How to measure PR

How to measure PR - no silver bullet imageIf the title ‘How to measure PR’ got you hooked and you came here in search of the silver bullet that will tell you how to measure exactly how successful your PR is then you’re going to be disappointed. There is no silver bullet. And there is definitely no silver bullet that will measure the ROI on your investment in public relations.

But if that’s what you’re trying to do then you’re trying to do the wrong thing. If you want to calculate the value of investing in public relations then surely you’d also want to know what the cost of not investing in public relations is. You don’t decide if you’re going to do public relations. Every company has relationships. The only decision is if you are going to manage them professionally or leave them to luck. Every company has a reputation. The only decision is if you are going to manage that reputation professionally or leave it to luck.

There is no silver bullet

The reason there is no silver bullet is that every company and organisation is unique and therefore how you measure the success of its public relations and communications is going to be unique.

There can be no one size fits all approach as everyone is trying to achieve different objectives. Even within one company or organisations there will be multiple communications objectives which should be tied to different business or organisational objectives. The way you measure the success of an internal communications campaign to improve staff retention in a contact centre will be very different to how you measure the success of a public relations programme to help improve a company’s corporate social responsibility.

It is essential that communications and public relations objectives relate to business and organisational objectives, but it doesn’t follow that achieving the business objectives is a measure of the success of the public relations activity. There will always be too many other factors to take into account to be able to draw such a direct line. If staff retention was improved it might be because the competitor call centre just up the road relocated to a different town making it harder for people to switch jobs. If it got worse it might be because the new parent company adopted a more antagonistic approach to its relationship with the trade unions at the centre.

Communications and public relations contribute to the final result, but ultimately the most important factor is always the reality of the situation. That’s why public relations is far more about what you do, rather than just what you say. The best way to improve the sales of a widget is to make a better widget.

Measuring the ROI of PR is a myth

ROI means return on investment. There is no other meaning. You calculate ROI by using this formula.

ROI formula graphicROI has a specific financial meaning that CEOs and chief finance officers understand. The challenge you have in calculating the ROI of public relations activity is that while you know the cost of investment, you don’t usually know the gain from the investment.

Even if it is something where you can calculate a financial gain, such as sales, there are always lots of contributory factors so you can’t isolate the contribution of just the public relations activity. ROI doesn’t mean value for money or cost effectiveness. So if you run a campaign that costs £5,000 and gets your Facebook page 500,000 new likes it might be great value as it’s only 1p per like, but it isn’t great ROI. You still don’t know what the ROI is as you don’t know in financial terms what the gain from the investment is.

It’s a myth to think that businesses calculate the ROI of everything they do. They don’t calculate the ROI of many of things they do. Making sure you get great value doesn’t mean you’ve got to know the ROI of everything. For a great take on this listen to what David Meerman Scott has to say in this rant on ROI.

Don’t ask how, but ask why you measure PR

If your first question is how to measure PR then you’re asking the wrong question. You should first ask yourself why you want to measure your public relations.

If your answer is to impress your boss or client or to justify your worth to them then you’re measuring PR for the wrong reasons.

The most important reason for PR measurement and evaluation is for yourself. You do it so you can do your work better.

That means you’ve got to be constantly measuring and evaluating. It’s not something that you relegate to the end. That’s too late to improve.

By constantly measuring and evaluating and using that insight to improve what you do then by default the result at the end will be better.

Once you accept these three simple truths then you can start to develop a public relations measurement and evaluation framework that really works:

  • There is no silver bullet
  • Measuring ROI is a myth
  • Use measurement to improve what you do, not prove what you’ve done

By accepting these truths you’re far more likely to be able to identify ways of measuring your PR that will impress your boss or client.

If you want to implement an improved new PR measurement and evaluation system then there are lots of free resources on the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) or contact me to discuss how I can help you develop a system or ask about the PR measurement and evaluation courses that I teach all around the world including open courses in London run by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).