From the desk of Patrick Ward...
today’s economy, the need for measurement of and accountability for PR, either
traditional or social have never been greater. However, the lack of definitive
metrics is making it hard for companies to commit to PR programs because there
is no clear path to value. This post is the first in a series of three I plan
to write to shed some light on an issue that has been the subject of discussion
in this field for a long time.
The Traditional Measurement Approaches
Since news articles appear in newspapers, magazines and on electronic media, the natural measurement approach in PR has been to try and replicate advertising measurement models.
The simplest method for measuring success of a PR program is to add up the
circulation of the media that covered the story. That idea sort of works for TV
and radio - if you’re watching or listening to the news, then you can’t really
skip something. Sure, you can change the channel, but Nielsen factors that into
It’s even more inaccurate when you try to measure print mediums. Circulation numbers simply represent total distribution. There is no way to tell who read what articles. So even if an article is in a prominent publication, if it’s poorly positioned in the magazine or newspaper, the actual readership may be much lower than the circulation. Furthermore, there is no way to measure if it’s the desired readership.
This approach starts to touch on issues of article placement, size and number of mentions in the article. This method often leads to measuring an article by using comparable advertising rates. If a half-page ad costs so much, then a half-page article should be worth the same. That often is a skewed way to look at it. Advertising is like renting a room in a house. PR is more like getting the homeowner to let you spend the night for free. Presence in an article is a validation to many; if it’s in the editorial, it must be true. Advertising is often viewed through a more cynical prism.
PR is rarely a blunt instrument. Advertising can be and often needs to be. Think about the major ad campaign from Yahoo! several years ago in which the company tried to make ‘Yahoo’ a verb.
The holy grail of marketing is to turn your brand into a noun or a verb that has distinct meaning - Kleenex and Xerox come to mind. The company that actually won that battle was Google, whose name is now synonymous with online search. They basically created the concept of a search engine without ever conducting a major national advertising campaign. Google was trying to alert people to a sophisticated technology that required and benefitted from the explicit approval of technology evangelists and trusted reporters.
right story by the right reporter at the right time can be much more valuable
than a comparable ad in the same medium. The Yahoo! ad campaign was easy to
measure. Google’s PR probably wasn’t. But which was more effective? That feels
like the ultimate measurement.