Key Performance Indicators: The Measurement Solution of the Future?

When the economy tanks, everybody starts to scrutinize the advertising, public relations and marketing budgets--especially the chief financial officer. So what do you say when your CFO asks you to prove that public relations is one of the areas that simply cannot be cut if your company plans to thrive--or merely survive--the current economic downturn?

If you are using soft metrics like clip counts, ad equivalencies and gross impressions to measure the impact of your program, you're probably dreading that conversation (and maybe even thinking about updating your resume in the process).

Unfortunately, soft metrics fail to take into account the business goals of the company. In other words, while they are good at demonstrating that something happened during the measurement period, they provide little, if any, insight on the impact these activities had on the business.

Fortunately, though, there is a powerful solution that not only satisfies the needs of the bean counters but also provides a valuable benchmark for measuring the impact of the program while at the same time providing a road map for improving future performance. The key is to think like a business analyst rather than a publicist and use key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of your programs and campaigns.

KPIs are based on desired business outcomes and are commonly used in financial and manufacturing environments. They are the global positioning system of your program, telling you where you are and whether you're headed where you want to go. If you create KPIs at the onset of a campaign with input from your sales, marketing and finance teams, there should be no ambiguity when the CFO asks you if the program is succeeding or failing.

To incorporate key performance indicators into your measurement program, consider the following steps:

1. Sit down with your organization/client's leaders to determine what was important to their business success. This discussion will help identify the KPIs that are most important to your business (for a list of 20 KPIs that could be used to measure performance in five categories--coverage, impact, quality, content and budget--see accompanying sidebar).

2. From this list of potential KPIs, select three to five that are considered to be most integral to measuring the success of a campaign or program.

3. Once the KPIs are established, track progress. This can be done via a number of services, including Web-based dashboards. If a dashboard is the route you chose, populate it using a variety of traditional media tracking and Web tools. Whenever possible, try to work with Web masters to track Web site traffic and search engine optimization (SEO) rankings. When you compare Web site spikes with the dates of major online and traditional placements, trends begin to emerge, and the results are often very enlightening.

Just as you need a plan to set a reference point for progress, you need to create measurable KPIs for your campaign so you can remain on course or adjust consciously when necessary, due to market conditions, product delays and other things outside your control.

That should be the ultimate reason for measurement in the first place--not to grade or punish efforts but to help apply a context for what is working and what else needs to be accomplished.

And, once you can demonstrate the impact of your hard work, it is much easier to justify retaining or increasing budgets, even when times are as difficult as they are now. PRN


This article was written by Mike Nikolich, president of Tech Image, a member of the Worldcom Group of public relations agencies. He can be reached at

Key Performance Indicators

Knowing what to measure is critical to any PR measurement program. Yet what is important to one client may have little significance for another. Following is a focused list of key performance indicators (KPIs) that can help determine the three to five KPIs companies/clients should track to determine program success.


  • Press releases by type

  • Press releases by focus/business unit

  • Competitive press releases by type

  • Client vs. competitive coverage

  • Awards

  • Analyst mentions

  • Total coverage by activity

  • Media stratification

  • Coverage by story theme

  • Blog mentions


  • Traffic vs. clippings

  • Placements vs. whether on Web site

  • Coverage to stock price

  • Percent of articles repurposed


  • Key message appearances

  • Product reviews (positive/neutral/negative)

  • Where mentioned in article


  • Thought leadership


  • PR budget vs. activities (for flexible budgets)