PR, how do I measure thee?

Lately brands have been paying a lot of attention to the measurability of marketing. The goal is simple: find metrics that give an accurate reading on how effective different initiatives are at driving brand awareness and, ultimately, revenue growth.

We can thank, at least in part, Google AdWords and other pay-per-click advertising platforms for the focus on precision digital tracking. Those marketing tools, which exist 100% online, are designed to be measured in the most empirical terms possible: clicks, conversions, cost. In fact, you can measure digital ad campaigns down to which key terms and visual images are most effective at driving customer interest and sales.

Many PR activities, however, have long defied measurability, at least from a digital perspective. But, as more and more editorial content moves online, many companies expect to see a similar accountability from their PR investments. Fortunately, most PR agencies and in-house professionals now have a lot more resources to help them track PR’s impact on a brand.

Yet before we rush to embrace measurability whole hog as a way to justify PR investments, let’s not forget that there are still intangibles to PR that will always defy measurement. Until we get brain chips implanted in all of us, our private thoughts and emotions will remain nigh on impossible to accurately record as we go about consuming information online, in print, on TV and over the airwaves.

Still, PR can (and should) do everything possible to measure its effectiveness at helping a brand gain influence and new customers. To that end, here are some old and new ways you can measure the effectiveness of your PR initiatives:

Media mentions: keep your eyes peeled for any mention of your brand (whole or partial name mentions) in traditional media. You can use a news clipping service but generally those are appropriate only if you have a national or international business with plenty of coverage in the media: think IBM, Coca-Cola or Microsoft. If you are a startup or emerging growth company, then chances are your media coverage is a by-product of your own proactive PR and you can easily track media pick-ups by doing weekly Internet searches, clipping your articles out of magazines or linking to TV interviews posted online.

Web analytics: if you haven’t setup Google Analytics or a similar service on your website then do so immediately. This allows you to measure daily website traffic and which PR initiatives are driving the most traffic. You can even tell where the traffic comes from to help you better target media with the greatest online reach – assuming that’s your goal.

Landing page: this is an extension of web analytics, but it rates a separate mention. If you plan to announce a new product at SXSW or CES, then consider creating a separate web landing page to which you can drive traffic and measure a campaign’s effectiveness. If you search the Internet for “landing page” or “landing page service,” then you will see several options allowing you to create unique landing pages for individual campaigns. You can also use a marketing automation tool like HubSpot to create unique, customizable landing pages that not only measure clicks but also drive desired results: whitepaper downloads, newsletter subscriptions or even customer sales.

Social media mentions: a new way to track the effectiveness of a PR campaign is through social media, which has become a major validator of brand influence. If your brand mentions spike after a Wall Street Journal article about your company then you can safely assume the positive delta in mentions (and website traffic) is attributable to PR. A side-bar on this is how much your brand gets discussed after a post in TechCrunch, Mashable or Huffington Post, where many influencers hang-out and add value to an article’s content.

Social audience growth: another way social media is a perfect barometer of PR’s value is in the growth of your social audience. For many companies the social media platforms that matter most are Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook; for consumer-facing brands, Pinterest has become a heavy hitter, and keep your eyes on SnapChat as it is currently figuring out how it will allow brands to engage its rapidly growing user base. Most growth in social audiences will come from organic activities pursued by your social media community manager, but if you notice a jump in follows and likes after a PR campaign then you can assign a portion of that growth to PR.

Sales increases: you can measure the impact of PR in terms of leads generated and new sales but it’s a tough nut to crack. For startups with almost no marketing budget and no field sales staff, PR can be an immediate net add to leads and revenue growth. But for more mature businesses with a solid marketing program and robust sales funnel, identifying PR’s influence on sales is no easy task. All the more reason to set up separate landing pages to try your best to track a PR call-to-action; still, many customers can’t recall the exact reason for their decision to purchase your widget or service simply because it may be a result of multi-touch marketing and PR campaigns.

Search engine rankings: since search engines are the de facto tool for finding and researching brands before buying decisions are made, it stands to reason that PR’s influence on SEO strategy should be measured – to the extent possible given the murky inner-workings of search engine algorithms. One thing we do know, however, is that Google values backlinks from highly relevant, well-trafficked websites and tends to weigh them greatly in its search algorithm. Media placements in respected, high traffic websites like Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and TechCrunch can do more to increase a brand’s search engine ranking than a host of bogus directories and garbage content blogs.

Polls and customer interviews: while this is never an easy prospect, and can be time-consuming and costly if not carefully done, taking the pulse of new customer sentiment with an interview or a poll is a worthwhile option. Not every business wants to spend time and money trying to mine that level of customer motivation, but it can and should be done from time to time in order to validate the effectiveness of both marketing and PR. Qualitative feedback is the one sure way a PR firm can definitely point to a group of new customers and unequivocally state that Shark Tank or Mashable prompted the purchase.

That’s all I can come up with at the moment. I’m sure as I write this that there are several startups coming up with new ways to track the value of PR to a brand (in fact, we plan to review one called TrendKite on the PR over Coffee blog in the next month or two).

Nevertheless, the examples above are a great starting point. If you have any PR measuring sticks you would like to contribute to the conversation, then please feel free to comment below. We love feedback!

About Dave Manzer: Dave Manzer founded an Austin PR agency for startups and emerging-growth businesses in 2009. Dave Manzer specializes in highly integrated PR & marketing strategies that help companies in technology, healthcare and professional services reach their goals in brand awareness and revenue growth. To contact Dave directly about the PR over Coffee blog, please email him at dave(@)davemanzer.com.

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