How to measure PR ROI – it's all relative

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Return On Investment, or ROI. Three relatively small words that mean a huge amount when it comes to business investment. Without a reasonable return, you might as well not bother at all.
So we all know the ideal PR ROI— as much as possible. But less people are so sure of themselves when it comes to how to measure PR ROI properly, the irony being without good measurement and evaluation it’s impossible to figure out if you’re wasting money or not.
A key factor muddying the waters of PR ROI is history. In the past, because public relations was viewed as something of a soft art rather than a precise science effective and exact measurement and evaluation were not always seen as necessary. Assumption counted for much— and, further down the line, sales figures. A brand pulled off a great stunt, we presumed this would boost revenue in the short term, and then waited to find out whether this had happened once the pennies had been counted.
Needless to say, the picture painted is nothing short of an antique. We live in the data and information era, where the majority of moves are made using some kind of digital technology, and the more digital we use the more traces and trackable evidence we leave behind. Nevertheless, this doesn’t make the process of assessing PR ROI simple— thankfully, as a PRCA Measurement Champion and AMEC award winning agency for measurement, we’re here to help…

Woods and trees 

This presents a unique problem, though. On the one hand, we’ve never had so many numbers to crunch and sales journeys to follow in order to prove great PR ROI. But then simply looking to assess every aspect of the campaign, and every possible outcome, is overwhelming and overly time consuming— your PR ROI will plummet if you spend three times the necessary hours figuring out the PR ROI than you can afford. And it’s easy to get confused when you have data relating to every minute detail.
With this in mind the most important first step when trying to figure out how to measure PR ROI is to figure out what it is you want to measure. Are we concerned with immediate results— great coverage across several national papers, for example— or long-term impact, which would need to take into account things like mentions over months, share of voice, sentiment and overall public image?

Get on the same (correct) page 

It’s pointless to set about measuring everything at once, and it’s also no use opting to measure PR ROI on goals that have not been agreed by everyone.
Agencies, stakeholders clients and staff must all view the goals and targets as relevant and equally important, otherwise there will be real friction when it comes to presenting the final numbers. This is particularly true when it comes to things that don’t present immediately tangible benefits— for example a strong thought leadership piece placed on a high profile title.
Checklist with check mark and red pen.
 

Talk your language 

So everyone is focussed on the most important factors of the campaign. Better yet, they all understand why these factors are critical in terms of how you measure PR ROI. All sounds ideal, but there’s another key concept to take into account.
Rather than simply placing all the emphasis on media impressions and article counts, it’s vital that you take into consideration what many refer to as ‘message pull-through’. This means assessing whether media mentions include the desired tone and accurate information of the initial campaign concept; and you also need to look at outcomes— how much were those messages engaged with, and what was the real world impact of those engagements?
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Be real 

While everything we have said in this article seems to suggest that in the 21st Century PR ROI is easy to measure, this is definitely not the case.
Let’s take a great mention in an online article on a prominent news site, for example. The company name may be in there, the message is on point, but there is likely to be no backlink to the company website. For most publishers this is a no-no.
This means it will be difficult to try and track the real impact of that mention. We simply do not know what happened to the reader after they finished the article, or at least we can’t be sure they went straight to the company website and placed an order after reading the piece.
In many ways, then, how to measure PR ROI in 2018 is much the same as how you measured PR ROI in days gone by. Inch-by-inch accuracy simply isn’t possible, it’s about finding the right combination of metrics to deliver reassurance that things are heading in the right direction.
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