The PR industry has failed to define how to measure its performance for as long as I’ve worked in the industry. I started my career in 1997 and the same discussions that are taking place now about measurement had been taking place for many years before that.
Over the last two decades there’ve been summits, declarations, accords and mandates. The great and the good have convened in every corner of the world, from Melbourne to Barcelona, but we’re still no closer to a definitive explanation of how to measure PR. If I was being cynical - some say I am - you might conclude the industry doesn’t want you to be able to measure its outputs.
Know what you’re measuring
The first part of measuring PR is to understand what it is you are measuring. The PR industry talks about awareness and buzz created through media coverage - but these are the outputs of publicity not public relations. Measuring awareness is like trying to measure the impact of loud music – you can measure the noise level but not whether anybody liked it.
Public relations is about building and maintaining relationships; measuring its impact starts with identifying the key relationships for achieving a defined milestone. Once you’ve identified the core 6-10 people you want to connect with, you need to benchmark the strength of your relationship with each one.
Write a number, between 0 and 10 [0 meaning you have no relationship with them and 10 meaning they’ll do anything you ask them]. The key is that you’re honest about them. Fooling yourself that new acquaintances are fast friends or loyal supporters makes meaningful measurement impossible. Next, write down how strong you need each of the 6-10 relationships to be in order to achieve your desired outcome.
These two sets of numbers provide something you can measure against.
Create custom plans
Because you know where you’re starting from - and where you need to get to - you can create a plan designed specifically to deliver a specific outcome. Most PR plans contain a long list of activities, but without knowing the starting point or the destination it’s impossible to measure whether what you’re doing is moving you closer to it or further away from your goal.
Creating custom PR plans allows you to clearly measure the success or failure of each against the desired outcome - the point where they can be useful for marketing [actions] and promotional [awareness] purposes. Brian Honigman explains how this works in his recent column for Entrepreneur magazine, called, ‘Earning the right to promote’.
Think about it: when we want help in our personal lives we go to people that we have strong relationships with; people we know will help us if we ask them. We build personal relationships to help us achieve our personal goals. It’s no different in business.
Most startup PR plans won’t include media relations. Don’t get me wrong, media coverage has a value, but not generally as part of building or maintaining relationships. As Brian Honigman’s piece explains, publicity/promotion only adds value when you have earned the right.
I’m also not saying you shouldn’t build relationships with journalists - they can play an important role long-term - but pitching them relentlessly with self-promotional releases isn’t the way to approach it. Don’t believe me? How close is your relationship with the pizza company or estate agent that continually sticks flyers through your door?
You should also build the relationships directly rather than paying somebody else to build them on your behalf.
Measure the change
Measuring the impact of public relations activity is about measuring the change in the strength of relationships needed to achieve a defined outcome. You can measure whether a relationship has moved from a 3 to an 8, or from a 7 to a 4.
We know when we’ve done things that have earned the trust and goodwill of others. We also know when we’ve done something to damage a relationship. It’s no different in business.
The ultimate measure of PR is the improvement in the strength of a key relationships. The stronger these are the more likely you are to achieve your desired outcome.