Public relations is a powerful way to increase brand value, educate markets, differentiate against competitors, build trust, create product demand, attract investors/acquirers, and retain top talent. That’s why it continues to grow as an industry. In 2020, the global PR market was worth $88 billion. By the end of 2025, the industry is expected to surpass $129 billion (Statista, 2022). But how do you measure the success of an individual PR program? It’s a combination of smart goal setting, accurate tracking, careful evaluation, and a little intuition. Here are our top 10 ways to effectively measure the return on investment (ROI) of PR.
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1. First, KPIs
It’s impossible to measure the ROI of an investment in time and resources without first determining what you need to make it pay off. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are measurable values to track the success of your PR campaign in reaching your unique objectives. To measure ROI of a PR program you must first determine what success looks like to you.
Write down your specific objectives and goals for PR. Then determine what outcomes meet them. Goals can range from increasing earned media coverage with certain media outlets and getting a greater share of voice versus competitors to educating particular publics, building thought leadership, or driving more website traffic. There are many different possible KPIs for a PR campaign. The main things to remember are that they should be unique to your organization, realistic, and measurable.
Take the time to develop KPIs and refer back to them regularly to ensure you are meeting targets and stated goals.
2. Track Impressions
A key metric to measure in PR is impressions or views. These can be measured by getting the UVPM (Unique Visitors per Month) on the news outlets in which you obtain media coverage, or the circulations of the print publications you land editorial stories in. This is an easy way to measure the audience size and the potential for reach. The more impressions, the more people are aware of your brand, product, or service.
Skilled PR agencies almost always use a professional news wire service for distribution of news releases. They provide a wide distribution throughout Internet portals and among journalists and subscribers who have requested information on specific topics. Metrics are provided after the press release is distributed, including the number of views of the release, primary sources of those views, number of click-throughs from the hyperlinks placed in the press release, and the number of subscribers who opened emails containing the press release. Over time, the growth in views and click throughs can be compared across all your news releases giving insights on the types of news releases that are garnered more postings, impressions and opens.
Google Analytics, in particular, is invaluable in measuring the effectiveness of PR programs. Are press releases and feature stories creating spikes in web traffic? What PR placements are providing solid referral traffic to the website? What links are resulting in the best traffic to the website? And what is the visitor’s journey on the site and are they leaving only after making their way to the contact page? (We hope so!) These and other measures are extremely helpful in determining how PR is supporting business goals, creating brand awareness, and educating audiences.
4. Direct Traffic
One of the best measurements of PR’s ROI is direct traffic to the website. This is when people type the name of the company or product into search engines versus finding the company with a key word search or clicking on a link. If direct organic website visits using just the company name or URL are growing, this means your PR and branding is working. It’s an important and often overlooked measurement of a PR program’s effectiveness in creating top-of-mind status among key audiences.
5. Share of Voice (SOV)
SOV is an extremely effective and valuable metric in determining a PR program’s overall success. In PR we often talk about clearly differentiating from competitors and demonstrating you are a better choice versus your direct competitors. Well, doing a side-by-side comparison of your SOV – media coverage, positive reviews and/or social media engagement – is one of the best ways to determine the effectiveness of your PR program against that of competitors.
6. Polls and Perception Audits
How can you ensure your PR messages are resonating with key publics? Ask them. Have the sales team ask each new lead how they heard about your company. Put a question in your sales form or calendar tool asking where they heard about you. And plan a perception audit anywhere from six to 18 months after the start of your PR program that you repeat again in a year or two. Ask targeted prospects, customers, even media contacts, their perceptions of your brand, corporate reputation, product or service awareness or anything else you are working to impact during a PR campaign to help to measure success.
7. Domain Authority, Downloads and Social Lift
Measure your website’s domain authority at the beginning of your PR campaign and measure its improvement over time. How about downloads of whitepapers, eBooks, infographics, and video visits? Whatever materials you use in your PR campaign, ensure you are measuring via Google Analytics, HubSpot, Mailchimp or any other marketing analytics platform you are using. Put them in a report and look for the materials that netted the best downloads. Then create more of that.
Track your social media overtime – are followers increasing? Is engagement going up? Look for social media lift around PR pushes and announcements. Consider ways to adjust if you are not getting a lift. Maybe you need to tag more people to help you share your brand’s good news or perhaps you aren’t sharing ALL of the good news and media coverage the PR program is generating. Social can help amplify and measure the impact of good news.
8. The Domain Authority of Media Outlets
One metric to measure the impact of a PR campaign or specific announcement is the domain authority of the media outlets where editorial coverage is secured. This is a standard measure of the quality of websites and their ability to rank high on search engines. When respected media outlets with a high domain authority write a story and include backlinks to your company, it’s a credible measure of the value of the earned media placement.
Look at your DA. How is it being influenced by the PR program, website updates, SEO, direct links within earned media stories, and more? An increase in your website’s DA is a good indication your PR program is adding value and traffic to your website.
9. Create a Category and Listen
Another way to measure a PR campaign is to coin an industry phrase or create a new service or product category and develop messaging to support. It will be unique to you and your brand. Use it consistently in internal and external PR. Review and analyze your editorial coverage over time. Listen. Are the media, your customers, team members, partners and opinion leaders adopting the phrase and messaging? Is the sentiment positive? Track the messaging and usage to gauge the PR program’s ability to build your reputation as a leader in your space.
10. Leads, Sales, and the Credibility Quotient
It’s often difficult to draw a straight line from a press announcement or editorial placement to a direct sale. So much goes into a prospect’s decision to go from a lead to a customer. It’s all part of what we like to call the credibility quotient, too. It’s a combination of the company’s offering and reputation mixed with the sales team’s ability to close sales. PR’s role is to increase awareness and up your credibility quotient among independent third parties like analysts, publications, online news outlets, association newsletters, forums and more.
Measure PR’s ability to up your credibility and positive reputation by looking at analytics and sales reports. Measure the number of leads and closed sales ratios at the beginning of the PR campaign. Then measure those numbers every quarter. We find that positive earned media and well-placed thought leadership articles support sales like no other vehicle. It provides the third-party validation a prospect needs to confirm taking a meeting with your sales team. If a publication or news outlet deems your company worth covering in a news story or feature article, it is, in a sense, giving your organization an implied endorsement.
In this capacity, PR is the sales reputation and credibility partner that advertising can never be. This type of third-party validation is invaluable in building a reputation as a credible and worthwhile company with which to do business. Read more on the importance of Reputation Management here.
The ROI of PR is measurable. With the help of these 10 ways to measure PR, organizations can see how a well-planned PR program is a critical part of an integrated marketing strategy to build a positive reputation and meet business goals. Reach out if you’d like to discuss your goals for PR and the most effective ways to measure the outcomes – Bonnie@clearpointagency.com.
About the Author
Bonnie D. Shaw is co-founder of Clearpoint Agency, a public relations and marcomm firm with offices in San Diego and Massachusetts. She has led award-winning brand positioning, messaging, research, content, and PR strategies for companies such as Toshiba, Beyond Meat, Meatable, UBS, Eddie Bauer, MS Society, Zodiac, San Diego County Vintners Assoc., and dozens of companies in healthcare, technology, financial services, life sciences, real estate, ecommerce, and food and beverage. Shaw uses her broad experience to craft objective-driven PR strategies and create an authentic voice for her clients that differentiates, engages target audiences, and builds trust.
Shaw is often a featured speaker on PR strategy and connecting with audiences and has received 30+ awards for her work. She earned a BS in Journalism/Public Relations from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.