The oldest and most common way to measure PR is the old-fashioned clip book. Basically, it’s just a compilation of news clips (and now links to online articles and broadcast reports) on our organizations in both traditional and new media.
Some agencies like to use “advertising equivalency” formulas to give these clip reports a more scientific, quantifiable feel. The simple overview is to measure the space the article takes up in a newspaper, for instance, and then find out how much an ad in that space would cost and how many people would see it. That’s your advertising equivalency number. Do this for every clip, and you’re likely to have some impressive numbers, whether they are all that reliable or not.
The problem PR faces in measurement is that in PR there are few areas where you can tie PR efforts directly to quantifiable results. Yes, we can take credit for numbers of news clips. We can take credit for numbers of people who show up at PR-organized events. We can tie PR to numbers of followers on Twitter, and numbers of “likes” on Facebook.
But if we try to hang our reputation on that, sooner or later, senior management is going to ask whether all of those clips, followers and “likes” are converted into anything meaningful.
Ultimately, PR is a support function to a business or organization. It’s the company’s sales function that generates sales results. It’s the organization’s development department that generates funding. Those functions use PR to create awareness to support their efforts, but PR cannot take direct credit for increased sales or in the case of nonprofit organizations increased donations. The primary reason is that there are too many variables that contribute to those results that are beyond the control and responsibility of PR.
The best ways to gauge the effectiveness of PR are to use a number of measures, that when combined, provide a clear picture of what’s working and what isn’t.
Focus groups help identify issues that resonate with or turn off specific audiences. Surveys help us detect patterns and changes in attitudes across targeted demographics. Secondary research, which may include analysis of news coverage, helps us learn whether our messages are getting through, and how certain issues are being characterized in the public arena.
We can do interviews with key constituents to find out what motivates them and how they receive and process information. And we can gather all of the data the client can provide that might help us track how effectively PR may be supporting those efforts. We can tally sales numbers and compare to last year at this time. We can look at numbers of customers, what they are buying, and where they live.
All of this helps us create a measurement mosaic that gives us a clearer picture of how PR may be helping an organization achieve its objectives.