Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak at an event hosted by the New York chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). The event, titled “Data & Brews: Google Analytics Edition”, was part of the groups’ A/B Club that regularly gathers to discuss the various data-related technology and techniques revolutionizing the marketing and communications fields.

Our presentation was focused on the various ways that communications professionals can leverage Google Analytics (GA) to effectively measure program performance and draw insights to inform real-time strategic improvements. To adequately frame the need for improved measurement, the presentation first had to first establish why this has been an issue in the past.

What are our historical measurement challenges?

For one, it’s been marketers that have historically owned the discipline of measurement, but in this case are distant from the PR programs themselves. As communications professionals, it’s time to upskill and take more control of the processes and tools at our disposal to articulate the value of our work.

We also have a proof problem. Awareness-building PR strategies have always been a critical piece of a strong integrated communications program, but are perhaps the most difficult to concretely measure. Modern CMOs are no longer satisfied with the “soft” impression-based metrics of old, and demand that all communications activities demonstrate bottom-line ROI.

From this point on, the discussion primarily focused on the types of metrics Google Analytics can provide PR pros, and the various applications of that data. I began by overviewing the various PR-related metrics GA offers. We started first with metrics that demonstrate lift in awareness — things like branded & direct traffic, and new visitors.

Untangling the deeper impacts of PR

But we know that effective PR has an impact beyond just awareness, and with strong integration across other digital marketing efforts, can be the catalyst for nurturing leads to conversion. To prove this point, we must demonstrate that users are taking action beyond that initial impression from a piece of coverage, and GA is a great resource to do so. Metrics like referral traffic and average duration are great metrics to measure levels of user engagement and help us to answer important questions like “what content is performing best?” and “are users clicking links within coverage to learn more about us?”

As I mentioned earlier, a critical piece in long-term success is demonstrating bottom-line impact of our programs — and to do so, we have to analyze the actions users are taking as a result of our efforts. More specifically, we need to know if traffic resulting from coverage is converting, and how much of that is driving sales growth. With (a properly setup) GA, we can analyze goal completions and even deploy various attribution models to better understand the role PR played in the customer journey.

Actionable applications of these insights

As the bulk of the presentation was focused on using GA to demonstrate ROI and inform strategy, I changed gears and concentrated the final portion of the presentation on other actionable applications of these insights.

Improving performance in crisis situations

Using GA’s “Real Time Report,” we can now better understand exactly where audiences are coming from — both geographically and from which source — as well as the page(s) they’re interacting with once on our website. By understanding the exact messages our audience is exposed and reacting to, we can adjust our reactive strategy to combat the issue both on and off-site. For example, we could highlight corporate statements on the pages receiving the most traffic to generate maximum exposure and begin a more positive dialogue with our audience.

Improving the pitch process

We can also use GA to glean insights that could inform our go-forward earned media strategy, ultimately improving results for our customers. For example, we could sort last quarter’s coverage by level of referral traffic, assuming that the more we received, the more useful and engaging it was for our audience. From there, we could complete a qualitative audit on the publications and authors that had the greatest impact, digging even deeper by cross-referencing the pitch messaging and angles used to land the respective coverage. By leaning on this real-time data, we now have a stronger understanding of the current media landscape and can work smarter by iterating our pitch process to include these learnings.

I’d like to thank PRSA-NY for extending the invite and opportunity to not only share my thoughts on this important topic, but be surrounded by passionate peers in the industry who are investing in their continued learning. Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful tool — and one that PR professionals should start using more frequently to not only take credit for their work, but to improve results and validate strategic pivots using hard data.

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