Understanding PR Measurement Can Make or Break Your Career

The best way to describe PR measurement is with a story explaining what isn’t PR measurement. After all, public relations is about storytelling. And the below data point should alarm you.

30% or PR pros do not know how to measure or define PR success.

John is a PR manager that works for an AI tech startup in Silicon Valley. His startup is launching a new product to revolutionize how large enterprise companies automate processes and workflows using artificial intelligence. He’s new to the tech industry and doesn’t have a lot of media relationships. So he hires a boutique public relations agency.

They help him write a few press releases, tighten the messaging and start pitching the media.

The product launch was a success. After the first week, John’s startup gets featured in top-tier publications like ZDNet, VentureBeat, and WIRED. His CEO is ecstatic, and John is feeling pretty good about himself. He sees a promotion right around the corner.

John asks the agency to see a report for his PR campaign. The agency sends him an excel document with a list of all the media coverage hyperlinked to each placement.

John is disappointed.

In his mind, he was expecting a little more than a spreadsheet. He would’ve been happy with a slide with data that included the number of mentions, website traffic, media impressions, sentiment analysis, or some other actionable PR metrics.

What the agency sent is a coverage report. It’s not a PR measurement.

While this is a fictional story, the PR industry is full of examples like this. Agencies send coverage reports to their clients all the time. What’s sad is that clients don’t push back. Unfortunately, this has become an acceptable method to measure PR, and I’m not sure why.

PR measurement must be more than counting numbers (or hits) and adding them to a spreadsheet. It has to be more than one PowerPoint slide too. Instead, measurement should be a strategic understanding of how your public relations activities impact your business goals.

It should answer questions like:

  1. How many people interacted with our PR campaign?
  2. How did they feel about it? Sentiment?
  3. Did our PR efforts reach our target audience?
  4. What did they do after seeing it? Did they take action?
  5. How much did it cost us to reach our audience?
  6. What are the tangible results of our PR campaign?

These are the questions that John should have asked his agency. But unfortunately, many agencies don’t have the tools or methodology to answer these questions. And that’s where PR measurement starts. You must first understand your business goals and then develop a plan to measure your PR activities against those goals.

What is PR Measurement?

Well, it’s not coverage reports. Coverage reports are a primary metric that agencies use to track how often their clients have been placed in the media. They’re a good starting point, but they only tell a tiny piece of the story.

PR measurement quantifies earned media and analyzes media coverage in the outlets you prioritize and pitch. PR and earned media measurement go beyond counting placements and hits. It understands how your activities deliver value to your PR campaign and impact your business. There are several ways to measure PR. The key is to find the suitable methodology that works for you.

Here are a few basic ways to measure your PR campaign:

  • Brand awareness analysis: Primary research gauges how people feel about your brand before and after interacting with your PR campaign.
  • Media analysis: This is a quantitative method that looks at the type of media coverage you’re getting (e.g., online, offline, broadcast, print, etc.), where it’s being placed (e.g., top-tier, mid-tier, or niche publications), and the sentiment of the article.
  • Social media engagement measures whether your PR campaign generated conversation and engagement on social media.
  • Website analytics: This measures your website’s traffic after a PR campaign. You can also track user actions on your website, such as signing up for a newsletter or downloading a white paper.
  • Lead generation: This measures the number of sales leads generated from your PR efforts.
  • Sales: This looks at your PR’s direct impact on sales and returns on investment.

More advanced PR analytics would include message pull-through, which looks at the actual narrative and context of the media coverage, the share of voice by volume of coverage, media types, headline coverage, exclusives, and other PR metrics that add value.

Understanding the Barcelona Principles 2.0

The Barcelona Principles 2.0 were developed to guide public relations practitioners to approach measurement and evaluation and ensure that the work evolves as digital and social media take over our lives. The principles are based on the original seven Barcelona Principles released in 2010.

The seven core principles are:

  1. PR professionals should use consistent definitions when discussing PR metrics
  2. PR professionals should commit to continuous improvement for measuring PR campaigns
  3. Effective PR measurement should be laser-focused on meeting business goals
  4. The results of measuring PR should be reported clearly, so all stakeholders understand
  5. PR practitioners should use a mix of quantitative and qualitative data
  6. PR measurement should be holistic and consider all brand, marketing, and communications
  7. PR programs should be consistently evaluated for improvement

Measurement in PR doesn’t need to be that complicated. However, the Barcelona Principles 2.0 are essential because they provide a common framework for PR practitioners to approach measurement and evaluation. Using these consistent definitions and terminology can ensure that we are all working towards the same goal. And by committing to continuous improvement, we can keep our methods up-to-date as new technologies and platforms emerge.

