Quantifying the PR effect: essential, or a fool’s errand?

January 13, 2015

Quantifying the PR effect: essential, or a fool’s errand?

January 13, 2015

Group Gordon’s Andrew Jarrell blogs about the metrics – quantifiable or not – that matter when evaluating PR success. 1.13.2015

Illustration: Michael Witte

Today, more than ever, companies rely on hard data to drive their businesses, measure impact, and evaluate success. Technology in particular has armed managers with new tools for quantifying their achievements, especially as it relates to the bottom line. We live in a world where even farmers have been transformed into technology gurus, carefully monitoring spreadsheets in addition to working the land.

Public relations is not immune to this trend either. But can we really quantify our success? And how?

As a former Supreme Court Justice might define successful PR – “I know it when I see it.”

In the last decade, effective tools have emerged that allow us to gauge success and offer clients much-needed insight into the impact of our work. Circulation numbers, page views, and unique visitors per month are clear metrics that measure the reach of a particular article or blog post. Comparing the volume of coverage, the quality of coverage, and the prestige of coverage over time also offers important context into the effectiveness of a PR campaign. There are even ways to connect media coverage or positive publicity to sales and customer acquisition through surveys, web traffic tracking, and other research methods.

But, at the end of the day, effective public relations is not always strictly quantifiable. What is important is to clarify your business goals and to ask the right questions to ensure that the communications effort is aligned with those goals and not just about reaching as many people as possible.

Here are a few important qualitative and quantitative considerations to keep in mind when evaluating the success of a PR campaign.

Know your audience

It is critical to define your target audience before engaging in a PR campaign. Understanding who you want to reach will make it far easier to weed through circulation numbers, and better gauge your impact.

Quantity does not equal quality

While reaching a significant number of people is important, reaching the right people is far more important. Imagine you run a New York City-based non-profit and you have the choice of placing an op-ed in a local daily or national outlet. Although the national outlet might have more than double the readership of the daily, reaching a large number of New Yorkers through a local daily may have more strategic value.

Don’t be short-sighted

Effective PR that targets the right audiences will pay off for years to come. Let’s say you manage a professional services company that serves hedge fund managers. Placing contributed articles in hedge fund trades on “hot topics” in the industry will go a long way toward positioning your company as a thought leader in the space and driving new business. So, while the impact of those articles may not be instantly quantifiable, the immediate numbers are less important than the long-term results.

For many companies and organizations, PR can be a game-changer, leading to new opportunities, driving growth, and/or establishing leadership. As an industry, it is important that we continue to develop new metrics to quantify the impact of our work. However, we also need to communicate with clients that numbers only tell part of the story, and are not always an adequate means of demonstrating PR’s value.

The bottom line? Know your business goals and your target audiences – then work with your PR team to define the right metrics that will allow you to fully evaluate the results of your communications efforts.