A version of this article first appeared in Media Monitoring & Measurement News.

How can PR practitioners make sense of the plethora of possible earned media metrics and measurement strategies?  PR industry groups have published a number of documents to guide PR practitioners.

  • The Barcelona Declaration for Measurement Principles, a set of seven voluntary guidelines established by the public relations (PR) industry to measure the efficacy of PR campaigns, was published in 2010 and outlined a basic philosophy or code for media measurement and established the basis for new standards.
  • The Conclave, a broad coalition of industry associations, PR and social media agencies and client companies, published the Complete Media Measurement Standards in June 2013.
  • The Coalition for Public Relations Research Standards is expected to release its recommendations within the next few months. In the meantime, The Institute for Public Relations published Measurement Standards: Do’s and Don’ts for PR Practitioners by David Geddes, a member of the Coalition, outlining the standards on which the participating organizations have agreed.

Principles of PR Measurement

Most PR and marketing experts in measurement seem to agree on four key measurement principles:

  • Establish measurable goals on what you want to accomplish through earned media.
  • Measure the impact of earned media against those goals.
  • Use metrics that are specific to each goal
  • Use both qualitative and quantitative metrics for best insight

What you want to learn from PR measurement is: are we getting the organization’s messages out?; is the target audience getting the message?; are implied or actual calls to action getting response?; what business impacts are the communications programs producing?; are we doing better than we did in the past?; are we meeting our goals?

Matrixes of Metrics to Measure Earned Media

Organizing the business and PR goals into categories can be helpful in devising appropriate metrics – and measurement gurus have invented a number of schemes. Most were devised to measure social media – but can be applied to all earned media.

Early in 2010, Nichole Kelly proposed 5 Categories of Social Media Measurement, depicted in a graphic that portrays a sales funnel.

5-categories-of-measurement“Exposure” essentially measures old-fashioned “visibility” using data specific to social media.

“Influence” is similar to the qualitative metrics (e.g. sentiment, messages) of old using additional social media data.

“Engagement” measures audience reaction to PR outputs.

“Actions” measures things consumers do to move toward a purchase decision.

In a lengthy and thoughtful blog post on Occam’s Razor that has generated over 90 pages of comments, the digital evangelist Avanash Kaushik creates four categories of social media measurement: Conversion rate, amplification, applause, and economic value.

The Valid Metrics Framework from AMEC developed what purports to be a simple way to align goals and metrics along a continuum of awareness, knowledge/understanding, interest/consideration, support/preference, and action.

The late Don Bartholomew of Ketchum published a simplified goals/metrics matrix for paid, owned, shared, and earned media to measure exposure, engagement, influence, impact and advocacy based on the AMEC Framework.

Curata, a content marketing platform, recently issued an Infographic depicting 29 Vital Metrics to Measure Content Marketing Success in seven categories.

Each of the 29 metrics (“That’s too many!” says Katie Paine) includes the media type(s) where the metric applies. The matrix does not include a metric for measuring news coverage.

Measurement of PR Outputs

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the entire PR measurement establishment, I’d also add one additional metric to include: PR outputs. Long criticized by PR measurement experts as a worthless metric, work output is a measure used in almost every other profession. Why not PR? Work output is a measure of staff or agency productivity. Granted, a PR department or agency may be spinning its wheels by putting out a lot of PR crapola or it may be producing just a little high-quality material that produces superior levels of audience response. The point is this: properly measuring raw PR output can provide a good sense of staff productivity. More importantly, PR outputs affect conversation and amplification rates; mapping PR outputs against measures of volume and engagement can provide deeper insight into the quality and value of the PR efforts.

Metrics Applied to Specific Goals

In applying all these media metrics matrixes (I couldn’t resist), a key point is:

Different goals and PR activities require different metrics.

Aside: Metrics for PR measurement are sometimes called key performance indicators (KPIs).

Let me repeat, measuring different goals requires different metrics.

  • Volume goals for visibility or engagement require volume metrics.
  • Quality goals require qualitative metrics.
  • Reputation and influence goals require perception/belief metrics.

Stated slightly differently, the goal determines the metric.

Measure what you are trying to accomplish.

No company should use all available metrics. There are too many and many are essentially worthless in measuring the “how are we doing” of PR and social media marketing. Each company needs to select those metrics that matter explicitly to their specific goals.

Standards for Assessing Media Mentions

In practice, few companies perform the actual assessments of media mentions themselves; they outsource the task to measurement services. Many outsourced services use standardized assessment criteria as outlined in the now-approved Proposed Interim Standards for Metrics in Traditional Media Analysis from the IPR Measurement Commission. PR staff in charge of hiring and supervising measurement services should have a basic understanding of the standards.

Coming Media Measurement Innovations

To measure earned media, most large companies subscribe to a media measurement service. The commercial measurement services offer a package of standard metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate PR outcomes. The fixed package rarely meets the specific needs of most clients. The KPIs are not suitable – and more importantly the metrics aren’t mapped against the company’s goals. Most companies now accept the packaged KPIs and their eye-catching graphics as “what’s available” and “good enough.”

The next major innovation in PR measurement will be customization of metrics and measurement systems to the specific goals and needs of each client. Clients will get to choose the metrics they want from a large menu of metrics that measure news coverage, content marketing, the full range of social media, and the company web site(s). The metrics will include both quantitative and qualitative measurement of all media. Clients will also get to organize and format the online dashboard and reports to their own liking. The reports will integrate results from all media and provide real insights into the overriding question “how are we doing” against the company’s specific goals. That’s the future of PR and social media measurement – and it’s coming soon.

William J. Comcowich is founder, former CEO and now CMO of CyberAlert LLC, the worldwide media monitoring & measurement service. 

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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