Measuring meaningful targets
Written by Paul Maher
PR teams live and die by earned media coverage and just like the inky print coverage which once ruled our world, PR success is black and white. Sure, some things have changed. Coverage is now measured in fleeting seconds on a video app. Today’s online measurement tools can deliver results benchmarked against dozens of competitors in seconds. But what really matters?
It boils down to what are the best metrics to rate your in-house or PR agency’s performance? Below is our list of things to consider and we are always open for a chat on your specific PR measurement needs.
- Track everything, measure only what matters
- Vanity metrics do not help
- Quality beats quantity
- Stop. Breath. Question.
- Why bother, If you don’t recycle?
Track everything, measure only what matters
It is so straightforward to measure earned coverage that it makes sense to track it ALL. From audited circulation figures (ABC) to audited Unique Monthly Visitors (UVM), Domain Authority (DA) for SEO through to social likes on reposts, it’s all there.
Positive recommends a straight benchmark of coverage against competitors, a straight Share of Voice (SOV) plus a raw count of earned media as a clear productivity measure. We prefer to measure SOV, on a quarterly or half yearly, to show actual trends and we always contextualise the raw data, so that one-off events like fundraising, CEO changes or M&A do not skew the picture. On occasion, we add specific progress against targets, if everyone is clear on what is realistically achievable.
Vanity metrics do not help
It is very easy to go beyond the basics with PR measurement. As well as sensible core metrics like SOV and the raw count of articles, perhaps tiered for relevance, reach or reputation and Share of Voice, which we like a lot, it is easy to get carried away with vanity metrics.
For instance, every PR measurement tool we’ve ever seen struggles with sentiment analysis. Most press releases are, unsurprisingly, upbeat, while a profit warning, also predictably, results in negativity. Focusing on vanity metrics is for PRs with too much time on their hands. We had no good answer for this.
Quality beats quantity
A major issue with PR is how confusing it can be to sort quality coverage from dross. Even the best tools will count screen scraped news releases as results. Deduplicating these can be tough. One client of ours has created a Boolean, “if this, then that’ search which runs to 100 lines of code to filter out this noise.
Fundamentally, the core output of PR is earned coverage which attracts customers. When we say earned we mean persuading a trained journalist of the merits of your stories. The rise of ‘content teams’ at major publisher confused some for a while.
But this very expensive, paid, ‘coverage’ is largely ignored by customers. One badly-burnt client we spoke to recently asked what to do with the 200 paper copies of their ‘special report’ they were left with…
Stop. Breath. Question.
Contrast the ‘Special Report’ experience with clients of ours, who achieve dozens of top-quality purely PR-originated mentions per year in quality editorial like the Financial Times. Here and, to be fair, over a number of years, we have proven our client is highly-relevant to this most-qualified of business buyer readerships. Not only that, this coverage has resulted in inbound sales enquiries. Even sales teams find that hard to argue with.
Of course, it may be the FT is not right for your company. Start-ups need to attract new investors, who read a limited number of titles, like Sifted and UKTN, We have clients in verticals like insurance and manufacturing who need coverage in this specific media. The challenge, which we make explicit with in-person reviews, is to keep asking the question ‘Will this coverage make a difference?’ That difference could be making prospects more aware of your offerings or changing entrenched negative opinions. It might be persuade customers not to switch off their monthly subscriptions. As long as it is intentional and crucially, written down. What gets measured, gets managed.
Why bother, If you don’t recycle?
PR teams take sh** off sales teams all the time. “I sign the customer deals. What are you doing for ME?”’ they cry. How easy life would be if PRs were measured by one metric alone, like they are. But as we have seen, cringy as it seems, there are more than one, but not infinite ways, to measure PR accurately and effectively from a business point of view.
In a way the ‘sales doubters’ do have a point. How can any single article, even in the greatest publications of the era, be proven to lead to a signed contract? However, our response that no matter what we all know from our everyday lives that nobody, or nearly nobody, buys products and services from unknown brands.
In another way, Sales are their own worst enemy. If they do not recycle the outputs of PR in their sales outreach on social media and email, if they fail to use quotes in proposals and presentations, and if they actively block PRs from speaking to happy clients, it is quite literally their own loss. Brave PRs tell sales teams this. We do it all the time.
Hopefully this basic run-through of PR measurement has been helpful. Lastly, measurement is not everything. Execution is. So never sacrifice so much of yours, or your teams’ time on analysing, that it prevents creating legendary PR results. To paraphrase a well-known saying “Those who can, do. Those who can’t create reports.” Happy pitching.