[VIDEO] PR Analytics: Have we Mastered PR Return on Investment?

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.

As someone who works in the PR industry and supports PR practitioners with social data and 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 the 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 are placing 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.

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 own workstream and not an extension of PR. Part of this reason is that I see a lot of companies that simply 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 that of PR and communications. More on that in a future blog post.

The struggle is real. 60% of respondents say media relations is more difficult when compared to last year.

My take: My only comment here is that I agree that there is a struggle to get earned media in today’s world. Part of the problem here 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. 

Credibility of sponsored content. 62% of the respondents say that sponsored content (e.g., Forbes Councils) can be credible at times. 41% have dabbles and/or 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 do have a pretty 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 huge 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 on that front.

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 has a tendency of politicizing everything.

Formalized DE&I programs. 66% of respondents said that their company has a formal DE&I program in place.

My take: I work with a lot of 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.

PR Analytics: 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 was the #1 and top challenge facing PR practitioners. 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 just don’t include it when building their PR strategy. This is a hard question to answer and I believe that 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 just don’t care or they’re tired of trying to figure it out.

PR Technology: 75% say that 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 datapoint that I completely disagree with. Most of the PR pros that I work with have very little technical acumen. It’s really no offense to them, because technical proficiency isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to be a good storyteller. I would also add that to do PR analytics the right way, PR pros must learn how to use the tools and platforms. 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 are 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 what your overall PR budget is. Nonetheless, you will need to invest in PR analytics software that can 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. If you cannot track revenue or sales from a marketing initiative, it’s impossible to measure ROI. 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 PR ROI.

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