How to measure & evaluate your PR campaigns in 2023
Don't worry, we added gifs 👌
Measurement is a key component of good PR strategy, which is why we offer the detailed analytics that we do. But with so much talk of measurement and so many tools out there, it’s easy to get lost in a rabbit hole of clickthroughs, trackbacks, mentions, views, likes, engagement, [insert your favorite metric here].
Before you know it, you’ve spent hours wading through data and aren’t any closer to knowing whether you’ve really succeeded, much less what you should do next.
If you’re measuring everything in sight but don’t know what to do with the information, you’ve got it backwards.
First you need to make a strategy of what you want to achieve, decide what success will look like, and then keep measuring. Of course, it's not quite that simple. We've outlined the key points below, but to really get stuck into creating a PR strategy that works, read our guide or better yet, watch the roundtable.
Now, on to the good stuff.
- Why is campaign evaluation important in PR? (aka why do we even have to look at numbers)
- Hm, that's pretty vague. Give me the exact thing to measure.
- What NOT to measure
- Strategy (PR measurement starts with a plan)
- PR measurement and evaluation strategy in 3 parts
- Are PR evaluation metrics perfect?
- Creating a system to demonstrate the value of your PR
- PR campaign evaluation: Where to begin?
- Wrapping up
Why is campaign evaluation important in PR?
(aka why do we even have to look at numbers)
Before we go wading into the weeds, let's establish why we're bothering to measure anything. Wouldn't it be better to just focus on connecting with audiences, putting out communications, implementing campaigns, and building networks? Measurements and evaluation metrics and other number-y things seem like a time sink that distracts from the real goal: communications and long, leisurely lunch breaks 💅
Well, this used to be true.
Before everything went online and our every move was tracked, every click monitored (thanks, Big Brother!), you really could only measure efficacy by output.
Now, data is everywhere.
Having access to the numbers is no longer the problem – working out how to turn them into something useful and actionable? Yeah, little more tricky. But 100% worth the time and energy it takes to get it right.
That's because tracking and analyzing the right data can help you achieve marvelous things.
Data – it helps you:
- Demonstrate the value of your work
- Get better results
- Know what tasks are worth spending your time on
- Stop clients derailing your work
- Advance in your public relations career
Frustratingly, that does mean that there's no single right answer; it all depends on what you're trying to achieve. Grr!
The things you should be measuring are the things directly related to the goals of the organization you're working with. And the PR evaluation metrics that you should focus on are an immediate reflection of what your agency finds important.
For example, if the overall goal of your campaign is to increase the number of sales, then hey, the number of sales that are happening is absolutely something you should be tracking. On the flipside of the coin, if your goal is to increase awareness or to educate, success is unlikely to be reflected in the sales figures.
Hm, that's pretty vague. Give me the exact thing to measure.
Okay, we know the ultimate goal of measurement: to understand whether we are delivering on the (hopefully) aligned goals of the company. This doesn't tell us what we should be measuring specifically.
We're in communications. We're not data analysts.
It's super tempting for us to want that one right PR metric, that one perfect number to report on so that we can move about our day without having to engage in statistical calculations and pie graphs and circle charts (that last one doesn't exist).
Sadly, it just doesn't work that way.
Happily, you can figure out the metrics that are important to you by doing what PR folk do best: making mimosas! 🥂
You can do it by ✨ communicating ✨
More specifically, what you need is to speak with your stakeholders (that's c-suite if you're in-house, your client's c-suite if you're agency or freelance) and understand the end goal of what they're trying to achieve.
Bear in mind that what they think they want you to do and what they actually need you to do may very well be two vastly dissonant things. Because since when do people make things easy for you?
From there, you need to make sure your goals align with that of the company as a whole. You need to do research, internally and likely client side. You need to work out the tactics you will use to achieve your goals. You need to decide what PR evaluation metrics will change if your tactics are successful and bring you closer to your goal, and you need to track those figures from the very beginning, not just when your campaign is done and dusted.
I know, it's a whole lot.
