The top PR metrics to measure in your 2023 KPIs
Or, what numbers to track so that the CEO doesn't fire you
So, you’ve spent months developing content for your latest client and now it’s time to run a digital campaign. But after the campaign is finished, how do you plan on measuring its success?
In the world of public relations, attributing success through hard data and analytics is a fairly recent trend. Traditionally, PR efforts were measured through metrics like "reach", which was a fancier way of saying, “here’s the potential number of people who may have seen or engaged with this content.”
Now that PR professionals are being more and more integrated with marketing teams, these old metrics won’t cut it. Today’s clients expect deeper insight into content performance and want to know that they're getting a return on investment for PR.
In this article, we delve into PR KPIs and cover some PR metrics you can track and share with your clients after your next digital campaign – including campaign engagement analytics, which you can access through a Prezly free trial 🎉
- Key performance indicators for public relations
- PR evaluation metrics
- The best PR metrics to use
- This is way too much, how am I ever meant to track all these PR metrics, let along derive anything meaningful from them??
- Wrapping up
Key performance indicators (KPIs) give you a structured way to quantify that which was hitherto unquantifiable: namely, the impact of your PR.
Simply putting together a page of clippings doesn't cut the mustard these days. The person you report to, be that CEO or client, will want to understand how their investment in you contributes to them achieving their business goals. That means that while a lot of your goals pursue getting eyeballs on your content, you need to be able to measure the impact of all of your content, be that paid, earned, social or owned (if you aren't sure about the nuances of each, it's worth reading our summary of the PESO model for PR measurement).
That means that the next time your boss has a bit too much coffee and starts scrabbling around for hard numbers that justify your existence, you can point them to your PR KPIs, confident in the knowledge that they paint a solid picture of your success story.
Think of your PR KPIs as metrics with purpose. You need to define them in relation to your PR campaign strategy as a whole in order for them to be meaningful (and remotely useful).
Here's what a poorly thought-out PR KPI might look like:
A company hires me to help launch a new product that they hope will boost sign-ups to their SaaS platform. For my tactics, I create an email campaign, sales landing page, press kit and series of social posts for the launch. For my KPI, I choose to measure coverage, deciding that landing five pieces in mid-market publications will demonstrate a successful campaign since our previous campaign resulted in four pieces of coverage.
Why this might not be the best approach:
Choosing "coverage" as a key indicator of success doesn't quite work as it doesn't take into account the greater company goal, which is to increase registrations for their SaaS product. It also omits the audience of those items of coverage (are they a good client fit for the business?).
What it may be better to measure:
- The amount of site traffic originating from my coverage and social media post/mentions
- The number of visitors to my unique landing page
- The conversion rate of my landing page
Additionally, I would consider measuring the engagement figures of my email campaign and the traffic that my press room and media kit receive. Rather than being the core KPI, these metrics would help me determine whether my tactics could be performing better – for example, whether changing the subject line of my campaign or reviewing the media list I'm sending to could improve engagement.
These are what you use to do the actual measuring within your KPI structure, and they will vary massively depending on your overall company goals and from campaign to campaign.
Here are some of the most widely-used metrics when it comes to measuring the performance of your public relations campaigns.
Let's start with an oldie and goodie: media coverage.
For anyone who's literally only just strolling onto the PR scene: media coverage is when a media outlet publishes a story about, or mentioning, your news. These days that can include things like online magazines, influencer blogs, podcast appearances, YouTube mentions and social media posts as well as actual print publications or segments on the telly.
Before you start hankering after getting as much media coverage as possible, you need to plan out what you want to achieve with this coverage and how it aligns with your broader company goals. In short, you need a solid PR strategy.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind when using media coverage as a PR performance metric:
🏋️♀️ Bigger isn't always better
Your CEO or your client might want to get their face on the front page of Forbes, but before you make that your primary aim in (working) life you need to ask yourself, will achieving this actually help us reach our campaign goal? If the answer is no, then it's not worth spending your time on – though of course, it can be difficult to persuade the CEO of that.
