Budgeting PR Staff Time and Online Resources

In recent articles for PR News Online, I’ve described the importance of measurement to your Web initiatives, and how to examine whether your social media efforts are working. Now it’s time to look at the big picture. Are your efforts in each medium actually working, and how should you budget for them in the coming year?

If you haven’t discovered it yet, when you start using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and press releases written with search engine optimization in mind, you’ve become a marketer who uses PR as your medium. Congratulations. PR is a very valid way of approaching marketing, and PR and marketing staffs now overlap in a ever-growing number of organizations. 

This article examines some data from each medium; then, it gives you a method for examining whether your efforts there are actually working, as well as tips for planning for next year.

First, gather your data:

For a defined set of time, you’ll need to gather data from your Web statistics that show you the conversion rate and total numbers of goals you’ve accomplished. This is pretty straightforward in a program like Google analytics. You can do this with a month’s worth of data, but six months’ worth is better.  Make sure you’ve also tagged the “thank you” or “receipt” pages of your lead generation forms or e-mail subscribe forms.

Next, compute your return on investment:

Once you’ve got the data, create a custom report that measures each goal’s conversion rate and the total number of completions. Have it break out these results by the dimension “medium” and voila, you’ve got your Web site results broken down by medium.
This technique was used to pull the following results of a lead generation effort from a client engagement:

Medium Goal 1: Conversion Rate Goal 1: Completions % of Whole % of Weekly Effort (Staff Time + $) ROI
E-Mail 1.0% 10 5% 20% 27%
Organic 0.8% 96 52% 30% 174%
CPC 0.5% 34 18% 20% 92%
Partner Links 13.9% 44 24% 5% 478%
Social 0.0% 0 0% 25% 0%
TTL 184 100%
Return On Investment (ROI) of several marketing programs

This measured one of the three ‘asks’ on the Web site and then the different activities that fed it. The partner links category is comprised of referral Web links from specific partners that support the organization.  It’s a quarter of the goal total, a small effort, and has a very high conversion rate and return on investment.

Generally when you look at what’s working with your Web site, you want to approach it with an open mind. Only then will you see the unintended successes, and only then will you discover new techniques. Ask someone who manages AdWords advertising, and they’ll tell you that sometimes the keywords you throw in as an afterthought end up performing surprisingly well.  If you’re only examining the efforts you have made predictions on, you won’t discover these gems.

Next, figure out where to optimize and where to reduce:

The first question you should ask yourself is, “Are there more partners we could be asking for links here?” Sometimes you max out a particular channel. You buy all the inventory on a perfectly targeted Web site, for example. If this isn’t the case, this is where you should start funding your efforts. Find more partners to link to you. If their link pages are generating only a little bit of traffic, ask them to feature you for a short time.

The second-best performing marketing technique is your organic search work. It contributes to over half of your total goal accomplishments and has a good return on investment. If you haven’t already, you may want to start a more formal SEO program to garner more leads from this channel. It may be a good time to look at some new terms to develop to diversify your traffic.

Your e-mail list is definitely producing leads, but while its conversion rate is good, it’s not producing a volume of leads that justifies the time invested. Unless you can easily raise the conversion rates of your e-mail list, consider new approaches to bulking up your e-mail list.  It’s the equivalent of pouring more into the top of the funnel.

Your cost-per-click campaigns (search marketing like Google AdWords) are about a fifth of your workload, and a fifth of your results. This is great, but it would be nice if it was more productive.  If you’re managing it entirely internally, you may want to get a marketing audit from an agency. If you’re already using an agency, you may want to rebid the work.

The social media data is quite real. This particular client just isn’t seeing the results from Facebook and Twitter, so they should consider cutting back the weekly effort to just 10% or 15% at the most. That doesn’t mean you can’t re-energize it later on, but someone has to demonstrate some results before you would put in your precious resources.


People always complain about the budgeting process cutting things they need, but wouldn’t it be great, for once, to have a real concrete basis for your budget requests? What’s more, wouldn’t it be great to directly tie your budget and efforts to the company’s bottom line?

You can do this with a little preparation and a little discipline, but you have to be prepared to live with the consequences of what the numbers tell you. The data will set you free.

Shabbir Imber Safdar spends his days at Virilion Inc., an 11-year-old full-service interactive firm. He still can’t decide if he should have “marketer,” “online PR guy” or “digital public affairs” in his title. He blogs about all of these at http://www.truthypr.com/  

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