Marketing leaders today are wrestling with the challenges of connecting with clients and customers in new ways amidst the context of shifting demographics and psychographics. They need to maintain key strategies – such as RFPs, events and innumerable announcements – that produce revenue-generating customers while also keeping up with newer forms of marketing, including social media and demand generation, that are evolving and requiring more and more investment. Caught between maintenance and innovation, leaders must seek efficiencies in spend.
Public relations has traditionally been plagued by charges of having an “ambiguous” ROI, even though it’s clear that leading companies know its value as a proven game-changer in establishing brand leadership. It is a sizable investment for marketing departments who are already spread across traditional ways of marketing, and the tsunami of new concepts and tactics. More than ever, PR needs to demonstrate ROI and justify its critical place in the corporate marketing mix.
anthonyBarnum believes one of the most compelling ways PR does this is by creating efficiency: It provides reusable concepts and content that can be leveraged across the digital marketing landscape, helping companies to put forth the highest levels of content to their audiences. But beyond efficiencies, PR metrics are key to helping justify PR expenditure.
There are, in fact, many ways to create metrics around PR that have real value. Here are the top five, simple metrics anthonyBarnum recommends when establishing the framework of a campaign:
- Assess Quality of Placed Content
Choose quality of content over quantity when assessing the value of PR placements. Counting “hits” is outdated. Counting a personnel announcement and a meaningful profile piece as the same thing is absurd. Instead, using a simple ranking system, types of placements can receive a numerical value. For example, 1 – 5 could be assigned to the type of placement to quantify the density of quality. A bylined article would be a five, whereas a brief mention would be a one.
- Rank the Value of Media Outlets
There are huge differences in quality among the various sorts of media your messages are placed in, and it’s important to track and monitor this. Regional radio dies and is never heard from again. A placement in a regional business journal lives on endlessly, builds SEO and syndicates to multiple other major market outlets. A business journal may have a $10,000 cost for a full-page print ad, whereas a one minute, 30 second piece on-air may cost $600 as an ad. Once again, a simple ranking system can capture the value: On a scale of 1-10, regional radio may receive a one, whereas the business journal may receive an eight.
Ranking quality of the type of placement and the quality of the media outlet together illuminates the true value of the placement in context of a company’s predetermined objectives. Any time period can be compared – six months or one year is typical – to determine momentum.
- Measure Cadence
Once metrics are established in correlation with media targets and types of placements, the next ingredient is assigning targets associated with frequency of placements. In thought leadership driven campaigns, it is feasible to associate goals with frequency. For example, the goal may be to gain exposure in two different types of trade press and two different regions every month. In reviewing the available assets or depth of available thought leader expertise, it may be realistic to assess that the goal is to generate four top tier placements in their category per month, over the course of one year. PR firms such as anthonyBarnum, with experience in a given segment, should be able to provide media case studies and assessments of what is feasible in context of budgeted hours and outlet targets based on the subject matters. In other words, cadence of media placements is not a mystery and should be initially assessed upfront before the campaign begins.
An example of quality and quantity is a high-end user experience design firm client anthonyBarnum collaborated with for several years leading up to its acquisition. The program was solely focused on positioning the company’s key expertise and unique, differentiated methodology in advanced UX design. To build the right image and mystique for the company, the PR program was narrowly focused on securing the following:
- Tier one business, innovation-oriented press, including outlets like Fast Company and Wired
- Tier one trade press in the digital design landscape
A substantial emphasis was placed on bylined articles to fully capture the expertise and vision of the company’s experts. The time allocated, and therefore budget, was solely focused on these two goals. The cadence of exposure, based on what was possible for the budget, resulted in an average of two to three placements per month over the course of the first year of representation. While the cadence wasn’t truly top speed, the pieces were exceptional: full-tilt, 800-word bylines in Wired, ZDNet and Forbes. The impact was meaningful. By laser focusing on positioning the highest level expertise of the company and taking a consistent, programmatic approach, the company achieved hundreds of thousands of dollars in exposure.
- Realize Savings Through Repurposing
Complex companies need content produced to feed their blogs, social media, demand generation and news categories of their website. A PR and social media agency with best-in-class systems and seasoned practitioners can create key messaging documents and collateral that’s used not only for PR programs, but that can be repurposed in all sorts of different marketing programs. By doing this, PR offers the marketing department tremendous ROI. Marketing no longer needs to staff five or eight different teams with writers all producing variations of the same corporate content. The best agencies are in a uniquely enviable position to help marketing realize efficiencies of scale here by serving as the go-to creators for critical corporate content. They are staffed with specialist, professional writers; tactical strategists that can optimize how content is integrated across marketing; crisis, product, transactional and corporate news experts; team members with advanced experience in B2B social media; and a team able to execute at the highest levels of the media to generate coverage. By taking advantage of a well-oiled PR machine, workload can either be decreased across a company’s marketing department or huge swaths outsourced, freeing up internal capacity. A solid PR and social media team brings in a high level of expertise, and access to that expertise costs far less than the equivalent headcount ever could.
- Use the Ad Value Equivalency Model with Caution
The reason this is last on the list is because the Ad Value Equivalency model is increasingly outdated. The value of an earned media placement can be quantified leveraging individual outlets’ advertising models. Then, with the much higher retention rate inherent to editorial versus advertising, it’s typically multiplied by up to 150 percent. anthonyBarnum uses a more conservative 75 percent. It’s a real argument and a way of doing a comparative, but it has flaws that are important to consider:
1) The AVE model is built on old school ways of measuring impact. With the newer Google SEO algorithms heavily weighted to accredited media placements, this model does not incorporate that impact in the lead generation process.
2) Ads die on the vine; they are defined and purchased based on space and time quantities. Yet, editorial coverage lives on to its subscribers and often in search engines for years. It’s very difficult, then, to quantify the “in perpetuity” nature of quality news placement.
3) Syndication is incredible. A tier one media placement can syndicate across innumerable online sister publications and outside of its affiliations through social media and independent blogs. There are not yet tools that can truly track the depth of reach a well-placed piece of earned media.
The reality is that the value of PR is going up in the new ecosystems of online information exchange. A placement that may have lived and died in a tier one print outlet 10 years ago, now has a much longer lifespan that has yet to be defined. While businesses track expenditures and costs of sales, they also must step back and look at the total value of PR and quality of earned media – because its reach and value is only growing and increasing in impact to business.