Other than ‘what does PJ stand for?’ (that’s for another day), in my 12 years working in PR and marketing, one of the questions I’ve been asked most is ‘how can you measure PR success?’
Without fail, this question, or one like it, always comes up when we’re pitching for new business, and understandably so. After all, people are paying good money and want to understand what they can expect in terms of ROI.
Historically though, PR firms have had a hard time with this question. If they land a piece of coverage for a client, how can they measure its impact? Surely press coverage is just an end in itself? Why interrogate the results too much? We should all just accept that PR is inherently good and useful shouldn’t we?
It’s that attitude that either leads to PR firms abandoning any form of measurement, or to the creation of ‘vanity metrics’ - measurements that have little bearing on a company’s overall objectives.
One such vanity metric is simply tracking the volume of press coverage secured. Of course, securing regular coverage is broadly a very good thing. Most companies want to get their name out there. But the problem with simply measuring volume of coverage is that it can lead to an obsession with ‘just landing the next piece of coverage’, regardless of whether it’s good or not, or whether the publication is one that buyers are actually reading. Volume often comes at the expense of quality.
Another approach PR firms have taken is to sort target press into top tier vs. second tier press. This approach places more value on the quality of the target publication. A single hit in the Financial Times is worth 20 times the coverage in the Guildford Chronicle - no offence to the Guildford Chronicle.
This measure begins to think about the average profile of the end reader and whether they are more likely to be a prospect or not. However, it still treats PR as an end in itself, without tracking the impact or consequences of landing a piece of press coverage.
The measurement methods I’ve mentioned are ultimately meaningless because they can’t be tied to growth. Unless someone phones your sales team and says ‘I just read that brilliant press release your PR firm put out and I want to do business with you’, then you have no idea whether coverage is driving new business interest - assuming that’s your goal.
Random vanity metrics have nothing to do with what a business is actually trying to achieve.
What’s really needed to track the impact of any PR or marketing activity is data.
Rather than estimating success, or creating false success measures, data can provide a clear picture of the impact an activity has had. If your objective as a business is to drive new business growth, then data can track whether a piece of coverage is driving traffic to your website or sales team. If your objective is to launch in a new market, data can track the volume of people engaging with your content in a particular region. If your objective is to become known as a thought leader on a particular subject, data can show you how long people are engaging with your content, or whether you’re boring them to death.
At Bloxspring, our first priority is to understand what our clients’ business goals are. We then recommend which tactics could support those goals and we then set clear KPIs to measure the success of those tactics.
We don’t measure column inches, volume of press or estimated readership. Instead, we measure website traffic, engagement rates, conversion rates, geographical traffic, impressions, click-through rates, downloads - setting each measure to a stated business objective.
And importantly, we don’t shy away from being held accountable to those measures. It’s why we’ve just launched our proprietary reporting software - Bloxspring Analytics - which is accessible to clients at all times and provides complete transparency into our performance. We also provide detailed quarterly reports that demonstrate the impact a particular activity has had, or how we could improve delivery to achieve even better results the next quarter.
At Bloxspring, our obsession isn’t PR, it’s helping clients achieve their business goals. If your current marcomms firm can’t say (or demonstrate) the same thing, then it’s time to talk.