If you're dealing with a figurehead who desperately believes that a feature in The Financial Times will skyrocket sales (and that figurehead isn't the literal CEO of the FT), chances are high that you won't be able to swing their opinion. In this case, PR goddess Gini Dietrich has a wonderful suggestion – work hard to make it happen and demonstrate IRL that it doesn't do much beyond stroke that person's ego:
🏹 🍏 👧 Targeting is crucial
Every mention you get contributes to your brand awareness. How much it contributes depends on whether or not the publication featuring you resonates with your target audience.
As with all things measurement, strategy is everything.
You need to know ahead of time the people you want to make an impact upon with your campaign, and choose the publications you target accordingly. Use tools likes SparkToro (which has a limited free plan) to find out where your audience is spending their time – what sites they're reading, which podcasts they're listening to, who they're following on social media – and pitch those places.
A blog that has 30 dedicated subscribers perfectly suited to your niche is infinitely more valuable to you (and the success of your campaign) than a mention in a national publication whose readers have zero crossover with your target audience.
🐻 🐾 Track the source of your coverage
Can you link the coverage back to your email campaign? Do you have a pre-existing relationship with the author of the coverage? Did it stem from the paid content piece you placed in a niche publication last month?
Knowing why someone covered your story is key to figuring out whether you took the best approach with your PR campaign and will help inform your PR strategy in future.
This can include things like email open rate, clickthrough rate, replies, bounces and unsubscribes – analytics you can see if you send your campaigns through a tool like, say, Prezly (try our two-week free trial!) 🌝
Campaign engagement is one of the few PR metrics that you will want to measure for every campaign you send out, because it will tell you two key things about not only this particular campaign, but your approach to email campaigns as a whole.
Email metrics will tell you:
- Whether anyone is actually opening your emails
- If people are opening but taking no further action
Knowing the percentage of recipients who are actually opening your email, as well as the number of people who open it and then do not cover your story, will give you a clue as to whether you need to rethink your approach. People aren't opening? Review who you are sending to and your subject line – are both a good fit for your story?
We cover this in more detail in our free guide to email pitching, which comes with a pitching strategy template and some insights from 16 million pitches.
Bonus: If you have a newsroom or digital press kit, consider tracking the number of impressions your stories and assets get. If the web traffic to these pages increases as you run your PR campaign, it will give you an indication that people are interested in your story and downloading your media assets. Conversely, if your campaign is getting opens but there's no one clicking through to your newsroom, it's a decent indication that comething in your campaign content is turning them off.
This is the measure of how many people are accessing your online content at any given time. You can measure web traffic with tools like Google Analytics, Semrush and Ahrefs – but more about PR tools here.
Depending on the goals of your campaign, there are a few different figurs you could look at.
An influx of new visitors to specific pages that are related to your campaign could point to increased awareness for your brand. Be careful to look at this metric alongside any SEO work your marketing team may be doing to get a clear picture of what's causing the uptick in new traffic.
From distributing press releases to running social media campaigns, your content is reaching many corners of the web. But, as any digital marketer knows, not all of these channels will yield the same traffic results.
People engage with content differently based on the platform that’s being used, and it’s up to your team to know which type of content your audience prefers. One way to measure this is through referral traffic.
Referral traffic is any traffic that comes from an external source, like blog posts, case studies, social media, and more. By measuring referral traffic, you’ll be able to refine campaigns and create hyper-personalised, high-performing content for your clients. Most digital analytics tools today can easily measure referral traffic for your team.
Now that you know where your traffic is coming from, it’s time to measure whether or not that traffic is completing a desirable action. In marketing, these actions are known as conversions.
A conversion will look different depending on the type of content that’s being pitched. For example, if your client is an author, a conversion may be the total number of book purchases that came from your digital ads. If your client is a small e-commerce store, a conversion may be the total signups from your welcome email marketing.
In addition to conversions, you’ll want to keep track of conversion rates. For example, if your digital ads had 1,000 clicks with 50 book purchases, your conversion rate would be 5% (50 divided by 1,000). Many of today’s CRM tools calculate the conversion rates automatically for users. Conversion rates can be used to create benchmarks to weigh future campaigns against.
