What is the role of data in measuring PR success?

Written by Lilian Smit

Each PR manager, agency or in-house, has their own way of measuring the success of a campaign. It’s often a fairly nuanced process based on the needs of your clients and their view of success. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ method and because of this you will often find PR professionals decrying at events that it absolutely cannot be done. This isn’t exactly true, although the phrase ‘PR is an art not a science’ definitely comes into play when it comes to counting direct sales leads.

I recently attended a PR Moment seminar on PR analytics and data, for a better insight into the tools and techniques organisations of all shapes and sizes use to measure the seemingly unmeasurable.

Data analysis has always been the starting point when looking for answers, and there are platforms such as Trendkite, Vuelio, and Meltwater, which will take all the figures from a campaign and compile it into a report, which promises to give an indication of ROI. The reports they deliver are beautifully designed and can be a great asset in a quarterly meet, but they aren’t particularly suitable for smaller budgets. They also do not vary from a more manual method.

Most use a more traditional KPI system, compiling and analysing coverage numbers, online circulation and social engagement figures into a monthly or yearly report. There is nothing wrong with this method, it is still tangible data that can be put into a report. But proving to a client that these figures mean anything at all can still be a challenge.

The goal of PR has shifted slightly as data has become more intelligent in other industries, and not everything comes down to sales, with company trust a stronger priority. This means the value of these KPI numbers is being re-considered. Companies no longer look at these figures and think large numbers equal success. They now want to know whether a campaign had any real impact, how it resonated with its audience, and if it has given the company any credibility.

I thought that Richard Bagnell, chairman at AMEC, hit the nail on the head at the seminar by breaking it down and reminding us of what we’re all trying to achieve with comms’. Effectively, it’s three things; we’re trying to communicate the right message, target the right audience, and achieve an objective. Richard claimed that the key to keeping track of this was to stop focusing so hard on the outputs of a campaign, and consider the outtakes and outcomes as well.

To help with this process there are frameworks available, including the AMEC platform and the PRCA’s Barcelona principles, which are readily available and free. These provide the user with a structured method for data entry at each key part of the campaign, particularly at the output, outtake and outcome stages. This overview helps both the PR professional and client clearly see the success points as well as the negative.

To put it simply –  a new product launch might output a load of content onto social media. This might then gain significant traction, which would be viewed as a strong outtake in terms of measurement. However, if the actual outcome of the entire campaign is that sales fell, then all those likes and shares are pointless, and the real success of these outputs and outtakes needs to be reconsidered. We need to make sure we’re measuring at all three points for a real overview.

Technology, as always, is promising to innovate this sector, and there is potential for some interesting developments using AI. Lucy Linthwaite, external media relations manager at IBM explained at the event how the company has been using its own AI platform Watson to explore sentiment measurement in its own efforts in-house. Watson is able to analyse all the social conversations around a campaign, picking up on personal traits and language used by customers and delivering insight into how trusted a campaign was, and how it was perceived. Giving the user a clear insight into how the customers viewed the campaign. This is, however, a technique reliant on the campaign having a heavy social media presence, which isn’t always the case for smaller b2b companies.

The general consensus of PR analytics 2018, was that impact beats high numbers when it comes to success, but that we still don’t really have a way for data to prove that. This is getting even more tricky as influencer engagement becomes more commonplace in PR, a technique with very few figures to attach beyond blog hits and social media followers.

As a PR professional you begin to develop a sense for knowing when a campaign has been a real success and made an impact, it goes beyond coverage numbers and online circulation. It’s a mix of client engagement, journalist feedback and affirmation from others in our industry. But now is the time, and it has been for a while, to think about how we can continue to communicate this impact effectively to our clients, while the industry continues to shift under the influence of data.

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