PR adds value. While many entrepreneurs take this as a given, it's not always fully appreciated. The reason: PR doesn't translate well to the bottom line. Most business owners value black-and-white data; PR is shaded in grey.
Where news is published, how many people read it and, most important, the way in which messages are perceived all have a tangible impact on a company's fortunes. But without a method for accurately collecting and analyzing such data, it's difficult to measure the effectiveness and impact of your PR efforts. Yet there are ways to measure your PR's value--and not all of them are expensive or elaborate.
Do-It-Yourself Media Monitoring
Counting clips--the physical number of articles a company's name appears in--is the simplest measure for quantifying the success or failure of a PR campaign. Knowing the number of stories (or hits) a company generates--and how those numbers stack up against the competition--offers a window into the mindshare that a company has among reporters and those who follow the news.
The most basic form of media monitoring involves manually clipping articles from a predefined set of publications and tabulating the numbers by hand. This do-it-yourself method has its advantages in terms of cost and connection to the news (all good PR practitioners should monitor their media space and beat reporters); however, this method is extremely time-consuming and usually not comprehensive enough.
A step up from physically clipping articles is using online tools to create alerts for specific keywords, such as your company or product's name. Google, Yahoo! and many news sites that use RSS feeds offer these services for free. Most deliver clips from at least a few sources, although they vary in selectivity, sensitivity and range.
One concern with monitoring via search engines and RSS feeds is information overload. Web alerts are likely to grab articles that aren't always pertinent, so you need to review each clip for relevance. This can be almost as time-consuming as manual monitoring and can also lead to inaccuracies in data collection.
Clipping services provide the best means for accurately and efficiently tracking coverage. Before the advent of the internet, clipping services were staffed by individuals who would read, clip and mail each individual article to their client. When you received the articles, you'd then have to manually catalog each piece of news. Such clipping services are still available today, but the cost and unwieldiness make this option unattractive to most business owners.
Electronic clipping services, however, strike a perfect balance between accuracy, efficiency and timeliness. Such services offer companies the ability to track a huge variety of media, including print, TV and online sources. The best clipping services can scan tens of thousands of media outlets within a short time period and then deliver reports to your inbox on a continuous basis or as daily reports.
Of further benefit, electronic clipping services can be programmed to monitor a multitude of company names, keywords and phrases. This gives you the opportunity to have them not only track your own coverage, but that of your competitors and your industry. This kind of industry awareness can help you react quickly to unusual events and potentially alter your communication strategy as a result.
Some of the better clipping services will also prioritize coverage based on publication type, readership and geographic region. This additional data can be quite useful in assessing the impact of your coverage.
The only downside to an electronic clipping service when compared to do-it-yourself methods is cost. However, for a company intent on monitoring news coverage and determining the ROI of their PR efforts, the expense is justified.
Measuring and Analyzing Your Success
In addition to monitoring various media for clips, you'll also want to analyze your success. Measuring the true value of media coverage is a topic that continues to confound marketing and PR executives the world over. The reason is simple: The task requires you to objectively analyze something that's largely subjective--a balanced article to one person may be a hatchet-job to another.
One traditional and largely objective method for measuring the value of an article is to assign it a monetary figure. This is done using "advertising value equivalency" (AVE). AVE assesses the value of an article by weighing it against the cost of related advertising space. The dollar figure is based on the publication's rate card. For example, a large, front-page ad is generally more expensive than a small, mid-publication ad.
While AVE will give you some indication of the value of your exposure, it fails to recognize how the news was actually reported: Was the company portrayed in a favorable light? What was the overall tone of the article? What messages were picked up? What's the enduring positive or negative effect on the brand?
PR is far too subtle an art for its value to be measured by quantitative data alone. To gain a thorough understanding of the impact of an article and an overall PR campaign, you must also consider the qualitative impact. Criteria such as the tone of the article (positive, neutral, negative), the presence of key corporate messages, and the overall quality of an article based on its length, placement and publication type are the essence of PR. Measuring this information, however, isn't easy.
There are two major challenges here. The first, very simply, is being, well, objective. In most cases, media evaluations are conducted by someone in a company's marketing or PR department who reviews each article and assigns it a score based on some predetermined criteria. While the intent is to quantify the tone and tenor of an article, the method still relies on the opinion of the reader. Further complicating matters, the person evaluating each article is, very often, the same person who placed the article and whose own worth is determined by the strength of the coverage. Needless to say, this isn't a good recipe for impartiality.
The second challenge is devising a set of measurements that allows for a comparison of results. Without the ability to compare and contrast coverage, it's difficult to get a true measure of your company's image in the press or the effectiveness of your PR campaign. Again, it's possible to devise a grading system that provides a basis for comparison, but if the underlying means of evaluation is personal preference, the results will always be questionable.
Fortunately, as with media monitoring, there are computerized systems that automate much of the process and, in doing so, bring a measure of objectivity to the subjective data. These systems combine the features of an electronic clipping service with a series of algorithm-based measurements to capture, categorize and assess company-specific coverage, as well as coverage of competitors and the industry at large.
Media measuring systems offer three advantages:
- Since each article is weighed according to a set of mathematical equations, the results are completely objective. Human frailties, such as pride, insecurity and anger, are removed from the equation.
- The predetermined set of measurements makes it very easy to compare coverage from different periods of time, PR campaigns and messaging exercises, as well as between your company and its competition. The better-equipped media monitoring systems also provide the ability to drill down to specific criteria and determine whether one factor, such as publication type, has an impact on another, such as tonality of coverage. This depth of information can be extremely helpful in instances such as crisis situations, when companies may prefer to work with those reporters who generally issue more favorable coverage.
- Automated measurement systems generate easy-to-understand, graphically enhanced reports that can be appreciated by those who don't have a PR background. Report information is condensed into color-coded bar graphs and pie charts that offer a simple yet effective representation of how your PR efforts contribute to your company's success.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to computerized measurement. The first is cost. Fortunately, with advances in technology, the price of automated measurement and analysis has dropped significantly, making it a viable option for more small businesses.
There's also an issue with the limitations of objectivity. While the objectivity of automated measurement is one of its fundamental benefits, PR is still more art than science. So no matter how accurate the scoring system, the ultimate measure of PR is how the individual reader perceives the coverage.
There's little question that strategic, proactive PR can have a positive impact on a company's bottom line. For small businesses, the ability for PR to accelerate overall growth is even more substantial. However, if PR is done haphazardly, with little regard for outcome (beyond scoring a hit), then much of the effort will go underutilized.
To get the most out of all your PR efforts, you should carefully consider the benefits of media monitoring and measurement and choose the system that best suits your company's immediate and long-range needs.
Mark Nowlan is Entrepreneur.com's "PR" columnist and senior vice president of marketing & communications at PR Newswire. Nowlan is a frequent lecturer on media relations, strategic communications and crisis communications at industry conferences around the country. Get more information about PR Newswire and public relations with their PR Toolkit for small businesses.