Cision’s 2020 Comms Report, “Measuring up to The Moment”

Understanding and interpreting PR metrics is still a sore spot for many. Thankfully, Cision recently released their 2020 Comms Report, “Measuring up to The Moment,” which addresses PR metrics and measurement. I won’t review the entire report, but I’ll address some critical data points.

30% of respondents believe that the PR industry does not know
how to measure or define PR success.

The PR industry had come a long way, especially when calculating media impressions was the only PR metric used in reporting. For example, more sophisticated public relations teams use advanced PR metrics, integrating social media, paid media, and other forms of audience analysis.

The more significant issue is that many practitioners don’t know which platforms or media monitoring tools can measure a PR campaign effectively. And, if they are familiar with what’s available, they aren’t using the tools.

This is a PR measurement opportunity. If you look deeper into this research, you will find that many agencies and enterprise brands who are not using PR metrics to build their business case also believe that the industry does not know how to measure PR. This is not an ideal situation.

Another data point that I found interesting was how PR pros prioritize earned media.

50% of a PR strategy is focused on earned media measurement.

I think this number is inflated. It depends on how the question was asked. In my experience, the time spent on earned media measurement is usually less than 10%. Over 35% of respondents believe that over 50% of their overall PR strategy is focused on earned media measurement. This percentage drops to 21% when you focus on influencer marketing. It drops even further to 13% for B2B enterprise technology companies already more sophisticated in their PR measurement approach.

The third data point I want to discuss is PR budget allocations. About 70% of the respondents spend less than 10% of their budget on media measurement. Depending on the company’s size, I believe that 10% is way too low and should be prioritized. PR measurement should be around 20-25% of the total PR budget.

I often hear this from my colleagues–PR is about building relationships with the media and influencers. But what good would PR investments do if there aren’t any PR metrics behind the work?

Also, respondents were asked about their single most significant challenge in managing public relations programs. The answers range from budgeting and executive support to media outreach, content creation, and influencer engagement. The ironic thing is that respondents aren’t spending adequate budgetary resources on media measurement yet cite it as one of the most challenging things to do.

Go figure.

The question isn’t how to measure earned media or whether or not you are using media monitoring tools. The more appropriate question is, “are you measuring earned media the right way?” Remember, measuring PR isn’t just about tracking hits. It’s a lot more complex than that. Media monitoring to count media hits isn’t worth the time or effort.

Final Thoughts: It’s Time to Measure PR the Right Way

The PR industry has evolved a lot over the last several years. Therefore, it’s essential to address how PR measurement has changed and what it looks like today.

In the past, PR was about building relationships with journalists and getting your client’s name in the news. The primary metric was media placements. It was considered a PR success if many placements were made.

Today, the landscape has changed. With the rise of social media, PR has become more complex. It’s no longer just about getting media placements. Instead, it’s about creating content that will be distributed through multiple channels and engaging with your audience directly.

The metric for success is no longer media placements. Instead, it’s about engagement, reach, sentiment, the share of voice, and conversions.

Media relations have evolved to meet these new challenges. And as a result, there are now more tools and platforms available to measure your PR efforts.

In conclusion, measurement in PR needs to be a priority, so it’s essential to understand the impact of your PR activities on your business. There are several ways to measure PR. The key is to find the correct methodology that works for you.


Q: Is measuring share of voice a good metric?

A: Yes, measuring share of voice is essential because it allows you to see how your brand stacks up against your competitors. It’s also an excellent way to measure the success of your PR campaigns.

Q: How important is social media in measuring PR campaigns?

A: Social media is crucial for PR campaigns. It allows you to track the reach and engagement of your content. It’s also an excellent way to measure sentiment and identify influencers.

Q: Should paid media be a part of public relations?

A: Paid media can be a part of public relations. It’s an excellent way to amplify your PR efforts and reach a larger audience across social media and other channels.

Q: How do you measure PR for a small company?

A: There are several ways to measure PR for a small company. One way is to use social media analytics tools to track the reach and engagement of your content. You can also use website analytics tools to measure the number of unique visitors to your PR campaigns.

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Michael Brito

Michael Brito is a Digital OG. He’s been building brands online since Al Gore invented the Internet. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.