Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Making time for PR measurement

One of the most frequently mentioned barriers to setting up a PR measurement program is the time it takes. This is completely understandable—it does take time to set up measurement, and PR professionals frequently go from one client issue to the next with barely enough time to re-calibrate.

This is because the bulk of public relations work is either very or somewhat time sensitive. You don’t tell reporters you’ll “get back” to them once you’re done setting up Google Analytics. Similarly, social media, now a large part of most PR work, moves quickly and requires attention. So plates are already quite full, and adding measurement on top of that can be a challenge.

On the measurement side, everything from setting up the conversations to determine what PR activities tie back to business goals, to figuring out what to measure, on up through the process of collecting and analyzing the data all takes significant time.

It isn’t hard to see why time is a major barrier to more fully adopting PR measurement. It’s also the reason the industry hasn’t managed to shake “easy” but useless metrics like AVEs.

PR practitioners should take a bit of comfort in that, like learning a new skill or a new language, the initial learning curve for measurement can be steep but the more you do, the easier it gets. The setup that takes many hours now will become something you can accomplish in half the time a year later. With that in mind, here are some ways to start carving out small amounts of time for measurement.

Start small

The quickest way to frustration for a busy PR pro is to set a goal that is too complex to execute properly without a lot of additional resources. If you’re strapped for time but want to start measuring, start small, with a clear, concrete goal. For example, if you are in the middle of a client program it’s difficult to start a measurement program halfway through. Presumably you are already tracking some components—if it’s a media relations program or a product launch, you are most likely already tracking straight client mentions.

Rather than going all the way back to the beginning of the program—which could mean re-reviewing hundreds if not thousands of clips—just pick a two-week interval. Then, look at any other additional data you have from that time frame—was there any social media engagement during that period? If you have access to information like email sign-ups or registrations, what did those numbers look like during that period? What was the media coverage like, taking into account tone, message resonance, original content or syndicated, etc.?

Since you are only looking at a brief segment of a campaign, this isn’t enough time to draw any real conclusions—but, it does “train” your measurement mind to start looking at information differently. If you do this periodically over the course of a campaign, by the end of the program you may have some additional insights based on what the data show.

Pick the low-hanging fruit first

If you’re just beginning a PR program and want to start incorporating measurement, there are most likely some fairly straightforward items you could tackle without introducing a lot of complexity. Pointing PR efforts to a microsite and tracking things like click-throughs and signups should be fairly simple to implement. The most important things to keep in mind are: 1) the program’s objective, 2) what activities are being conducted to achieve that objective, and 3) how and what kinds of data are being collected on those activities.

For example, if the PR program is for a nonprofit running an annual silent auction those items might look like:

  • Objective: to increase donations by 10 percent over last year’s fundraising total;
  • Activities: Local media outreach, targeted social media promotion of event, and direct email campaign to ongoing/regular donors.
  • Data collection: for media outreach, an event-specific microsite that links to a ticket page, for targeted social promotion a link to ticket sales page, and a direct email campaign asking donors to increase their donation from last year by adding a specific dollar amount (if they donated $100 last year, ask for $110 this year, etc.).

These data points specifically link back to the objective, and this is most likely work that is already being done—you’re just drawing a specific line between the objective, the activity, and the outcome.

Delegate

I’m a big believer that we all learn best by doing—so this isn’t an ideal option, at least not when you’re just starting to measure. However, if a lack of time is completely preventing any advancement in this area, some delegation might be helpful. The trick is, if you are delegating you need to be able to clearly articulate how to set up measurement and what needs to be tracked so that you don’t simply end up with a messy pile of unusable data at the end of a program, when you think you’re going to be doing analysis and providing measurable insights.

Bearing that in mind, having an intern or associate load information into a spreadsheet is probably a logical delegation of tasks. The same holds true for setting up Google Analytics or similar programs: if there’s someone who is an expert now, go to them to see if they can help you out. (And then add “learn Google Analytics” to a personal development list for the next time.)

Don’t go it alone—if possible

Get a measurement buddy. Whether it’s a team member who also knows they “should” be measuring but aren’t, or someone from outside your company who has some experience who can act as a “measurement mentor,” it’s helpful to have another person who can think through ideas with you. The ideal situation is to find someone within your company, because PR measurement that is tied to business goals can touch on areas that are proprietary. Asking someone you admire in the measurement community on Twitter to sign an NDA so that you can bounce ideas off of them for free…isn’t going to go over well. That said, the vast majority of the people I’ve met who are passionate about PR measurement are usually willing to answer a general question or two, to help you get started on the right path.

Eventually, it gets easier

Once you start down the path of doing PR measurement deliberately and with clear objectives, you will find that it gets easier. The discussions to figure out which business goals can be supported by PR programs, what to measure to make the connection between program activities and things like signups or lead generation, and so on will get much shorter, because prior experience will guide you. You’ll even start to think differently about processes and what to include in new business pitches so that measurement will be incorporated from the very outset—which is the ultimate objective. Once you’ve demonstrated the value, you’ll be able to build in the time to measure into programs—leaving you less strapped for time.

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, digital and social communications, and media analysis.
Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips
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