it, you’re expecting results without first warming up your audience. After all, not all coverage is built the same, nor does it have to function the same. 

The truth is, there are still a lot of actions a reader can take that don’t neatly fit into the metrics toolbox. Cracking the nut of how to track awareness continues to be a challenge – even though we’re armed with a greater toolset to help us do so.

So what can we definitively measure today that we couldn’t before? Well, we can pretty accurately gauge whether people have read a blog, PR release or byline, and how they’ve reached the content. If you’ve released a byline promoting an eBook, you can tell how many people have read the article and gone on to download the eBook. But it’s still difficult to establish what brand impression they got from the content and how that informs long-term purchasing decisions. 

Navigating the short-term measurable and long-term immeasurable is by no means an easy feat, but by using a combination of traditional PR and digital marketing, you’re setting yourself up for greater success. 

The final piece of the puzzle?

It’s clear that when it comes to PR, things are quickly changing. Gone are the days of getting as many placements as possible and hoping for the best.

The insights gained from digital tools give us far greater clarity into what was once unmeasurable –  and while the puzzle may never be fully complete, the difficult task of measuring PR results is much clearer today than it ever has been.

Claudia Minchella

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