The Gong Blog

Measuring PR in an Earned, Owned, Paid World

Measurement has been somewhat of a white whale for the public relations industry for quite some time, if not forever. Not that it’s impossible, by any means, but the nature of our work makes quantifying its impact an Ahab-level challenge. While marketers and advertisers can point to clear metrics demonstrating success, PR pros often have struggled to draw a straight line between their victories and bottom-line impact, especially to clients who have a hard time understanding the value of intangibles like good will, reputation and even general awareness.

As we’ve touched on previously though, the rise of digital media finally has brought the public relations industry the tools necessary to easily and cheaply employ metrics that can show whether and how much our strategies are effectively meeting quantifiable objectives.

Here we will explore how to measure success across an EOP plan, but first an overarching word of advice. Whether you’re prepping for a major media relations campaign or a sophisticated social media advertising strategy, it’s imperative that you have an understanding of what success means for your organization and how communications can support that. This might seem like a given, but too often — in our experience at least — this step doesn’t get the thought and deliberation that is so critical.

Take the time to talk with your leadership team about what success looks like, and don’t be afraid to push back if you think those goals are unrealistic or misaligned. At the risk of sounding like a marketing textbook, the best goals for how marketing/communications can support a business are within the acronym SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed). You must resist the temptation to just start doing, especially if sales are lagging and the pressure to act is high.

“We should be in The Wall Street Journal!” demand many in the C-suite. An admirable and relevant goal for many organizations to be sure, but even a home run media placement like that will fall flat and not produce the intended results if there isn’t enough thought put toward the strategic rationale for why that placement is so important in the first place.

Even so, connecting the dots of PR measurement can be a head scratcher at times, especially across relatively new platforms that deal in owned and paid content. Here’s how to discern the right goals for each piece of an EOP plan.

Earned Media Measurement

Entire graduate programs are built around measuring traditional PR activities, so this brief guide only grazes the surface. Still there are a few tenets that guide the Hodges approach to earned media measurement, informed by decades of experience and by recent research and best practices.

On the earned media front, you need to recognize what you really want from media coverage. If, for example, the underlying reason for wanting coverage is to satisfy an executive’s ego, then securing big placements might be important in and of themselves, regardless of whether those hits move your sales needle. Conversely, a CEO or CMO focused solely on sales isn’t going to care about a Forbes hit if that placement doesn’t drive revenue. In reality, most companies exist somewhere along a spectrum from ego to bottom line and even shift along that spectrum, depending on the company’s evolving focus at a given time.

For years, one of the most-applied metrics for earned media measurement was advertising value equivalency (AVE), which determines an earned media story’s value based on how much it would cost to place an ad of similar size. Finally in 2010, after years of criticism, the PR world’s best-and-brightest convened to figure out a better way. The result? The Barcelona Principles, seven principles on which to base PR, particularly media relations, success and measurement, putting the final nail in the AVE coffin.

The main and most damning point of criticism is that AVE looks only at quantity (circulation, word count, segment length), and not the quality of an outlet and story. Not that magazines and news outlets would ever inflate their circulation numbers, but AVE leaves a lot of room for skepticism given the assumption that thousands (or even millions) of people actually have read your coverage. And once you introduce this kind of skepticism into the equation, it’s safe to say your ship is taking on water.

Instead, when identifying the quality of earned media placements, ask the following questions:

  • What’s the circulation and reach of the news outlet?
  • What was your organization’s share-of-voice within the article?
  • Was the article’s tone positive?
  • Did your key messages make it into the article? (This means you need to have defined key messages.)

As you can probably tell, these aren’t questions that lend themselves to immediate answers. Earned media measurement, subjective as it is, takes time and resources, and, as such, needs to be budgeted for accordingly. Whether for hard costs such as clipping services or soft costs such as staff time, you’re making an investment in measuring the success of earned media programs.

PR activities need to be tied as closely as possible to business goals. Just a few years ago, it was sometimes hard to convince clients to even share access to their Google Analytics with us, usually because that was typically handled by a different department. But Google Analytics and other similar tools can be an important for connecting the dots between “traditional” earned media success and business goals. Properly configured, you can track success in generating leads back to source traffic with just enough precision to weigh the success of those campaigns, particularly with online media sources.

Owned Media Measurement

Unlike traditional PR campaigns, owned media programs are awash in trackable data. But that doesn’t mean it’s always immediately apparent what the best metrics are for your owned content campaign.

For that reason, it’s common to start by tracking an entire set of metrics, from site visits to Facebook likes. But as your program matures, you’ll want to review your progress and identify which metrics are most tightly tied to your business success — whether that’s selling a physical product or establishing a consulting relationship.

For our clients, we’ve seen three main metrics rise to the top of the pile for tracking successful digital marketing campaigns focused on all aspects of the buyer’s journey:

  1. Traffic: It starts with getting new eyeballs to notice you and, once they do, get intrigued enough about who you are so that they visit your website and poke around some on it.
  2. Conversion: Turning visitors into leads is the critical next step, and conversion metrics can give you a crystal clear window into what you are doing right and what might need some tweaking.
  3. Revenue: Every marketing program needs to measure how effectively its investment and underlying strategy are driving sales.

We’ve written more extensively on these three metrics on our blog. For most marketers, this trio of numbers amply represent the tiers of the traditional marketing funnel. The trick for most of us is setting goals and expectations for each metric.

As we mentioned above, the SMART mnemonic is a handy guide: Pick a metric (like traffic, for example) then set a concrete, achievable goal that fits your business needs. We’ve yet to meet a client that didn’t want to grow its traffic; however, you might find that the first place to focus is not on growing the traffic, but doing more with the traffic you’re already getting by establishing and increasing your conversion metric. Remember, quality is often better than quantity.

Paid Media Measurement

As with owned media, measurement opportunities for social advertising abound, with the added bonus that the technologies and opportunities are constantly changing. All the major social media platforms offer advanced targeting and audience customization tools. And they all offer a range of tools for optimizing ad units for clicks, follows, conversions and more.

Despite these advancements, social media advertising is, to some extent, still in its infancy. While some data currently exists about what’s a good cost-per-objective (e.g., like, click, download) for different industries, many are left without a clear barometer for gauging whether or not they’re spending too much.

So while we’re still in the early days of social paid measurement, the key, as we see it, is to make enough small bets to get an idea of what works best for your business and your audiences. Our social media advertising budget worksheet may be useful in your paid media campaign planning.

Bringing It All Together

While finding the right metrics for each “leg” of the EOP stool is important, the real magic happens when you bring those activities together into a single integrated marketing campaign. You can use owned content and paid media to support and amplify earned media success. Blue Apron, the popular meal prep subscription service does this, advertising on Facebook with links to favorable product reviews — and not just from high-profile sources, but independent bloggers as well. And, of course, you can pitch your owned content, such as infographics and survey reports, to trade and consumer media.


This post is an excerpt from our eBook: Earned, Owned, Paid, The Hodges Playbook. If you would like to read more about how PR programs can make use of these different channels, download the book here.




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POSTED IN: EOP

Tony Scida

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