This essay is presented by the IPR Commission on Measurement and Evaluation.
Every organization has an objective. Whether it is profitability, growth or sustainability, every employee and representative must give their best effort to make a positive business impact. To achieve this, enterprises must overcome the hurdle of integrating disparate aspects of the business to understand how each department relates to each other to discover what’s working, what’s not and what should be done about it (and when).
Leading companies overcome this challenge by translating the unique languages of communications, finance, marketing, sales, production and other essentials into a common language: data. Data is the basis of business and boardroom decision-making.
Public relations and communications are not exempt. And yet, measurement continues to vex our profession and stunt our potential due to an unwillingness among communicators who simply choose not to measure, and the isolation of PR data among those who do. Nearly 75 percent of chief communications and chief marketing officers don’t feel that they are fully capitalizing on all the benefits of technology and data to modernize their communications programs.
As professional communicators, we must align common practice with the demands of the business. If executives require information and context to determine which investments are most likely to produce viable long-term success, PR’s earned media data stream must integrate with other business data to make more holistic investment decisions. If PR performance is not quantifiable, integratable and insightful, it’s almost impossible to demonstrate — and generate — a positive contribution towards the organization’s objectives. In the absence of a robust calculable PR foundation, investments will continue to go to those who can provide the necessary data, and public relations will continue to struggle.
The purpose of this paper is to share the good news — a new approach to fact-based earned media optimization reveals how a combination of advanced technology and expert talent supplement existing methods to help revolutionize earned media, communications and marketing decision-making.
Searching for the Measurements that Matter
While earned media and public relations play an essential role in building the brand, generating revenue, creating efficiency and avoiding catastrophic cost, most practitioners and even leaders don’t quantify their contribution. Vague, indeterminate measures like “buzz” or “breaking through the media clutter” may mean something within the public relations community, but they mean nothing to the C-Suite. According to the 2017 Global Comms Report, 75 percent of senior executives feel the comms industry can do better at measuring and proving its impact on business objectives. Top executives need complete and meaningful communications intelligence, and so do we.
In a market intelligence analysis driven by Cision®, market research firm Demand Gen Report interviewed 169 management-level marketing and communications respondents from B2B companies in North America. The study, The Shifting Strategies for Earned Media, found that earned media influences performance marketing.
However, most PR people are measuring earned media efforts via web traffic, clips, pickup, likes, and shares because it’s difficult to quantify PR’s effect on leads generated, conversion rate tracking, revenue, or other meaningful measures of business impact. As a result, public relations remains on the periphery of the marketing mix.
While the survey findings showed that B2B marketers are starting to measure earned media investment against performance goals, they also revealed that marketers continue to struggle with how best to evaluate traditional and social media coverage.
The study found that while many B2B organizations would like to shift more of their budgets to earned media, they lack confidence in PR’s ability to measure and communicate the ROI of earned media.
To secure a level of primacy within the marketing and business-decision making process, public relations must connect performance data with business results as other disciplines within the organization do now.
The most compelling examples are those measurement applications which quantify earned media’s place within the sales funnel and PR’s measurable impact on revenue generation.
Until now, there were two ways for public relations to draw a link to sales:
- Marketing mix models: Since mass market advertising and promotions dominate marketing spending (PR averages about 1 percent of the typical marketing expenditure for mass-market brands), and because modeling is expensive and data- intensive, most modeling is led by marketing. As such, public relations data, when it’s included at all, is dependent on others to “invite” PR to participate and outside of PR’s control. And the modelers don’t understand PR’s unique role in the marketing mix to represent it properly.
In summary: Modeling can be very useful and effective but it’s also expensive and inaccessible for most PR budgets.
- Public relations in isolation: There are cases, thought rare, where a sales spike occurs when the only in-market activity is public relations. With no other way to explain the sales surge, success is attributed to PR. But public relations rarely operates in isolation and one must account for other modes of simultaneous marketing output in every other instance.
In summary, “PR in Isolation” may be inexpensive, but it’s extremely rare (since there’s usually so many other channels operating simultaneously whether you know it or not)
In both examples, public relations performance is based on derivative rather than direct attribution. Models are based on an algorithm or formula while “PR in isolation” is based on broad assumptions that a) PR was, in fact, operating without the support of other marketing vehicles and b) that PR is the only way to explain the increase (perhaps a competitor doubled their prices and their customers shifted allegiances to your brand).
The good news? Technology advances now enable public relations to quantify digital public relations independently and affordably.
