Measurement + Analysis Public Relations

How PR Measurement Should Guide Your Annual Planning

By Blair Poloskey


It’s Q4, y’all. You know what that means – the home stretch. The last hoorah, if you will. Or the last chance to get organized before next year kicks off hot and heavy. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you dive into planning the next 12 months, let’s spend a bit of time talking about PR measurement and how it can help inform your goals for the upcoming year.

Measurement, though it might feel like a bad word in communications sometimes, is a necessity. It not only proves the value of your communications but, if done correctly, it also informs your program and moves it forward. This is different than reporting, which can often turn into a checklist of vanity metrics. Measurement is more than a status update. It’s a chance to reflect on what you’ve already done, and using that knowledge, set a path for what you will do.

That said, it is much easier to set up a measurement program before you start working towards your goal. If you wait until the end of Q1 to decide what you want to measure, you’ll be playing catch up the rest of the year, working double-time to achieve the measurement goal you set a little too late in the game. You have to get in front of measurement. To do this, let’s start with reframing the way you think about measurement.

Ask “How?” Not “What?”

Many of us fall into the trap of thinking about what we will measure. But when you think about what you will measure first, you run into two big problems. First, what you are measuring starts to define what you will do instead of the inverse. Second, you can forget to make connections between what you’re doing – your tactic – and your larger program goals. You are left with a list of what a campaign did, instead of a narrative about how a campaign provided value and impacted your business or brand.

Instead, start with how your program will best support communications or company goals. To do this effectively, commit to connecting the dots and understanding the full impact of your program. As my brilliant colleague Shelley Nall recently said:

“If you are not tracking your own progress over time and connecting the dots between how media outreach is contributing to web traffic, and how web traffic is connected to asset downloads, and how asset downloads are connected to leads, and if those leads are converting, then you really don’t know if your media outreach was as effective as you thought it was.”

Now that you see the bigger picture goals for your program, you can leverage objective-first planning to outline tactics for the year and define success. Oh, and don’t forget to benchmark. Benchmarking leads to a better understanding of how you are progressing towards that success. You can put your numbers up against an industry “standard” all day (and you can certainly use it as a litmus test), but it shouldn’t be your benchmark. Your program should be measured against itself – this is the only real way to understand progress.

Measurement Isn’t About a Fancy Tool (But Tools are Great)

Look, we know there are quite a few tools out there to help you measure success. We even have some favorites at INK, including Falcon.io and TrendKite (now part of Cision), and Meltwater. But there isn’t one tool to automate it all – collect, analyze, report, measure – at least not yet. And even if there were, you still need quite a bit of brainpower to pull insights out of your measurement program.  

Tools can show you if a metric goes up or down, but they don’t tell you why – and they certainly don’t tell you if this activity matters. For instance, just because your coverage dips one month doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a need to panic. Let’s say your coverage went down, but your website traffic and leads went up; that’s not a bad trade-off. Your next move might be to figure out what drove the increase in traffic, so you can allocate more resources there.

Tools give you a lot of shiny objects, but knowing which metrics you care about, where to find them, and how to interpret them is more important than measuring for the sake of measuring. Pulling in metrics directly from Twitter or Google Analytics and using Excel to organize and assess them is fine – as long as you are doing the work to understand how the metrics connect. Measurement won’t help you in the long run if you aren’t listening to what your numbers are trying to tell you.   

Measurement Isn’t About More Data

It is a total fallacy in the PR world that more data is always better. One metric alone won’t tell you the whole story, but at a certain point, too much data becomes just that: too much data. This can muddy your efforts to effectively measure success. Analyzing three key metrics that tell you valuable insights about your program is worth significantly more than mountains of data that don’t clearly tell your story.

Measurement Is About Your Process

A process to better manage your data, connect the dots, and visually show your results will help you truly measure business impact. At INK, we’ve dubbed this our planning and analysis (or P&A) process. It’s a way for us to identify the metrics that matter to our objectives and larger business goals, monitor those metrics regularly to inform on ongoing program strategy, and visualize those metrics (we use Google Data Studio) to better tell the story of our programs.  

Ensure Your Process Includes Iterative Analysis

Planning and analysis shouldn’t just show that you did something. Good communications measurement should help:

  • Explain what you’ve done and its impact
  • Make recommendations for how you can continue to improve and adjust
  • Set expectations for next steps and the results you hope to see in the next measurement cycle

But to accomplish this, you have to constantly assess and learn.

For example, say last quarter you focused on building a more targeted audience on key social media channels and driving more traffic to your blog to generate brand awareness and leads. You saw an increase in social followers and an increase in blog traffic, but you did not see an increase in session duration or form fills. So, what do you do next?

It could be that the copy you used to gain followers doesn’t quite align with the content on your blog, but it could be a number of other things. Testing the type of content on the blog as well as paid targeting on social will help you determine if it’s the quality of the followers or the content that is slowing down leads. Your goal for the next month could be to focus on increasing session duration and form fills. Once you have established the best target audience and content, you can then develop a more specific campaign to capitalize on those findings.

The Big Picture: PR Measurement Isn’t Static

If you are learning as you measure, your public relations program will grow and evolve. By using our P&A process as a framework, we’re able to help our clients measure the impact of our collective marketing efforts and set our programs up for success in the future. As an agency, it also puts us in the unique position of being able to more accurately set (and exceed) expectations. As we think about setting goals for next year, I challenge you to think about how planning and analysis will fit into your overall strategy.

Measurement doesn’t have to be a bad word. With the right approach, it can help you streamline planning and crush your goals.