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PR Analytics: Have We Finally Figured Out How to Measure PR ROI?

Has the public relations industry finally mastered PR analytics, return on investment & quantifying the value of earned media?

By: Michael Brito

Category: Analytics

Have we finally mastered PR analytics? Have we learned how to measure PR ROI? I’m not sure.

An image of PR Intelligence

Public relations analytics is the process of using data to measure, analyze and optimize PR efforts. By understanding what media coverage is most effective, PR pros can adjust their strategies and tactics to achieve better results. PR analytics can be used to track media coverage over time, understand which channels are most effective, and identify opportunities for improved outreach. Additionally, PR analytics can help to assess the impact of earned media on business goals, such as brand awareness or sales. By understanding how media coverage affects business outcomes, PR pros can make more strategic decisions about where to allocate resources.

As someone who works in the public relations industry and supports my colleagues with media analysis, I have to say that we’re not even close. Public relations analytics still has a long road ahead. Yes, we have made a ton of progress in PR analytics. Yes, technology and social media innovation has helped make sense of data. Yes, more PR strategists are starting to understand the value of data, but there’s still a long way to go.

Over the weekend, I read through the JOTW Strategic Communications Survey for 2021. There were a lot of great insights in the report, and I highly recommend reading through it.

This survey was facilitated between Ned’s Job of the Week (JOTW) and Sword and Script Media, LLC. There were 305 total respondents from April 14, 2021, to May 14, 2021.

Here’s a quick summary of the findings and my take on each:

Companies value PR & Communications

80% “agree” or “strongly agree” that companies place more value on communications. When asked about specific job functions within the PR structure, 93% of the respondents overwhelmingly said employee communications.

My take: I believe that companies have always valued PR and communications. The difference is that today it is easier to quantify the value and investment of PR as part of a broader marketing channel. Also, as it relates to employee communications, it makes sense, especially given the recent pandemic and the focus on employee loyalty and mental health.

PR Teams Have too Many Priorities

The top three challenges facing communications and PR pros are “too many priorities” (40%), “cutting through the noise” (37%) and working with “leaders that don’t understand communications” (36%). 54% of the respondents believe that external PR agencies will be used to support the PR team and help relieve some of the pressures.

My take: One of the priorities listed in the report but not above is the added responsibility of social media. I am torn on this issue. Part of me believes that social media should be its work stream and not an extension of PR. Part of this is that I see a lot of companies that use social media to amplify company announcements. If done right, social media can be used to drive B2B social media marketing and short-form storytelling. I also believe that social media requires a different skill set than PR and communications in a future blog post.

PR Analytics & Media Relations Is Hard

60% of respondents say media relations and measuring PR ROI are more complicated compared to last year.

My take: My only comment here is that I agree there is a struggle to get earned media in today’s world. Part of the problem is that companies are trying to get earned media coverage, yet they don’t have any story to tell. They have no news, no new product launches, or the product isn’t newsworthy.

Is Sponsored Content Credible?

62% of the respondents say that sponsored content (e.g., Forbes Councils) can sometimes be credible. 41% have dabbled and used sponsored content in the past, and about 40% have never purchased sponsored content.

My take: I have two perspectives on this issue. From a PR standpoint, I don’t think there is that much credibility in content written in the Forbes councils. The reason is that anybody can spend $1200 a year and write content on forbes.com. The good news is that they have a decent editorial review process to ensure that the content is written in a way that adds value and is not overly salesy. On the other hand, forbes.com has a massive footprint in terms of Google visibility and unique monthly visitors. So from a long-term standpoint and content shelf life, getting content on forbes.com is good.

PR Teams Must Monitor for Brand Activism

There is growing support among communicators for brands to take a stand on social issues versus political issues. 21% say that brands should take a stand on political issues “often” or “always,” while 43% say brands should take a stand on social issues “often” or “always.”

My take: I have never been a fan of brands taking a stand on politically related issues. Mainly because the media tends to politicize everything.

PR Teams are Formalizing DE&I Programs

66% of respondents said their company has a formal DE&I program.

My take: I work with many clients, and DE&I is a priority for most of them. I believe this is good news to ensure diversity and equality in the workplace.

Public Relations Analytics Isn’t That Common

60% of respondents say they measure their comms efforts “always” or often.”

PR Analytics

My take: This data point caught my eye. In 2020, measurement and ROI were PR practitioners’ #1 and top challenges. In 2021, it fell to number #8, and I am curious why. This tells me one of two things. One is that PR professionals have finally learned to use data and analytics to measure the effectiveness and impact of their work. Or they don’t include it when building their PR strategy. This is a tricky question to answer, and I believe there are several variables to this issue. I don’t think that PR has figured it out. I don’t even think they’re close. Perhaps part of the reason is that they don’t care or are tired of trying to figure it out.

Many Struggle With PR Technology

75% say that the technology skills of comms pros across the industry are somewhere between “good” and “excellent,” however, one in five lack technical chops.

My take: this is one data point that I’m afraid I have to disagree with. Most of the PR pros I work with have little technical understanding. It’s no offense to them because technical proficiency isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to being a good storyteller. I would also add that PR pros must learn how to use the tools and platforms to do PR analytics correctly. It’s critical. But the good news is that PR pros can try and get access to a free or low-cost influencer marketing research tool and get some experience using technology.

PR Organizational Structure

21% of the respondents report to the CEO, 20% to the CMO, and 22% to the CCO or the Chief Communications Officer.

My take: no real comments here other than I believe that more companies will hire a CCO causing organizational structure changes within the PR organization. As PR, social, and content are becoming one discipline, I would say that defining the content marketing strategy goals is just as important as public relations analytics.

The Best PR Analytics Software

Finding the best PR analytics software is not an easy task. It could be debated based on goals, objectives, and your overall PR budget. Nonetheless, you will need to invest in PR analytics software to help you automate and scale your measurement efforts. You can also read PR analytics reviews on G2 or Trustpilot. I have started to curate a list of media monitoring tools based on what I have used in the past.

How to Measure PR ROI?

I want to add first that measuring ROI is a financial metric. It’s impossible to measure ROI if you cannot track revenue or sales from a marketing initiative. When you think about your PR return on investment, you have to think differently about how you plan to capture data when measuring media effectiveness. There are other ways to prove the value of earned media without necessarily measuring PR ROI.

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