PR evaluation methods & techniques to use in 2024
For some reason, the CFO is no longer accepting "good vibes" as a reliable PR evaluation method.
PR can be expensive. And unlike many, tangible expensive things, you can't hold it in your hands and be like "yes, this expense was worth it because I can feel how expensive it is." No, PR is ethereal and based on ideas like reach and impressions and "Share of Voice" (whatever that is).
So, how do you know that your PR is effective? How can you tell that you've provided value and put your budget to good use? Well, that's where PR evaluation comes in. PR evaluation is taking the intangible, and creating solid proof that your campaigns and efforts are, in fact, as amazing as you claim.
- What is PR evaluation, anyway?
- The importance of evaluation and measurement in public relations
- What are the methods of evaluation in PR?
PR evaluation is how to answer the question: how effectively are we communicating the brand's message to the public?
This would be simple if each campaign only had one element or method. But alas, because it's not that easy, our evaluation is rarely that straightforward. If posting on Twitter is only one part of your PR campaign, then Twitter analytics is only one part of your PR evaluation. Most PR is a mixture of SEO, press outreach, influencer marketing, advertising, and so much more.
So, to evaluate your PR across myriad platforms and mediums, you will need the tools to aggregate and showcase the various metrics and analytics related to your strategic initiatives. Which is a lot of jargon-y buzzwords to say: show evidence that the things you're doing are making progress towards the goals you (and the client/business) want to accomplish.
PR evaluation is part of, but different from, a PR report. PR reporting is the over-arching and comprehensive document that is made to showcase all of your PR initiatives. PR evaluation tracks those initiatives. So similar, but different.
Read more about the magical, elusive world of PR reports.
As PR moves increasingly online, there are a growing number of tools and methods to add quantitative analysis to your laudable PR initiatives. And with this power comes great responsibility.
Evaluation and measurement are important because they substantiate your efforts. It's one thing to say, "we felt really good about this campaign." And it's another to say, "we reached 4,500 people from this one email."
Hoping your work speaks for itself is no longer enough when we have a bajillion tools to track that work and turn it into pie charts (and other charts too). Analytics and attribution are not perfect (yet), but if done right, they can speak meaningfully to the work you're doing.
Another reason evaluation is important? It helps you know whether your efforts are working. Maybe the tone of your Twitter account is off and isn't quite landing with the youths like you expected. Maybe your new ad campaign came across as embarrassingly tone-deaf and weird.
Without evaluation, it can be easy to stay the course and keep making the same mistakes that are harming the brand's reputation and wasting a ton of money. Proper PR evaluation techniques give you the opportunity to take a step back and look at the campaign from an analytical standpoint to ask the age-old question, "was this a terrible idea? Or are we actually... brilliant geniuses?"
Here are some of the most tried-and-true methods of PR evaluation. They can be used standalone to inform strategy, or as part of a comprehensive PR report. The types of methods that you will use will entirely depend on the goals of your business or client and will vary between campaigns. However, knowing your evaluation options will help inform your strategy (and make you seem really good at your job).
Despite every reason in the world to not use social media, it is a necessary evil in today's modern PR. Name one company that doesn't use at least some social media. Can you? No, you can't, because they went out of business. Because nobody has ever heard of them. Point made.
Social media is honestly a public relations dream. Why? Because it's easy to track and analyze metrics. There are numerous tools to help you track how many people saw and engaged with your social media content, and many of them are integrated into the platforms themselves. Social media PR evaluation is probably one of the easiest metrics to track and report on, though as always, it's up to you to do something sensible with all that data.
What can you track with social media engagement?
- Shares – Who is hyped enough about your content to share it with their audiences?
- "Likes" – Who enjoyed your content enough to give it a good ol' like (or thumbs up, or heart, or whatever LinkedIn is doing)?
- Comments – How much conversation is your content generating?
- Impressions – Who is seeing your content, regardless of the interactions?
As mentioned, many social media apps will have native analytics tracking built into their platforms. The platforms want you to use their services, so it's in their best interest to make them easy to use and report on. When they show favorable analytics, it makes them look like a worthwhile platform to invest your (social media intern's) time into.
There are other third-party apps (like Buffer or Hootsuite) that aggregate this data, typically for a fee. This can be a great way to save a few minutes and make your life a little easier, particularly when juggling several social media accounts at once.
Back in the ancient times before the internet (the 1990s), publicists would literally sit around a paper newspaper and cut out media mentions with, I assume, scissors. This allowed them to take the media mention and show it to their supervisors, instead of just saying, "trust me, we were definitely in the newspaper."
We still do this today, but instead of using scissors to cut out pages from the internet, we now use sophisticated software that collects and showcases media mentions. Sort of like digital scissors, but way more expensive!
Seems a little obvious, but how many sales did your PR generate? Typically, companies like money. And they like ways to make more money. Because if there's no money, there's no company. So, how many trials, conversions, and sign-ups did you generate?
While it's impossible to completely and accurately attribute sales to PR efforts, there should be obvious indicators of trends. If your PR campaign had no correlation to any increases in sales (and one of the goals was to increase sales), it might be worth reflecting more on the tactics you're using and metrics you're measuring, and switching up the campaign.
Again, direct attribution can be tricky. However, it is certainly possible to make a connection between a PR campaign launching and an increase (or decrease) in sales. If you release a new ad campaign and two days later, sales absolutely plummet through the ceiling, well...
There are services like Ahrefs and Google Analytics that can help give you insights into where your traffic is coming from and if it is associated with any PR campaigns. Tracking how you target your PR may give further insights into how those campaigns converted to customers. Or, if the mystery is too great, you could simply ask your new customers how they found out about your service or product.
Another relatively simple-to-track metric is search ranking, backlinks, keywords, and website traffic. Knowing how your client's website is ranking on the major search engines is more important than ever in terms of getting eyes on the brand.
SEO isn't just for digital marketers anymore (not that there's anything wrong with them, Dave). Things like content marketing and domain authority are crucial to having a chance at ranking with the major search engines. It's very difficult (and time-consuming) to tell a meaningful brand story if nobody can find it.
There are many tools you can use to track how your website is doing, with new ones popping up every day. Ahrefs is a classic (albeit pricey) option, however, a ton of analytics can be pulled straight from Google's products, like Search Console.
If you don't consider search and SEO analytics in your overall PR strategy, you're leaving a lot of potential customers on the table. While there is a bit of a learning curve in understanding the basics of SEO, certainly worth investing the time.
When you send out an email campaign about an upcoming launch, new press release, company update, or any sort of exciting Business News™️, it's important to know how many people saw that email, clicked it, responded, and otherwise interacted with it. How effective are your email campaigns? If half of your correspondence ends up in the trash, that might be a problem.
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Having a system to track your email campaigns and generate reports is super important. Sending an email campaign with Prezly means you'll get automatic open rates, unsubscribe rates, click rates and more, straight from the tool. You can use this to figure out what resonates with your audience (and what very much doesn't).
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Hopefully, this was a helpful crash course in learning how to evaluate your PR efforts and campaigns. If you're interested in learning even more about the power of evaluation and KPIs in PR, read this fantastic article to further your evaluation education.
Or, want to see how Prezly can support your team's PR evaluation methods? Sign up for a free 14-day trial now! (Good vibes included.)
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Published May 2022; updated January 2023