The ROI of public relations has been elusive for many communications pros, mainly because returns on a brand awareness investment have historically not been easy to calculate financially. This has been a barrier for brands that are new to a communications program. Whether the goal is measuring financial ROI or just trying to understand the overall value of a program, thankfully today’s PR tools give us the power to provide clients with better measurement of their earned media program. Any client considering hiring a PR firm should ask about the measurement and analytics available throughout a campaign.
Earned media is coverage that you don’t pay for or create yourself. In our line of work, we earn media coverage by developing relationships with members of the media (journalists, reporters, influencers, brand affiliates, etc.), and providing them with our clients’ ideas, expertise, innovative works or brand stories to serve as valuable content for their own audiences. When these efforts result in coverage for our clients, there are a number of steps we take to measure success.
First things first, we track all media coverage. We provide our clients with a comprehensive overview of earned media coverage over a particular period of time (monthly, quarterly, annually). That allows us to take a closer look at the media outlets our stories have appeared in, and to calculate potential reach by evaluating circulation and readership. For all clients, we audit their current brand reach before engaging us and identify a baseline. We measure as we go and then compare our progress against where they started.
Share of Voice examines a brand’s visibility in relation to its competitors. We look at all coverage on any number of designated topics or brands during a certain period, and calculate the percentage of that space that is occupied by each, including our client. Along with share of voice, many monitoring tools allow us to track sentiment, so we can get a sense of whether coverage is positive, negative, or neutral.
For many of the clients we work with, the goal isn’t always to drive high traffic to their website. It’s often to build brand awareness, position our clients as thought leaders within their industry, and encourage a follow up visit from members of a specific target audience. That being said, website analytics can be a great way to track when visitors arrive at a client’s website from a link included in a specific online story. It’s also common to see a boost in website traffic after a piece of earned media runs, even if the visitors aren’t arriving specifically from a link included in the story.
Advertising Value Equivalency, or AVE, is the practice of calculating the value of earned media based on the going advertising rates for the publication that ran that media. In its simplest form, AVE considers the cost for an ad of similar size and finds the value for this piece of earned coverage. A common criticism for measuring AVE comes from the opinion that third party credibility earned through PR efforts is typically considered to be more trustworthy than paid advertising, and should therefore have a greater value. To date, no industry standards have been put into place, so methods for calculating AVE can vary widely across the industry. While we don’t rely on AVE exclusively to measure the success of our efforts, our media reporting tools do allow us to track it for clients.
Finally, we always seeks ways to leverage our clients’ media coverage through their brand channels. When clients fully maximize their earned media placements, we can also measure audience engagement on social media to identify the themes or topics that spark conversation or drive web traffic.