Measuring PR output is tricky. There are lots of ways to do it, some more valuable and accurate than others and almost all not without their limitations. It is therefore worth considering what some of these are at a basic level to determine which are most appropriate.
By far the easiest and most common way to assess PR success is by simply looking at figures. This could be a very basic assessment of quantity (i.e. how many times an organisation’s name or campaign appears in the press); it could also be how frequently that organisation appears relative to a defined peer group (“share of voice); or even the monetary value of what a business would need to pay to secure the same media space in the form of an advert.
In theory at least, all well and good, and high figures from one or all of the metrics would indicate PR success – right?
In practice however, this is not straightforward as might appear and quantitative metrics alone have a number of limitations. They can be exaggerated but, more importantly, don’t take certain nuances into consideration – the extent to which it articulates an organisation’s key messages; where coverage has appeared and if it reaches target audiences; and most crucially, the tone or sentiment of an article. A high volume of coverage and substantial media presence is all well and good as a concept, but not if it is as a result of a crisis or for something that a business does not want to be known for!
Notably, our recent Asset Management Trends Report found that the majority (60%) of senior in-house communications professionals at asset management firms actually want more strategic coverage, with some even saying they would be happier with lower volumes.
Qualitative assessments of media coverage are harder to do, but can give a granular insight into the success, or otherwise, of a PR initiative.
This type of analysis would look at how good press coverage is based on the extent to which key messages are articulated; the extent to which an organisation is featured (i.e. are they the only or dominant voice); and how successful a campaign has been in reaching target audiences based on where coverage has appeared.
Depending on the campaign or programme in question, there are of course limitations in this type of analysis – consumer focused campaigns, for example, are typically require more in terms of volume to promote an organisation’s agenda to the mass market. More strategic initiatives however will rely more where and how clearly messages are articulated.
So, what is the best approach?
Ultimately, PR efforts are of course best measured by considering both quantitative and qualitative factors. This said, it is often all too easy to focus on figures alone, and a high number (be this volume of coverage, share of voice or any other metric) will naturally be reassuring. However, at least from a corporate communications standpoint, assessment by number alone is not always accurate at a time where businesses not only need to consider the size of their media presence, but what they are known for, who they are known by and the sentiment target audiences may hold towards them. It might be more difficult to measure but it is important not to ignore quality when assessing success.