Can PR Be Measured?

I had a discussion with a potential client recently that got me thinking about the value of PR, how to measure it and how to explain what it takes to get results – especially to someone who isn’t familiar with public relations strategy or tactics. In the conversation with the potential client, his focus was on what the measurable results would be from a public relations campaign. It’s a fair question, but I think it’s one that needs to be put into context. It isn’t necessarily a straightforward answer.

Public relations, publicity, media relations, communications – whatever you call it – we’ve always had a challenge in defining its value, specific to measurement. The online world has forced an evolution in how the work we do is measured. The shift in traditional media has created the need to redefine what we measure and how we report out. And the blurring of lines between sales, marketing and public relations has created a demand that what we do be linked back to return-on-investment. None of this is impossible; it just all needs to be put into context and objectives need to be clearly defined at the start – relevant to organizational goals, campaign goals and impact, value and return-on-investment benchmarks.

The potential client I spoke with asked specific questions such as: “How many leads will a public relations campaign provide?” I couldn’t answer that question for him because I didn’t have all the information. The fact is, no matter how effective a PR campaign or initiative is, without creating a strategic PR plan, defining the budget, tactics and timeline, setting the objectives and goals and defining the criteria for success, it’s almost impossible to answer that.

The questions I had in return were:

  • How many leads do you get a day/week/month now?
  • What are the budget, length and approach of the PR campaign?
  • Who is the campaign targeting – what is their natural lifecycle of action or influence?
  • What are the metrics that can be used to understand the impact of the PR campaign? (Website visits, social media engagement/conversation, sharing with friends and colleagues, calls to the office, behaviour/action benchmarks, increase in awareness, message recall & retention, and purchase consideration.)

However well-defined the components are, they take time, energy and budget. An organization with a limited budget that sends out one news release or editorial style article once every year isn’t going to generate the same results as an organization that has a consistent focus on sharing information and on creating opportunities for exposure and engagement. Exposure and engagement lead to influence and action. For most organizations, that takes a commitment to PR beyond one short campaign.

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