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.

We turn today to the last set of indicators in our metrics, standard media metrics. These are the reliable standbys that the public relations world has used for years, if not decades. It’s trendy to bash the traditional metrics, to say that they’re outdated or antiquated or no longer relevant, but that’s not necessarily true. They’re useful as diagnostics, much in the same way that while miles run on a treadmill isn’t directly connected to a goal of weight loss, there’s a good chance that more miles run on a treadmill will result in eventual weight loss.

In terms of actual metrics, let’s look at 3 categories. First, there are mentions. This is a simple raw number that showcases how many times you’ve been mentioned in a given time period. Again, useful for figuring out that your PR is working – the more people talking about you (ideally in a positive manner), the more effective you’ve been at reaching people. Share of voice, a popular metric, is part of mentions, a subset of mentions. We’ve written in the past about share of voice and share of search, which I encourage you to go back and re-read. Despite some of its shortcomings, shares of voice/shares of search are still worth measuring to get a sense of how much conversation is happening about you versus your competitors, but if you have to choose, choose raw mentions as your defining metric in this category.

Second, there are audiences. Any audience number that requires interaction or commitment is a number that you should add to your diagnostics of PR, from email list subscribers to Facebook Likes. One of the most reliable audience measures is website traffic. This gives you a sense for how many people are finding you by any means online and at least coming to see what you’re about, whether or not you have the ability to do business with them online. There are other audience measures, such as numbers of followers, fans, and friends in social media or circulation numbers in print media, but website traffic is more useful as it requires additional action on the part of the audience members to get to your site. That said, take them all in as useful diagnostics. The more effective your PR is, the more you should see these numbers improve.

Audience Overview - Google Analytics

Third, there are impressions. If there was one bucket of measures that was probably safe to vote off the island, it’s impressions, mainly because impressions are a passive measure that do not indicate commitment. For example, when you drive down the highway and see the billboards, even if you don’t actually read any of them, they are still technically counted as impressions. If you pick up a copy of the New York Times and read half of the front page, even if a media placement is on the same page and you never read it, it’s counted as an impression. An impression is no guarantee of even awareness of your brand, and thus while they are included in many PR reports, their value is questionable. Better to go with mentions or audiences.

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

Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk