How Communicators Can Overcome The Struggle to Measure Media ROI

[Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of Intrado Digital Media-sponsored articles about measurement. The first two articles in the series appeared in the November 2019 and December 2019 editions, respectively, of PRNEWS.]

With apologies to Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times” for media relations. “It was the worst of times.” For some communicators, it’s never been easier to pitch media, owing to digital technology and social media, which allows them to reach media easier. There also is a plethora of media outlets to target. The downside, of course, is that the result in inboxes overflowing with data.

For others, though, the plethora of data is a headache. What’s are the right metric to measure? The main issue for this group is that it’s impossible to get a placement in major media. This is mostly due to the all-Trump-all-the-time coverage that dominates media. And, the narrative continues, if you’re not mentioned in a major outlet, such as The Wall St. Journal or The NY Times, what’s the point of pitching?

That shortsighted outlook aside, an issue for companies that continue to see value in the importance of earned media is how to measure it.

Let’s say a company, perhaps with the help of a PR firm or in-house media relations team, obtains a page-one article in a major media outlet. What does that placement accomplish? Does it translate into sales or potential sales? Did the article, assuming it’s favorable, enhance the credibility of the company with banks or potential employees? Unfortunately, a few months after the article runs, some companies are unable to answer these questions with data.

Lack of Confidence in Earned Media

As you can imagine, this could lead to a lack of confidence in earned media, the collateral damage includes media relations jobs, in-house and at agencies.

“As great as a page-one story in The Wall St Journal is, many companies are unable to track [the placement] back to sales, ROI or even just marketing and lead gen,” says Christa Conte, SVP, head of digital commerce, NA/NYC office lead, Hotwire Global.

For Intrado Digital Media president Ben Chodor, the issues surrounding measuring media ROI include the lack of measurement standards. “Unlike many industries, PR doesn’t have a standard set of metrics, so what defines campaign success for one company might be completely different from another,” he says. This means the biggest problem is trying to decide “what is important when it comes to PR outcomes.”

Tools Issues

Another issue is that tools are unable to keep up with the constant change in the industry. This, Chodor says, pushes some PR pros “to avoid measurement altogether.”

An additional tools-related problem is that limited tools force PR practitioners turn to multiple solutions. This can result in PR pros looking at data in silos. “This means [PR pros] never get to see the bigger picture of their work,” Chodor argues, or the worth of integrated efforts. This argues for tools that give communicators access to all of their information in a single dashboard, eliminating the need to log in to multiple platforms.

There’s also very little “challenging” occurring in PR today, Conte argues. Media relations pros should be pushing companies to understand why a particular media mention or article is useful.

Too often, though, earned media ROI isn’t measured properly and that leads to confusion about its worth.

Useful Metrics

Christa Conte
SVP, Head of Digital Commerce, NA/NYC Office Lead
Hotwire Global

Some of the metrics that can help contextualize the success of a media effort include share of conversation, message pull-through, quality of a quote or mention and engagement. These metrics, tied to a campaign over time will “let you really look at the data and have solid conversations,” Conte says. She disdains vanity metrics, such as AVEs, quantity and share of voice.

Chodor agrees, noting quantity of coverage isn’t a valuable metric for many brands, ditto the number of impressions. “The C-suite is looking for impact PR and needs a specific way to measure it,” he says.

When companies measure media ROI, they tend to focus heavily on metrics such as increases in sales, web traffic, lead conversions, social media mentions and conversations. While these are important, they can cause a company to “overlook critical information,” such as whether or not a particular piece of news content resulted in conversations among potential buyers and influencers, Chodor says. Another overlooked metric, he argues, is how consumers are reacting and responding to the content.

Numerous Choices

Ben Chodor
Intrado Digital Media

The media metrics companies can track are numerous. Chodor notes companies should look at data in vertical markets and audience segmentation. “Choosing the most relevant available metrics and learning how to use that data (to increase sales, brand awareness, competitive advantage, etc.) is critical to building more strategic plans going forward and allows PR to more honestly report on its results.” he says. In the end, though, the most important metrics for a company to measure are those “that matter most to its business,” Chodor notes.

Conte recalls a large auto company that created a framework to measure things such as to whether or not a new article included quotes about the company and the strength of the quotes. The framework also looked at where the company was placed in the article, the the tier of the outlet and whether or not the company’s competitors were mentioned, among other things.

Lack of Leadership Buy-In

Another hurdle that media ROI measurement faces, Conte says, is “a lack of alignment with the larger leadership team.” PR and marketing often “are not at the table” when decisions are made to “increase a media program’s results 10 percent year over year.” These decisions, she says, sometimes are made without context or, importantly, the awarding of larger budgets. They’re then handed to PR to execute using the same strategy that’s been used for years, despite little growth.

This can lead to common issues. Companies “are not getting the expected ROI from their marketing/PR spend…they’re losing money because the competition is beating them…and they’re continuing to lose market share,” she says.

Homework Before The Pitch

One solution, she says, involves media relations pros doing their homework before pitching starts. “You have to step back, ask questions, do research and put more of a measurement framework in place.”

For example, if a company is successful getting that page one mention, is sales/marketing using it properly? In addition, is that prominent story in a major outlet useful in every case? Is the story reaching and influencing the company’s target audience?

Those questions can lead to a re-evaluation of the audience and the competition, Conte says. For instance, a company wants its message to reach CMOs. Is a major media outlet the best place to do that? “There are multiple other channels we can go out with,” she says. In the end, the key questions that media relations professionals should ask is, ‘What is the right message at the right time and in the right place?’

As is the case with so much in PR, executive attitudes can be an issue. As we noted at the start of this article, some believe the media universe is just five outlets large. There’s nothing beyond the Journal, the Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The L.A. Times.

“We feel that research can help us” dispel those attitudes, Conte says. “There’s a wide mix” of potential media that includes paid, earned, social and owned. “Smaller outlets...and trades are important, too.” To keep track of the plethora of media and content creators, Conte uses a mix of tools, including those from Cision, Canvas8, NetBase, TrendKite

Influencers, too, are a useful part of the media pastiche in certain cases. “It’s more than hammering away at the same five media” outlets, she says, adding that an integrated campaign likely is “going to be most impactful.”

Where and how to pitch, though, still turns on research and asking questions at the outset, Conte argues. First you need access to the company’s data. After that you ask, “Where is the company losing market share? What part of the sales process is the company having trouble with? Does the company lack a distinct voice?” If the company is a startup, it might lack credibility. In that case, working with an influencer can help.

In addition, with pre-pitch research in hand, if a pitch doesn’t land, “we’re able to say, ‘OK, let’s go with another pitch to another outlet.’”

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