How Effective Is Your PR? Media Impressions Can’t Give You the Whole Picture

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For many companies, public relations is a key part of marketing efforts. Unfortunately, I have found that when it comes to metrics for PR, many companies typically rely on media impressions as a way to evaluate the value of their PR initiatives. While media impressions can serve as one good data point, alone they do not help the organization tie public relations to key business outcomes or help assess the overall impact of PR efforts.

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with the world’s largest producer of air-cooled gasoline engines for outdoor power equipment and assist the company in more accurately assessing the value of its PR programs.

Companies can hone in on measures other than impressions so that they can more effectively measure their PR efforts.

The organization incorporates its engines into products as diverse as lawnmowers, tillers, generators, pressure washers and pumps for residential use, as well as many industrial/commercial applications. The company is also the largest producer of generators and pressure washers in the United States. Management relies on a number of marketing efforts to execute a push/pull strategy to market and sell the products. Public relations is an integral component of this effort, and the division has two main PR initiatives. One key program, a 5-year-old educational program designed to assist homeowners with yard and lawn care, relies solely on PR. The program utilizes many of the same PR elements each year, such as press releases, media tours, e-newsletters, promotions and contests—all designed to reach the target demographic market—markets with lots of grass.

As you’ll find in many manufacturing companies, the marketing organization was lean and ran fast and hard, often foregoing the planning and measurement management wanted. As a result, the company used media impressions as the primary measurement to evaluate this educational initiative. Executives recognized that this wasn’t an adequate metric because it didn’t demonstrate how the program was affecting the brand and sales. Company leaders decided they needed a better set of metrics to assess the program’s effectiveness, a more useful measurement framework that could be used to demonstrate the program’s value.

A process and a model

While company leaders wanted to define a new set of metrics in about 45 days, they also realized they needed a process and model from which to build a metrics framework that would work across PR efforts. We began by creating the framework based on three metrics categories: outputs, outcomes and business results. Outputs-related metrics measured the effectiveness of the PR campaign; outcome-related metrics measured changes resulting from the PR campaign; and business-results metrics measured how the PR campaign helped the organization achieve a specific business objective. We defined a set of metrics for each category in the framework. Using this type of framework, companies can hone in on measures other than impressions so that they can more effectively measure their PR efforts.

We selected several output measures to serve as the foundation for the model. Because the pilot focused on a program designed to establish thought-leadership, affinity and preference, we created metrics related to these areas. They included a message delivery score, share of voice, a geographic metric around markets, a prominence metric and a metric associated with topic, media and cost. Once we established the metrics, we validated them and created the model. This involved reviewing all the clips and data from the previous years’ results. We created an “as if” model, using historical data as the starting-off point to project a future state. This helps determine whether the metrics are viable and what changes are needed. In this case, it also provided insight into how the initiative performed against the new metrics. After some modifications, we solidified the model and established a set of performance targets.

When we were finished, the company had a set of metrics that went beyond using impressions or comparing print lines to advertising space as a way to measure the impact of PR and the value of the program. How did the new metrics and model impact decisions? First, after completing this initial phase the company could see that, while overall clips were going up, the average message delivery score was not. As a result, the company established a minimum average message delivery score. Executives also revised the messaging and the approach they was using for presenting content and stories to the media.

While the company wanted to achieve more visibility in the Texas region, executives found, after reviewing coverage geographically, that they needed to shift both emphasis and resources to increase the coverage in this state.

Using metrics can help an organization understand the strategic value of its messages and channel and adjust as needed.

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