Show Me the Results: How to Communicate PR Metrics

These are challenging times for communicators and their businesses. The economic crisis is putting pressure on budgets, yet CEOs are demanding more from their communications teams. They’ve got the jitters—and rightly so—about the impact of social media on their organization’s reputation, and they’re asking their PR teams to get a handle on every possible media channel. They want to know when the next reputational crisis may hit the social media sphere.

First, it’s worth understanding what CEOs care most about right now. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers ’ latest Annual Global CEO Survey, CEOs are most focused on survival and expanding existing markets, which means key measures will continue to be revenue, operating income and customer retention.

Reputation is closely intertwined with—and drives—these metrics. While we know that budgets are an issue, we’re also hearing that mitigating reputational risks is where CEOs want communications teams to focus.

There are many ways to monitor and measure message penetration, share of voice and editorial favorability across social media, but how do we present these metrics in a way that really matters to executives? Following are six ways to approach this.

1. Understand your company’s business objectives. This is the first and crucial step in creating metrics that matter to business executives. It’s absolutely essential to understand their priorities. By listening closely to the words they use, you can home in on the metrics they’re using to evaluate their own success—and align your metrics accordingly. It’s important to remember that they may not grasp the significance of your PR metrics unless you clearly articulate how they impact key business drivers.

2. Tell the whole story using multiple views. Just as business executives use the balanced scorecard, you should provide both quantitative and qualitative measures. Like any other business function, PR is properly evaluated using multiple metrics. Business executives, especially CEOs, tend to be forward thinking (is my business growing?) in addition to being results-oriented (did we make our numbers?). Both leading indicators of communications performance, as well as results, must be reported.

3. Cover the turf, from media relations to influencer relations. Pinpointing and engaging those who are influential in meaningful conversation is the essence of PR; executives view building strategic relationships to managing perception as a key function of the communication team. As social media expands our audiences and creates more options for dialogue, we’re going to have to find innovative ways to monitor the widest audience possible while focusing on engaging the most influential people in conversation.

A metric that describes the depth and impact of these relationships is an important leading indicator in assessing the health of the business. This can be accomplished by using a combination of process metrics (how many influencers, how often we speak to them), media analysis (how often and how far they spread our messages) and perception surveys (what do they think of us, how much do they understand about our brand).

4. Focus on delivering metrics that tie to revenue and operating income. As public discussion moves from the watercooler to the virtual consumer review boards, public relations has a much greater opportunity to provide quantitative measures of PR influence at each step of the buying process.

Search engines are one of the most common ways consumers gather information. Thus, tracking Web analytics and the conversion of page views to leads to sales are important metrics to track and report to executives as a contribution to revenue growth.

Likewise, reporting the cost of conversion as a percentage of sales and relative to other marketing activities can be a powerful way to describe ROI.

5. Take the lead(ing indicator). Executives are keenly interested in detecting changes in customer behavior and attitudes early, so that risk can be minimized. Some in-process measures of customer thinking include awareness and interest, intention to buy, satisfaction and dissatisfaction and perception of relative product quality, service quality and customer value.

Measuring customer sentiment in virtual discussion areas is one way to predict financial performance, which is clearly of interest to executives. Measuring the quality of interactions with customers in correcting perceptions becomes a natural extension of that metric and also describes return on investment.

6. The reputation risk metric. No CEO wants to be blindsided by an unfavorable viral sensation. And so many are entrusting their communications teams with the daunting task of monitoring the entire social media sphere for signs of disruption. Finding a way to articulate the relative impact of consumer discussions on your brand may be even more difficult.

Fortunately, while technology is making reputation management harder by making it easy to virally spread misinformation, it’s also making it easier with new tools that can help you discover risks simmering beneath the surface. News and conversations can be presented graphically, making it much simpler to identify trouble spots.

Bringing PR metrics in line with executives’ thinking may be challenging, but it has enormous benefits. Remember that measurement and evaluation are about two things: clarity of purpose and clarity of value. Communicating the first will engage you in more strategic discussions; communicating the second can help secure budget and resources. PRN


This article was written by Diane Thieke, marketing director of Dow Jones, and was excerpted from the recently released PR News Measurement Guidebook Vol. 4. For more inf