In the startup world, it’s normal to track marketing ROI obsessively. When you’re working on a shoestring budget, there’s no room to spend money on efforts that don’t pay off – including efforts that are notoriously difficult to measure, like public relations.
But PR measurement is possible. The key is to be clear about what results you’re hoping to achieve with your PR efforts. (If you’re not sure, chat with a PR agency or your communications lead – they’ll guide you.)
Here are three PR measurement strategies we’ve found to be useful to track the ROI of PR.
PR Measurement Strategy 1: Correlated Metrics
These are changes in key metrics you already measure that follow the start of your PR program. You can’t necessarily tie the changes directly to your PR efforts, but assuming nothing else changed (which, admittedly, is rarely the case at startups), those efforts can get at least some credit.
Correlated metrics include...
- Organic traffic / leads: Click-through rates (CTRs) on search engine results pages (SERPs) are affected by brand awareness. If your PR program is focused on increasing brand awareness, it could increase click-throughs in search. Additionally, placements secured by PR efforts could appear in relevant search results for your company and drive traffic and leads.
- SERP rankings: Links and brand mentions from PR placements can signal a site’s relevance for key search queries, which can help boost your position on SERPs.
- Recruiting pipeline: Recruiting employees is time-intensive and vitally important to the success of your business. An increase in résumés in conjunction with media coverage could mean that that coverage is helping fill the pipeline by getting the word out about your company and its work environment.
- Organic media / speaking opportunity inquiries: To some extent, PR works like a flywheel. The more media coverage you receive, the more proactive inquiries you’re likely to get.
PR Measurement Strategy 2: Quantifiable Metrics
Quantifiable metrics are the juiciest because they can be shown to tie one-to-one with a specific placement or campaign by your PR team. They include...
- Share of voice: This involves looking at earned media mentions of a company compared to what its competitors get (i.e., how often do reporters refer to “Lyft” versus “Uber.”) Ideally, your share will increase after launching a PR program. Worth noting: absolute numbers here can be misleading (a small publication with a targeted audience may be better than a general publication with a larger audience; a mention that includes a negative sentiment could actually end up hurting you), so use this metric carefully, alongside others.
- Inbound leads: First, a caveat: the point of PR is not to drive inbound leads; it's to raise credibility and awareness for your brand. Still, it's possible that you'll get leads from PR placements. Google Analytics lets you track those leads. Its Assisted Conversions feature also lets you track conversions where a PR placement was part of the customer’s journey. To use assisted conversions, you’ll need to be sure you have goals defined in your GA account. (For more information, we’ve found this guide to be helpful.)
- Investor inquiries: We’re talking, an investor sees a piece about you in a magazine they read and reaches out to learn more. Obviously, these can be invaluable (and yes, we have seen them really happen).
- Unsolicited résumés: Like a fuller recruiting pipeline, these have the potential to save your company lots of time and energy on the hiring front.
PR Measurement Strategy 3: Utilization Metrics
This bucket of KPIs measures the extent to which PR wins can be leveraged to boost other marketing channels. They include…
- Use in communications channels: This includes, for example, repurposing PR placements as assets for the sales team, strategically using “as seen in”-type language on various pages of your website, creating a press page, adapting PR placements to be used in conference materials, and more.
- Use in advertisements or promoted posts on social media: Use tools like Lookalike Audiences to expand the reach of a placement that performs well. In some cases, people are more likely to click an ad that implies third-party endorsement than they are to click a more nakedly promotional ad.
- Use of PR placements or logos on conversion pages: Adding third-party validation like recognized media logos can impact click and conversion rates on key landing pages. We recommend measuring via an A / B test.
For Best Results, Know What to Track
As we mentioned above, the best way to enjoy a positive ROI from you PR program is to go in knowing what you want out of it. Are you trying to raise your company’s profile in front of potential investors? Then customer conversions probably aren’t the right thing to measure. Are you trying to spread the word among potential customers? Then it doesn’t make sense to keep a close eye on your recruiting pipeline.
In reality, most startups want to achieve many things with their PR programs. To make sure that’s happening, take the time to agree with your PR agency or in-house communications lead how it makes sense to measure success. That way, six months into the program, you’ll have a clear sense of which efforts are performing best, which need to be tweaked, and which need to be eliminated altogether.
Not sure whether a PR program is right for your business? Download our checklist, “What’s Your PR Potential?” and figure out how much public relations could move the needle for you right now.