First Step Toward Meaningful PR Metrics: Focus on Bottom-Line Organizational Goals

Laura Howe

Whether your organization is large or small, for profit or nonprofit, demonstrating ROI for PR efforts is an absolute must—and, frustratingly, one of the most elusive goals for communicators. As a first step toward that goal, says Laura Howe, VP, public relations, American Red Cross, PR pros should focus less on metrics such as media impressions and Facebook “likes” and more on elemental organizational goals such as sales and fundraising targets. Howe will elaborate on measuring social media, public opinion and more at PR News’ PR Measurement Conference on April 18 in Washington, D.C.

PR News: What are your key media metrics and how do you link your media relations outcomes to your organization’s goals?

Laura Howe: We're like many organizations in that we look at some standard metrics such as media impressions and number of placements. We've been able to establish those over time as a baseline that helps us understand the volume of media that we are getting. 
However, we've developed some other more sophisticated metrics that we track as well. Twice a year we field public opinion research where we look at a number of public perceptions of our organization. This helps us understand the overall public perception climate in which we are working.

PR News: How is American Red Cross using social media for media outreach?

Howe: My media relations director and my social media director sit next to each other in the office, and that's not by chance. Social media often gives us the first indications that we have a burgeoning reputation issue. If we can manage the message on social platforms, we can often prevent its spread to mainstream media. That means our media message and social media message have to be absolutely in sync.
We are also very aware that media outlets and individual journalists follow our official Red Cross account and the personal accounts of many of us on the PR team. We've been able to leverage those relationships and watch what journalists are saying online to spot trends or pitching opportunities.  

Howe: You recently launched a digital operations center—your social media monitoring program. What difference has this made in your monitoring and measurement efforts?

Howe: We've been monitoring and responding in the social space in real time for the past four years or so. It's always been a key part of our social media strategy, particularly when it comes to disaster response. The launch of the digital operations center allows us to see more of the social Web than ever before. We can monitor for more keywords, then take the data and visualize it on maps, charts and graphs. Basically, we can present the data to our leaders and decision makers in a much more organized fashion.

PR News: What’s one key tip you’ll offer attendees at the PR Measurement Conference?

Howe: You have to move beyond the obvious metrics such as media impressions, Facebook "likes" and Twitter followers. Those can provide a clue to your reach. If you really want to show your effectiveness, you need to decide what needle you want to move—sales, fundraising activity or advocacy reach, for example—and then measure your media activity against that.

Attend PR News’ PR Measurement Conference on April 18 in Washington, D.C., and learn more from measurement experts like Laura Howe.

Follow Regina D’Alesio, @reginadalesio