Keeping tabs on total conversions and conversion rates is an important complement to referral traffic. After all, clients want to know that content is influencing more than just traffic numbers.
Social media plays a key role in creating relationships with audiences, journalists, marketers, and influencers, but it also plays a key role in content distribution. Because of this, it’s important for PR professionals to keep track of social media activity.
You’ll want to keep a pulse on overall engagement, shares, brand mentions, and other common social media metrics. Using this data can inform you about which type of posts perform better than others.
Social media is also important for measuring brand reputation, perception, and responding to crises.
There are a variety of free tools available that can help you measure your online reputation, but for clients with more social activity, it’s best to look into a social media monitoring platform. These platforms are great at listening, tracking, and gathering relevant mentions across all social media and provide in-depth metrics for clients.
When you begin tracking a metric like domain authority, you begin to encroach on the world of SEO, but doing so could separate your content creation and distribution efforts from other PR teams. You can check your own site's domain authority and that of others by using the Moz toolbar, affectionately called the MozBar (this feature is available even on their free account).
Domain authority is measured on a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 being the lowest score and 100 being the highest. This metric describes how relevant a website’s content is for a particular subject. A low score means your content is hardly visible on search engines and needs to be optimized, a high score means your content is very visible on search engines and is likely getting more traffic. (It’s worth noting that domain authority was originally developed by Moz to give an indication of how well the site is likely to perform in search rankings, and so while helpful, is not the ultimate indication of domain health.)
Getting backlinks from your PR outreach is one of the best ways to boost domain authority and drive traffic to your clients’ content. When doing link outreach, make sure you’re pitching content to relevant, authoritative sources, and personalise each message to increase the chances of acquiring links.
For example, if you have a client in the healthcare industry, you wouldn’t pitch their content to sports editors. So, take time to refine your outreach lists and databases, and be sure to emphasise outreach personalisation across your team.
Another way to measure the overall success of PR content is to look at ‘share of voice’ (SoV) before and after a digital campaign. This metric is used to see how often an audience consumes a brand against its competitors.
For example, Small Business Saturday is coming up and you want to see how your client’s branded hashtag will perform against others in the industry. Let’s say the hashtag appeared 300 times compared to 1,200 for the whole market. This equals an SoV of 25% for the market – or 1 in 4 people are talking about their brand.
If you want to dive deeper, you can also look at how people ‘feel’ about your clients’ brand using a social listening platform. These platforms perform something called a sentiment analysis, which basically tells you how many positive, negative, and neutral reactions there are to your branding.
Remember, brands are constantly vying for attention and will use all types of content to one-up competitors. Tracking SoV is a great way to see which brands are controlling the narrative around particular topics, and can be used to create a plan-of-action for plugging your clients’ voice in these topics.
This is way too much, how am I ever meant to track all these PR metrics, let along derive anything meaningful from them??
Don't feel pressured to do everything at once – it's the quickest road to burnout and binging Ben & Jerry's in front of Netflix every evening. Select one or two metrics that fit the method and goals of your PR campaign, and go from there.
Use a spreadsheet to log the figures alongside any other relevant statics from the wider company (I recommend using Airtable because it's super collaborative and not a nineties relic like Excel).
These could be churn rate, MRR (monthly recurring revenue), site engagement, new trial subscriptions, demos booked, products sold – whatever action it is that follows on from the successful execution of your campaign.
That way, you can better spot the correlation between your work and progress towards the company goals, which makes for far easier and way more helpful reporting.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in HR or PR, more teams have become metric-driven in the digital age. Metrics allow us to focus and measure, refine and personalise, and most importantly, they allow us to attribute success more accurately.
So, whether you’re using the PR metrics above or your own set of content metrics that you find in your PR software stack, make sure your team adopts and applies metric-driven mentalities. You owe it to your clients and the months of hard work spent on PR and digital marketing collateral.
Updated January 2023
This article is an updated and broadened version of the original guest post written by Devin Pickell back in 2020, when Dev was the Senior Content Marketing Specialist at G2 writing about analytics, SEO, and digital marketing. Prior to G2, he helped scale early-stage startups out of Chicago's booming tech scene.You can find Devin on Twitter @Devin_Pickell.