How to effectively measure public relations

Photo courtesy of Niuton may on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Niuton may on Flickr

Rob Swystun, Pristine Advisers

While it’s important to keep track of the amount of content you’re sending out, tracking the effectiveness of public relations campaigns shouldn’t just be about that, as tracking the amount of content won’t give you an accurate depiction of whether the PR campaign is actually working.

The true measure of a PR campaign’s success is outcomes and behavioral changes, according to William Mills Agency account director David Jones, writing for The Financial Brand.

While advertising and marketing initiatives will often have a direct and measurable impact on success, the true impact of PR programs is more difficult to gauge.

The core of any PR program will have the following three goals, Jones says:

  1. Reach a particular audience with a specific message,
  2. Influence the audience to make a change or take an action.
  3. Create a positive effect on the institution’s bottom line.

In order to track and measure these objectives, Jones suggests using the Barcelona Principles, which the leading PR associations around the world conceived in 2011 to do just that.


The Barcelona Principles

  1. Set goals and define measurements
  2. Measure outcomes rather than measuring outputs
  3. Measure the effect on business results
  4. Measure media by both quantity and quality
  5. Refrain from valuing PR via “Ad Value Equivalency
  6. Measure social media
  7. Keep it transparent and replicable


While the first of the principles recommends setting goals for PR initiatives, Jones suggests including PR in the initial goal setting process for the company. This way, a company can clearly establish what its PR programs should achieve and define the necessary metrics to track the company’s PR progress.

Public relations can be an effective tool for:

  • brand and product marketing,
  • reputation building,
  • advocacy,
  • employee engagement,
  • investor relations,
  • crisis management,
  • public education or community engagement.

“By deciding exactly what your PR team is trying to achieve, banks and credit unions can then build a framework to select the best strategies, methods and metrics,” Jones says.

And, just as important as incorporating PR goals into the company itself is having goals for each individual PR campaign.

Measuring PR Outcomes

One way to measure the effectiveness of a PR campaign is to examine the impact it has made on a target audience in terms of your company’s sales funnel by asking where they were in the sales funnel before a given PR campaign and where they ended up after the campaign.

These metrics can be tied directly to an audience’s lifecycle:

  • Awareness – Does the audience recognize the name or issues being promoted?
  • Knowledge – Does the audience have knowledge of the company and can they differentiate from its competitors?
  • Consideration – Is audience engagement with the company increasing or becoming strong sales prospects?
  • Preference – Is the audience indicating strong brand loyalty or stating an intention to buy?
  • Action – Is there an increase in sales, market share, customer loyalty or leads?

Executives should pay attention to both “outputs” and “outcomes” of a PR campaign, as they represent the immediate results of a campaign and whether those results actually led to changes in audience behaviors respectively.

Specifically, Jones says, outputs measure the production and completion of tactics that should lead to increased PR exposure. This is where you track how often news is released, how big of an audience is reached, and the number of impressions or share of voice.

Outcomes measure whether the outputs actually changed the audience’s behavior, like increased awareness, increased website traffic, increased information requests, and new sales.

Some common methods of measuring outcomes include:

  • using surveys,
  • tracking increases in online engagement,
  • keeping an eye on the numbers of downloads of sales materials, and
  • tracking event attendance.

While outcomes are a preferable set of metrics, Jones sets, outputs still need to be measured because you need outputs to generate outcomes.

Jones says some of the easiest and most affordable ways to measure increased awareness is simply utilizing the tools built into web monitoring.

He suggests using unique referrals or building unique landing pages for different PR tactics so you can begin to identify how many new visitors you have to your website, or to a specific product or service page and which sources they come from.

You can also build awareness questions into existing customer surveys, Jones says, which works best for raising awareness for existing customers on new products.

For example, you could build a simple question, “Do you know about our [insert service or product here]?” for in-person interactions and capture the responses in the CRM system.

Budget willing, you can also go as far as to conduct full market surveys, focus groups, etc.

But, the key is to begin with the end result in mind and seek out ways to measure progress towards that goal. Do that, and you will automatically have better PR campaigns.


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