This blog is provided by the IPR Measurement Commission

Earned media is often challenging to measure for impact – especially compared to other communication methods with more clear attribution, such as advertising.

For decades, PR professionals have used various methods to show the relationship between consumer exposure to positive brand news and changes in behavior. Researchers have historically turned to perceived authenticity and organic appeal to defend PR investment, but quantifying these efforts is much more challenging, particularly relative to advertising.

The Challenge of Showing PR Value
While some early studies weren’t able to demonstrate earned media’s credibility compared to advertising, more recent studies – such as O’Neil, Eisenmann and Holman’s 2019 qualitative research – clearly show that people find earned media more credible and authentic. That’s especially so when the journalist is independent, balanced, and credentialed.

We’ve seen several different approaches and attempts to communicate the value of PR-driven news by mirroring advertising metrics, and sometimes multiplying these metrics. These efforts often prove unsuccessful, however, as they typically result in numbers and dollar values that don’t necessarily equate to actual impact. This only reiterates the challenge of showing the value of PR compared to advertising.

As a result of this challenge, PR activities have focused on top-of-the-funnel metrics such as awareness, and marketing budgets have been highly skewed toward advertising. The result has been lower overall investment in PR: In 2020, ad agencies earned almost four times the revenue of PR agencies.

New Study Shows PR Value Through Lower-Funnel Impact
A more recent quantitative study (p. 60) I conducted earlier this year challenges this financial distribution, illustrating that PR influences lower-funnel metrics not just as well as advertising, but even more effectively.

The study shows that exposure to positive news spurred by PR activities has a greater influence on purchase intent than advertising – a finding that directly supports increased budgets for PR where brands could see a higher return. Based on a survey of nearly 50,000 responses, the study also shows that news exposure had a six-percentage point advantage over ad exposure – and that the combination of news and ads had a 14-percentage point lift over ads only.

This confirms that PR exposure not only has a stronger impact on purchase intent than ad exposure alone, but that their impact can grow exponentially when combined. The study also found that positive news exposure results in higher lift across brand health measures and word of mouth, with PR’s influence on purchase intent two times greater than advertising.

This same approach could be applied to specific brands or campaigns to show the value of PR work in relation to a behavior-predicting metric – purchase intent.

Brand Lift Studies to Measure Purchase Intent
Brand lift studies are an excellent method of measuring campaign effectiveness and purchase intent. These studies survey audiences exposed or engaged with a particular brand or campaign, comparing their perceptions to other groups that aren’t exposed. The goal is to show that those who are exposed have more awareness or a better perception of the brand.

These surveys often include questions about past purchases and purchase intent to show that those exposed to the campaign or brand content are more likely to buy. Brand lift studies can also be used to show an increase in purchase intent over time with exposed audiences. Surveys are a tried-and-true method of uncovering customer perceptions, including purchase intent, that can show the value of PR efforts.

Social Conversation Analysis for Purchase Intent
Social conversation analysis is another way of measuring purchase intent around initiatives such as influencer campaigns. This method involves looking at engagement on all influencer posts, then diving deeper to analyze the content while scanning for words or topics that indicate intent. Examples of this kind of language include: “I have to have it—I’m going to buy this product right now! 😍😍😍 ”, “I just bought one for me and for each of my sisters! 😀”, “Can’t wait to get my hands on this new product! 🤩”, and “I’m definitely going to buy this! 💳🛒”.

This approach can help identify which types of posts or influencers generate not only the highest engagement numbers, but also the most purchase intent.

Just as we’ve shown the value of PR over advertising on lower-funnel metrics, we can use purchase intent to show the value of PR campaigns and ongoing coverage through brand lift surveys and social media analysis.

Purchase intent can be deployed as a powerful metric to show value among other attribution approaches that move us closer to effectively measuring PR success – making a compelling argument for increased investment in PR by large organizations.

Angela Dwyer is Head of Insights at Fullintel, IPR Measurement Commission member and IPRRC board member. She is an award-winning, media measurement expert who helps brand improve business results through data-driven, actionable insights.

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