2 Simple Metrics To Measure New Audiences

Public relations, done well, should generate two core kinds of behaviors and one tangible, objective, measurable output. If you’ve got a great public relations staff or agency, you should experience behaviors that indicate increased awareness and trust, meaning that people should know who you are and should trust your brand more rather than less. The measurable output of public relations is new audience, the number of people who find you by any means. From there, it’s marketing’s job to take that new audience, build on that trust, engage, and ultimately convert new audiences to grow your business.


Measuring awareness is relatively straightforward. If you’re a coffee shop, for example, the number of people who walk by the front door, stop, look inside, maybe even poke their head in, is your level of awareness. Measuring trust is significantly harder because it’s subjective and qualitative. Trust is less of a “what happened” question and more of a “why” question, and you can never measure “why” questions with web analytics (which only measures “what happened” questions).

With that in mind, let’s look at two simple ways using web metrics that you can start to see the impact of your public relations program on growing new audiences. The screenshots below are taken from the most popular web analytics program, Google Analytics, but other programs provide (or should provide) substantially similar simple metrics.

The most important top of the funnel statistic that should tell you whether your public relations program is contributing to your audience building efforts is, of course, new visitors to your website. Note that we don’t especially care about the ratio of new to returning visitor, but whether the absolute quantities of new visitors are increasing over time:


If you’ve had more new visitors over time, then your public relations efforts may be helping.

An indicator that you’re generating awareness through your PR efforts of your brand, products, services, and company is through branded organic search. For example, there’s a difference between someone who types in “San Francisco PR agency” and someone who types in “SHIFT Communications”. The former is looking for a PR agency.


The latter is specifically looking for us, which means they have awareness of who we are. Most web analytics and keyword ranking software packages should offer you the ability to track branded search term volume; in Google Analytics, you’ll find it under Search Engine Optimization Queries.

The danger with these two metrics, and with all web analytics in general, is conflation. If PR is all you’re doing, then any increases in growth in these two metrics is clearly the result of PR, and you know it’s working. However, if you’ve got multiple activities happening at the same time, then you are likely to have conflation. For example, if you’re running advertisements at the same time as PR, you’re using two different forms of media. Not only is it difficult to attribute the brand impact of one or the other, but they can have synergistic effects where an ad combined with PR can create a bigger impact than either channel alone.

The way to solve for this right now is straightforward: ask people. This is an essential step you must take in order to determine what’s really working. It’s labor intensive to deal with the data, but it’s the only way to get at the “why” once the “what happened” gets muddy.

Start looking at your new audiences through these two web metrics, and see what you discover about your PR efforts!

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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Posted on December 11, 2013 in Advertising, Marketing, Metrics, Public Relations

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn has been featured as a recognized authority in many books, publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, BusinessWeek and US News & World Report, and television networks such as PBS, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and ABC News for his leadership in new media and marketing. In 2012 and again in 2013, Forbes Magazine recognized him as one of the top 50 most influential people in social media and digital marketing; Marketo Corporation named him a Marketing Illuminator, and PR News nominated him as Social Media Person of the Year. Mr. Penn is the Vice President of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications, a public relations firm, as well as co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp New Media Community Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. He is an adjunct professor of Internet marketing and the lead subject matter expert and professor of Advanced Social Media at the University of San Francisco. He’s the author of the best-selling book Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer.
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