The magical formula for calculating PR value ✨
JK! There's no secret sauce, so don't waste your time looking for one. Instead, do these three things (you won't believe #2!)
What? There isn't a single formula for calculating the value of your PR work? Well shucks, Batman, I could never have guessed. It's almost like anyone writing an article about the One True PR Value Formula Calculation is a digital marketer peddling SEO-nake oil.
If you've arrived at this article, my guess is that you're doing the obligatory cursory Google to find out whether there are any shortcuts you can take to measure what you've done, or are planning to do. More likely than not, there's a marketing manager sitting at the other end of the room (or Zoom), tapping their pen against the table and narrowing their eyes at the back of your head because where are the hard figures that justify you being here?
After all, the company made an investment when they hired you, when they forked out for that Cision subscription that you've definitely accessed more than one time in the past four months. Where are the flocks of TikTok followers you promised them? Where are the NYT headlines celebrating their groundbreaking strategic framework for engaging stakeholders?
Where are the millions of dollars in revenue, Kate??
Here's the closest you will get to your magical formula or secret snake sauce or whatever. No, it isn't a magic potion. Yes, it does work.
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✨ The magical PR value formula ✨
- Write down your (or your client's) overall business goals
- Work with them to outline a PR goal that aligns with #1
- Sit in a dark room and mindmap until you decide on:
- the tactics you will use to reach your PR goal
- the metrics you will use to measure progress
Now you're ready to go full steam ahead on executing on your tactics, regularly checking up on your chosen metrics to make sure you're making progress, and adjusting course (or returning to the drawing board entirely) when you see that things clearly aren't working.
So "hard work" was the answer all along. Sorry :( I know, I feel like television misled me too.
On the bright side, there's some info below to help you get to grips with the steps above :)
PR value calculation relies on strategy
Your PR strategy is the what, how and why that underpins your whole PR campaign.
Can you get by without one? Yup – thousands do. But those are the same thousands that lose clients and don't progress to the tops of their careers.
They're also the people working late into a Friday night, hair a bird's nest as they shake their laptop and sob "why isn't this working?!" into the screen before reaching for that third mega pint of wine.
We've all been there, and that's fine, but it isn't a place you want to stay at.
By taking some time to plan out a strategy before you start doing, you're able to immediately exclude a whole bunch of unnecessary activities, and narrow down a manageable list of tactics that will let you achieve more in less time.
This isn't some bogus claim that never actually pays off, it isn't a trick. It just takes some forethought, communication and a bit of discipline.
And that's hard. Of course it's hard, because as humans we have a horrible time motivating ourselves to do more now so that we might reap the rewards later. And if that sounds a little too on the nose, I super recommend listening to the audiobook Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey. No affiliation, it's just helped me a lot :)
I also recommend reading about how you can build a PR strategy, or watching our conversation on the topic with Spin Sucks' Gini Dietrich and PR Fest's Laura Sutherland below:
Useful metrics for calculating PR value
This is another area that has no clearcut answer, because what you measure depends entirely on the goal of your PR campaign and the tactics you choose.
If you were trying to increase the amount you can benchpress, you probably wouldn't be tracking your progress based on how many attempts it takes you to guess the day's Wordle.
The thing you measure needs to make sense in the context of what you're doing and what you want to achieve.
So, I can't tell you which metrics to definitely use. But, I can give you some options.
- Media coverage – an old favorite but sometimes problematic metric, media coverage is nevertheless a strong contender if your goal is to increase brand authority or demonstrate thought leadership within a particular sector, or get in front of a specific audience – just so long as you remember that bigger isn't always better
- Campaign engagement – so, 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's campaign mailer 🌝
- Web traffic – 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
- Conversions – the number of people that become followers, clients or customers after participating in your campaign. This can be a valuable metric since it's often straightforward to track and tends to have a direct impact on business goals such as increasing sales
To go more in-depth into the different metrics available, check out our article on PR metrics and KPIs, or watch my premiere attempt at livestreaming as I interview the king of data, Christopher S. Penn, below.
A note on using advertising value equivalency (AVE) as a PR metric
And it's an obligatory note, because it's something that was sort of relevant several decades ago, and has somehow persevered into present-day PR measurement by surfing atop an enduring wave of misconception about what PR actually is.
Why? Because it's easy. It takes virtually no effort to find out how much it would have cost you to have placed that same earned content as an ad, and the result is a solid monetary figure that can't really be argued against.
"This would have cost us $10k to buy, and look, we got it for free! That's $10k of value for us right there."
Sure, that logic checks out.
And similarly, when your friend Dave was tragically forced to wrap up his fish & chip business and you managed to land his surplus inventory at no cost whatsoever, technically you won another $2k of value for your business, even if that value was locked away in a rapidly diminishing fishy commodity. But did it bring the company any closer to achieving any of its goals? Unless the main KPI was "seagull retention", I'd wager not so much. The value of having $2k-worth of fish is worth around $2k to a fishmonger, and approximately zero to, say, a SaaS platform.
Because the simple truth of the matter is that the value of an ad isn't in the having of it; it's in the awareness it causes, the action that it inspires. And that's a very different thing to its price tag. For one thing, it can change from issue to issue. For another, having the equivalent space as earned media is likely to be far more effective than a paid placement since an editor would have vetted our story and deemed it relevant to their readership.
If you must use a semblance of advertising value equivalency for measuring the success of your PR, speak with the publication and find out its reach. Find out how many people they claim are likely to see such an ad, and who those people are. Get their distribution figures. All this information is likely to be given prominently in their paid promo materials, and each one is infinitely more useful to figuring out the value of your PR mention than AVE.
And the most important thing of all
Alright, I'm not just being glib here. I mean communication between you and the company – whether that's in-house or a client – about aligning your goals and theirs. Before you can get any effective tactics planned or even start to make a plan for your campaign, you need to make sure that you and the cats at the top are on the same page. Because a lot of the time, their idea of great PR is nowhere near
And that isn't always easy, as Gini knows all too well. Fortunately, she has a trick for dealing with it. And by "trick", I mean a whole lot of patience. Take a look.
And it doesn't end there. Of course it doesn't, because since when was PR easy?
Even if you get to the point where you and the CEO are aligned on the company's goals and how your work ties in with those, there's a good chance you still don't have the whole picture.
Take the time to speak with the different teams in the company, particularly marketing (yes, I know we hate them, but it's 2022 and the lines between us all are getting pretty blurry so let's suck it up and try to be friendly here).
Find out what attribution models they use, and make sure to clue them in on the work you plan to do so that your PR work can be part of that picture. Because, guess what – if you run a campaign that lures more visitors to the site but they can't track that the source of that traffic was your email? You won't see any of that credit. Which is precisely why a PR campaign tool with built-in analytics can be so darn useful for reporting.
Ok, that's all folks! I hope this article didn't frighten you off, because although it is a lot of work to build out a PR strategy and track the right metrics, I promise you it's the only way to calculate the value of your PR – and best of all, by planning your work and selecting tactics that are actually going to "move the needle", you save yourself time and get better results in the long run. It's a way to invest in yourself.
If you still haven't had enough, I thoroughly recommend watching our interview with Richard Bagnall – the man who literally wrote the book on PR measurement – and if you got more value from this article than you would have done from several kilos of surplus fish, consider signing up for our newsletter which has all our latest content, delivered to your inbox every two weeks or so. You can do both below.
Until next time, wishing you a productive day :)
Published May 2022