A New Way to Quantify the Impact of Earned Media on Business
According to the Global Comms Report, 63 percent of communications professionals placed inability to measure impact effectively in their top three most difficult challenges. While existing methods for tracking reach, frequency, message penetration and sentiment continue to provide meaningful guidance for planning and continuous improvement, new supplemental approaches promise to revolutionize public relations. The spark for this uprising is attribution analysis.
For years, marketers have applied attribution analysis to assess the impact of their digital campaigns and events by assigning credit for every successful marketing interaction from awareness, engagement, lead acquisition and, ultimately, a successful sale. Now, one can quantify how one’s public relations activities move a prospect down the funnel which is critical in today’s multi-faceted business accountability environment. You are either quantifiably represented in the marketing and communications mix or you’re out. And, these day, if you’re out, you’re really out.
Attribution analysis applies an invisible watermark to every digital news item covering your company, brand and product. The watermark is indelible, so the technology follows an individual reader (anonymously) from the news page to your website (or your competitors’). Once on the website, the technology identifies every level of interaction: the reader focused on the “About Us” section, or they downloaded an order form or application. For e-commerce sites, one can attribute a sale to an individual news or feature item whether that story was planned or not.
Besides confirming with 100 percent accuracy that someone clicked on your news or feature story and engaged with your website, the underlying technology allows for another layer of demographic and firmographic information based on a user’s IP address (the actual identity of the person is never known). As such, the communicator can describe the interested party by age, gender, annual income, net worth, education level and more.
And for B2B communicators, there’s a layer of firmographic data to help you categorize the type of company employing the individual. Criteria include the industry (food services, manufacturing, telecom, etc.), size and role within the company (C-suite, SVP, manager, etc.).
Applications for Better Decision-Making
Rather than making traditional approaches to media analysis and evaluation obsolete, the new technology builds upon the existing foundation. A complete earned media analysis program now looks like this:
- Quantitative measures: Frequency (number of news stories and social posts) and reach (circulation/audience/followers/ likes, etc.).
- Qualitative measures: Sentiment/tone, intended/unintended corporate and brand reputation messaging, spokespeople, influencers, issues, etc.
- Comparative measures: Performance over time, against objectives and versus competitors/peers.
- Attribution measures: The new essential element: digital earned media clicks and click-throughs, image views, video plays, document opens and downloads, audience demographic/firmographic profiling and segmentation, and conversion from reading a news item or post to downstream activity including shopping cart/revenue and lead generation.
These four data sources provide the basis for expert analysts to uncover the actionable insights and strategic guidance communicators need to navigate and win. This combination of technology and talent provides communicators with the facts they need to communicate PR performance to executives and generate a positive return on PR investment by connecting public relations results to the sales funnel.
The most common applications for research and data in public relations are to assess program performance after-the-fact. Once the campaign is completed, PR people prepare a performance report to represent the success of their initiative. While attribution analysis represents a significant advancement for earned media evaluation, it provides invaluable guidance throughout the communications cycle:
- Landscape Analysis: Begin your campaign by assessing your brand’s position within its competitive and regulatory environment by exploring demographics and media penetration among target audiences.
- Objectives Setting: Set more meaningful goals by including specific audience segmentation targets. Beyond quantitative, qualitative and competitive, identify PR contribution goals for every stage in the sales funnel.
- Strategy Development: Use attribution to specify which media and messages generate the most interaction among target audiences. Apply this data in creating a framework based on “what works” rather than conventional wisdom.
- Tactics/Campaign Design and Execution: Attribution analysis indicates which events and themes drive bursts of measurable response within the sales funnel.
- Evaluation: Assess your contribution to revenue generation after each campaign or as part of the monthly or quarterly review. Align your performance with marketing and sales to demonstrate PR’s ability to elevate the enterprise.
- Continuous Improvement: Apply what one learns to refine programs over time, com- pared to objectives, competitors and what drives the most meaningful response.
Today, everyone in public relations has a real- time tool, and everyone has data … too much data. What’s needed now is the right data at the right time. The combination of advanced technology with the talent to optimize these tools with category expertise and statistical acumen achieve the outcomes communicators need now: actionable insights and integratable data to quantify PR’s ability to align with other business data streams to isolate PR’s unique contribution to business success.
About Mark Weiner
Until recently, Mark was the CEO of PRIME Research. After PRIME joined the Cision family of companies, his role was elevated to Chief Insights Officer at Cision, Inc. He is a member of the Arthur Page Society, an advisor for The University of Florida Public Relations Advisory Council, and a trustee for the Institute for Public Relations for which he also chairs the Commission on Measurement and Evaluation. Mark is the 2018 recipient of the Institute for Public Relations Jack Felton Medal for Lifetime Achievement.