PR Must Generate ROI as a Contributor to Overall Business Success, Says Virtual Roundtable

Each year, the public relations profession celebrates the role of communications research during Measurement Month, an international collective of free educational content organized by AMEC.

To recognize the importance of measurement and evaluation in public relations, we assembled a virtual roundtable to explore the latest developments and best practices of the PR Measurati in the USA.

Mark Weiner
Chief Insights Officer

Our contributors are: Liz Rector, Director of Communications Intelligence, Cisco Systems; Cindy Villanfranca, Senior Communications Specialist, Southwest Airlines; the Adobe Communications Measurement and Insights team comprised of Jen Bruce, PhD and Susanne Sturton, (“Adobe”), and Michael Young, Global Insights Manager, Ford Motor Company. The conversation was moderated by Mark Weiner, Chief Insights Officer at Cision.


Mark Weiner: How do you integrate your PR data stream with other departments within your organization?

Michael Young
Global Insights Manager
Ford Motor Company

Michael Young: We integrate campaign measurement across earned, paid and owned. The result is truly holistic.

On integrating PR data with other business units, it’s crucial to understand and grasp their data sets, with a result being one cohesive data story.

Cindy Villanfranca: Thanks to social media, we now have real time data at our fingertips—and a lot of it. This allows us to integrate the insights coming from PR into other areas of the business quickly to get a holistic picture of the landscape.

In today’s socially charged climate, having a pulse on customer sentiment is a must. You can’t always wait for survey data or other data that may have lag time.

Adobe: PR data is well integrated with our marketing organization. We work to ensure that PR data is included in the full picture of our media mix modeling. In my experience, socializing the availability of PR data as a quantitative input is the most critical piece.

Weiner: How has your use of research and insights evolved to communicate the impact of PR on business results?

Elizabeth Rector
Director of Communications Intelligence
Cisco Systems

Liz Rector: We have evolved from reporting on activities and vanity numbers to integrating with multiple types of data and deriving insights that drive strategy and action. We are showing impact through changes in perception and desired actions taken by target audiences.

Villanfranca: The use of data and insights in PR isn’t new, but it’s evolved at lightning speed. The tools and capabilities of today are extraordinarily better than in years past. That allows us to be more nimble and forward-thinking.

We have finally proven that we are not just communicators, but analysts too, and our data is just as valuable as financials and performance.

Adobe: Qualitative, and more advanced quantitative, insights are now available using PR data. The shift to relying more on technology to automate the curation, storage and coding of PR coverage has made it much more time-efficient (and also feasible!) to categorize and code PR data in ways that makes it amenable to pairing with business impact data.

This ability to segment and classify PR data enables robust quantitative analysis that provides insights that aligns to a variety of business objectives, such as acquisitions and purchases.

Weiner: Now that the profession has generally discredited advertising value equivalencies (AVEs), how can practitioners with smaller budgets assign a dollar value to their work?

Jen Bruce
Global Leader of Communications Measurement and Insights
Susanne Sturton
Global Communications Measurement Manager

Adobe: Yes, thankfully AVEs has not been a metric we have used, but I agree that it needs to go into full retirement!

Attempts to assign a dollar value to comms results presents a number of challenges. My recommendation to practitioners with smaller budgets is to focus on evaluating whether you reached the people that matter, rather than counting all the people you reach or trying to put a dollar figure on results.

Attempts to capture and count all coverage is another flawed PR metric that sees comms teams spend more dollars than they need to on their measurement activities.

Young: Your goal is to show efficiencies. Build timeline charts that overlay earned and organic social media with broader business metrics, particularly website traffic and conversion. Find pockets where PR was driving uplifts in business outcomes when paid media was quiet. Divide business outcomes (new customers or orders) by PR spend and compare with historical levels of spend.

Cindy Villanfranca
Senior Communications Specialist Southwest Airlines

Villanfranca: Return on objectives is just as important as return on investments. Code everything you are doing to show traffic to your main website. Track any sales related to a press release or other PR tactics. List all the PR/Comms awards won. Count the number of communications pieces created to support the business. Highlight positive sentiment and reputation boosts.

Rector: Integrate with marketing partners to incorporate a similar methodology as paid media in terms of tracking actions, and ultimately, revenue. Also leverage brand metrics that link the value of the brand and attribute a portion of to the impact from PR.

Weiner: What advice can you give to others seeking to properly represent PR performance?

Rector: PR needs to deeply understand the goals of the business. For example, if the goal is to improve awareness, volume of coverage doesn’t make that connection. You need to link PR efforts to a measure in improved awareness.

Young: Start with the business plan, then utilize all research to inform the PR strategy. Campaign metrics should act as the connective tissue between the needs identified by the research and the larger business goals. Credibility will result from actively communicating your measurement plan while detailing the what/where/how behind your plan.

Villanfranca: Where PR may not have had a seat at the “data” table 10 years ago, it’s imperative we have one now. Data in a silo does not tell a holistic story.

In conclusion, the panel responses reflect the measurement and evaluation trends PR must confront today: Senior executives expect public relations to generate value and return-on-investment both as a function and as a contributor to overall business success. The good news? It’s within the grasp of every communications professional to deliver.

Contact: [email protected]