In this series, we’re going to look critically at the ways PR has traditionally been measured and the ways we’re measuring PR today. Measuring PR and earned media has always been something of a challenge in the past, but thanks to digital marketing and metrics tools, it’s easier today to find the impact of PR, even with businesses that have significant offline components.

Today we’re going to tackle primary research. In the world of public relations, primary research is the direct, firsthand gathering of information, primarily through tools like surveying. Primary research tends to be a very time-intensive and cost-intensive way to measure the effect of PR, but in some cases, it’s the most reliable method for doing so.

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For example, one of the most complex measurement scenarios that a PR professional will encounter is the B2B2C model, where a brand manufactures a product but sells it through a distributor or retailer. In this case, there’s no direct transaction that can be traced back to the originating brand, and a good deal of the sale of the actual product relies on the retailer. How would you measure the effectiveness of PR? Let’s look at a fictional example.

Pretend that we are representing a brand of coffee we’ll call FacePunch Espresso, that only sells its unique kind of espresso in grocery stores. In this case, we’d run a baseline survey to the market being served by the brand asking at least two questions, plus a screening question. Our screening question would identify the market that FacePunch wants to serve, namely coffee drinkers. We’d then ask, of those people who identified themselves as coffee drinkers, what their awareness of the FacePunch brand was. We’d also ask as the second question whether they intend to purchase FacePunch Espresso the next time they shop for coffee.

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Once we’ve set up that baseline measurement, we’d initiate our PR campaigns and keep surveying continuously for the duration of the campaign. If we’re running effective PR campaigns to increase the awareness and trust of FacePunch, then the survey results of people who are aware of the FacePunch brand of coffee and the intent to buy FacePunch should increase commensurate with our efforts. We’d then do a basic correlation analysis to see if the intent to purchase was mirrored in the retail sales of FacePunch. If we can establish that, then we can assign the increase in sales to the increase in awareness and intent to purchase and provide a concrete value of the PR work we’ve performed on behalf of the brand, even though there’s no direct transactional path between the manufacturer, retailer, and consumer. More important, if the intent to purchase and the actual purchases do not correlate, the manufacturer can begin to investigate whether its retail channel partners are fulfilling their duties to resell the coffee.

As mentioned before, primary research tends to be costly and time-intensive, since it requires extensive surveying to get statistically reliable results. However, when other forms of measurement are either delivering unclear results or are not applicable to your business model, primary research may be your best option.

Also in this series, we looked at the following ways to measure PR:

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