Whether you manage it in-house or hire an external team at a PR firm, you have made an investment of time and dollars into developing and executing your public relations plan, but how do you know if it is working? The first and most important step of PR measurement begins well before you implement your plan – it begins during the planning process itself.
Find Your “Why”
There’s a reason driving the work you do, and that reason is not media coverage or newsletter clicks … it is something much larger; it is aspirational, big picture thinking that’s tied to your organization’s mission or business goal. This reason serves as the beating heart of your PR strategy and the “why” behind it.
Now, think about your public relations plan and strategy. What is your end game? What do you seek to achieve? If you are doing for the sake of doing, then you should not only rethink your desired results, but you should also spend time determining if the plan serves a distinct purpose. Only with a clear purpose in mind, can you begin to formulate a goal.
A goal is a broad statement about your desired outcome over the long term, whatever that may be … for a travel destination, the goal may be to position your destination as a top vacation spot for young families; for a local employer, the goal may be CSR-related, with a focus on driving awareness of your community involvement. Goals may vary, but they share a commonality of serving and supporting your organization’s mission and business plan.
It’s easy to confuse goals with objectives … one way to differentiate between the two is to keep in mind their hierarchy – goals are broad statements, while objectives measure tactics that help you work toward your goal. In short, objectives serve your goal!
Most PR professionals have heard of SMART objectives, but not everyone puts them into practice when thinking about PR measurement. SMART is an acronym that represents a series of criteria to follow when formulating campaign objectives.
Specific – Is your objective clearly stated and does it specifically note who you are targeting?
Measurable – Does it includes something that is quantitative and measurable?
Attainable/Achievable – Is it realistic within the parameters you have set? Does it take into account any challenges you may face?
Relevant/Results-Oriented – Does it relate to the work you are doing? Is it focused on outcomes?
Time-Bound – Did you include a timeframe or deadline for achieving the objective? If not, your objective is too open-ended.
Why are SMART objectives important? Such defined objectives not only help you stick to your goals, but they also hold you accountable and make your achievements more clear-cut and notable (especially if your results exceed them), and help narrate success when reporting upward to executive leadership.
What to Measure
I’m kind of known as the data geek in residence at Curley & Pynn. Spreadsheets and graphs bring me joy, and I love building report templates that tell the stories of our team’s award-winning work on client campaigns. I’ve even attended conferences that are about nothing but measurement! One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to public relations measurement. Even so, here are some considerations that can help you fine-tune the way that you measure success:
- Not Every Hit is a Hit – Publicity, or news coverage, is a common objective in PR plans targeting external publics, but don’t believe the adage that all publicity is good publicity. Focus on quality over quantity. Is your story being placed with outlets that reach your target publics or markets? Is your main messaging weaved into the story? What’s the tone (and what are the drivers of that tone)? Do the stories include a call-to-action or link to more information? All these elements are points that can be measured in each news story you secure, although it does take time to track these points, especially if you have a lot of coverage. It often helps to have a team or service available that can support you in winning those stories, as well as dig deeper.
- Think About Your Thought Leadership – If thought leadership is your goal, you’re likely looking to place executives and other key thinkers for your company in front of groups that may benefit from their expertise. This may happen through service on boards or by securing speaking engagements. Whatever the avenue may be, be sure to ascertain whether or not the time is time well spent. If pursuing speaking engagements, consider who attends these functions, if your message will resonate and what opportunities there may be to stay connected with attendees. These considerations will aid you in determining what to measure about each opportunity and whether or not the engagement was a fruitful one, both before and after the fact.
- Connect Clicks with Action – We live in a digital world that provides more ways than ever before to connect with important publics. No doubt, you have a website and multiple means of reaching people via email or social media – and all these channels serve up analytics on the backend. Having so much data available at your fingertips can, at times, be dizzying. It has even been suggested that PR professionals “will need to become data scientists.” What data should you be mining? It all goes back to the basics – ensuring that you are connecting with your targets and that they are taking action, whether it be via personal engagement, email collection, an inquiry or a sale.
- Always Be Measuring – Years ago, when studying for my accreditation in public relations, I was reminded of an important fact. PR measurement doesn’t begin and end at the close of your campaign. Evaluation should happen throughout all stages of implementation. If you find that your efforts are not on track to hit your mark, the PR plan you’ve been steering may need to change course. In this case, it is your measure of success that directly determines the next step you take.
I could spend a lot more time going through each of these points (and plan to do so in future posts!), but what it all comes down to is this – evaluating the success of your PR plan or strategy isn’t just a numbers game. If you are SMART when setting objectives and clear on your goal, your measurement of success will be as custom-tailored as your PR plan itself.