Don't worry, we'll get into it in just a moment. But first:
What NOT to measure
We know what we specifically do not want to measure, and that's activity. Activity is just the things that we do, not what we accomplish. Here, Richard explains it much better:
So, when planning out how to measure your PR performance, it's not enough to report on the things you do. You need to analyse the impact.
You can send 100 emails, but what's the open rate?
You can draft 1,000 press releases, but how much coverage did you get?
It's not enough to spin your wheels by doing anything, you must be doing the right things. So what are those things? Well, this brings us to our favorite S-word...
Strategy (PR measurement starts with a plan)
Checking piecemeal data points after a campaign is a lot less effective than going into your campaign with a strategy. Why is this? Well, when you track analytics after a campaign, it limits what data you're able to obtain, and you focus more on activity versus outcome.
At this point, we're going to rename our series from PR Roundtable to Strategy Roundtable. Our guests love strategy. Rand loves strategy. Chris loves strategy. Gini and Laura love strategy. With all these heavy-hitters raving about the importance of a strategic approach to PR and measurement, there has to be something to it.
The simple fact is, there's too much data out there to not be strategic. But with so much data out there, so many analytics and feeds, and socials and metrics to track, what should you (yes, you) focus on?
So it boils down to What?, So What?, and Now What?
- What? – The actual meat and potatoes, the numbers, the main event. The thing to be tracked.
- So What? – What does this metric say about our strategy?
- Now What? – How do we take this information and apply it to future campaigns, so we're not simply duplicating the same mistakes over and over again?
PR measurement and evaluation strategy in 3 parts
According to Richard, whom we dare say knows what he's talking about, there are three main components of a good strategy:
- Output metrics – Simply, all the content you generate. Tweets, radio ads, white papers, press releases, blog posts, etc.
- Outtake metrics – The value your audience receives from consuming and digesting your content. This is where your brand reputation comes into play.
- Outcome metrics – What has your audience done with the information and branding you've presented? What calls to action have they answered, what has ultimately been produced by your strategic efforts?
All three of these are measurable. All three of these can be accounted for. Often, as an industry, we get stuck on the first one, outcomes, and think it's sufficient to show the things that we've done. But, we neglect to emphasize the impact that those things have made, and how those impacts have ultimately helped achieve our company's goals. Which, as you can imagine, is a pretty beefy oversight.
Are PR evaluation metrics perfect?
Yes. Section over.
But actually, not really. Why not? Well, people are messy. And imperfect. We do things that make no sense and can be difficult to quantify, no matter how many different ways Zuckerberg and Bezos find to track us. People do weird things that we can't explain with data and numbers.
Does this mean we get to throw in the towel and say, "the heart of man is vast and unknowable, as deep as the ocean and just as complicated. We don't know why he won't click on our tweet about bubblegum flavored energy drinks, so we don't need to bother."
Not necessarily. You may not get perfect tracking and attribution, but you certainly should at least try and do the most that you can with the tools you have.
All models are wrong, but some are useful.
Creating a system to demonstrate the value of your PR
Now, it's one thing to say, "I'm good at this thing called public relations, and I want you to keep paying me for it." Some clients and companies may find this answer to be sufficient and give you lots of money.
The majority, however, are going to want to see the fruits of your efforts in the form of quantifiable numbers. The agencies already may have a system in place to track those attributions, and you can use those numbers for your own nefarious purposes.
If they don't have a pre-existing system in place, or you're the one tasked with creating that system, things can get a little more tricky, and it becomes your responsibility to tell a meaningful PR measurement story.
PR campaign evaluation: Where to begin?
So now you're fully convinced that you need to track your output, outtakes and outcomes. Where do you begin? Richard has an idea...
Here's the tool Richard is talking about.
A big thank you to Richard Bagnall for joining us for PR Roundtable 13. You can see more from Mr Bagnall on his Twitter, follow his LinkedIn, read his books, or pop over to CARMA to learn more about how data can improve your PR.
If you enjoyed this, register for our ongoing free livestream series with communications thought leaders as they share their wisdom and insights regarding all things communications.
Published April 2022; updated January 2023