What is PR Worth?

Data is a religion among business leaders. Leading indicators are prophets, and lagging indicators form a holy text. Investments are laid at the altar of better data insights: 91.9 percent of Fortune 100 executives say they’re accelerating their companies’ investments in big data systems. At the same time, only 24 percent of those same executives believe their organizations are “data-driven.” Before the all-knowing and inscrutable data deity, we are all fallen creatures, making decisions based on instinct and habit instead of being guided by the pure, objective light of truth. Through discipline, investment, and praxis, however, we can ascend to a higher plane of decision-making, where every choice is informed by precedent, validated during implementation, and adjusted in real time to achieve the desired results.

I wouldn’t say I’m a member of the Church of Data, but I’m spiritual, you know? Data is useful, and often fascinating. But, as a PR professional, I also find it…limited. It doesn’t always do a complete or accurate job of predicting the future or measuring success. So, when I’m asked to express a PR program’s value in terms of quantitative data, the conversation can get a little uncomfortable.

via GIPHY – The author attempts to credibly define the performance of a PR program in terms of quantitative metrics.

This question comes up a lot. Great PR isn’t free, and “data-driven” clients want to be able to justify their investments. However, many of our program goals are impossible to assess in terms of quantitative metrics. But – here’s where I get potentially heretical –being hard to measure doesn’t make a goal unworthy of pursuit.

For example, a PR program might include goals like:

  • Increase ACME’s brand awareness and drive interest in their current and emerging slate of rockets, explosives, and powered footwear in the Southwestern canine market.
  • Attract new audiences to the ACME brand to drive top-of-funnel growth.
  • Distinguish ACME’s unique solutions and expertise against competitors.

Data can indicate where we might be succeeding or failing at these goals, but not with certainty. For instance, if unique visitors to ACME’s website are flat, maybe that means we’re failing to attract new audiences. Maybe, however, we’re doing an excellent job replenishing a customer base that would otherwise be eroded by fatal falls, explosions, and avian chicanery.

via GIPHY – The leading cause of ACME customer attrition is user error.

I’m not a data atheist either, though. For practically every client, we track monthly metrics that help us understand our progress on these goals:

  • Unique earned media clips – unique stories, earned through media outreach, are a strong indicator that media targets are familiar with a brand believe it has something unique and compelling to offer their audiences.
  • Journalist shares – an even stronger indicator of media buy-in to a brand’s relevance: if they’re sharing stories about you on social platforms, they’re likely highly invested in your news or point-of view. Keep in mind, however, that not all industries or journalists are equally online.
  • Unique Visitors Monthly (UVM) – the number of unique devices visiting a media outlet’s domain each month. For online publications, this number helps you understand how many people each clip has the potential to reach.
  • Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) – an estimate of how much money it would cost to buy the same exposure. Industry standards for this metric are based on UVM, though different platforms may use their own unique formulas.

If you’re a data fundamentalist, AVE alone might satisfy you: right there, you’ve got proof of whether the value of your PR is higher than its cost. I believe, however, that these metrics can only capture a fraction of a PR program’s value.

Much of the work PR involves doesn’t drive media coverage directly. We engage with clients to develop foundational messaging, FAQs, and outreach strategy. We perform media training and coach message discipline. We build response plans so that crises…aren’t. The value of these activities is hard to measure. Often, ensuring the wrong stories never get written is just as important as making sure the right ones do.

It’s also often difficult to trace metrics like sales, MQLs, or web traffic directly to PR efforts. PR is essential, but it’s also only a piece of the puzzle. In truth, all your earned, owned, paid, and shared media channels are working together to impact these metrics, alongside market forces well outside your control. Data can help you identify trends and patterns, but be very wary before assigning cause.

So: what’s PR worth? Depends on your goals: We want our clients to have a personal relationship with their PR programs. That leads us to an agnostic approach. We talk with our clients about their needs, resources, and perceptions and create tailored retainers and custom KPIs for each. If you’ve got a vision for what you’d like to achieve with PR, reach out: we’ll work with you to figure out how to make it a measurable reality.



Rachel Bradshaw

Vice President of Account Services

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