Defining Value

PR Measurement to Guide Your 2020 Planning

By Blair Poloskey


It’s Q4, y’all. You know what that means – the home stretch of 2019. The last hoorah, if you will. Or the last chance to get organized before 2020 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 in 2020.

Measurement, though it might feel like a bad word in communications sometimes, is a necessity. It proves the value of your communications and, if done correctly, informs your program and moves it forward. This is different than reporting, which can often turn into a checklist of vanity metrics. PR 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 in 2020, 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?”

When it comes to PR measurement, many of us fall into the trap of thinking of 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 measuring – you measure a tactic, vs. your larger program. You are left with a list of what a campaign did, instead of a narrative about how a campaign helped and provided value.

Instead, start with how you are going to measure a campaign’s success. To do this effectively, commit to connecting the dots and understanding (i.e. benchmarking) 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.”

Benchmarking leads to a better understanding of your program. 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 impact.

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

There are quite a few tools out there to help you measure success. We even have some favorites at INK, including Brandwatch and TrendKite. But there isn’t one tool to automate it all – collect, analyze, report, measure – at least not yet. You still need quite a bit of brainpower, even with a solid measurement program.

Tools can show you if a metric goes up or down, but it doesn’t tell you why – and it certainly doesn’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 the measurement metrics you care about and where to find them is a better place to start before creating an entire PR measurement system. 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. KPIs won’t help you in the long run if you don’t know what they are telling 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 doesn’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, this is our planning and analysis (or P&A) program. It’s a way for us to identify the metrics that matter to our objectives and larger business goals, organize the data into a spreadsheet that tells a story, and connect to a visualization tool (we use Google Data Studio) to better show the story.

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 be assessing and learning.

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 key metrics like 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 add up 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 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 program will grow and evolve. By using our P&A programs 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 (P&A) approach, it can help you tackle 2020 head on and crush your goals.