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Measuring Your PR Success

Your annual PR report should contain more than just media hits. Find out what you could be missing.

It's time to evaluate the success of your 2007 PR campaigns. Measuring your results against business objectives is critical when planning activities for the new year.

PR professionals have used some of the same forms of measurement for decades. The most obvious and widely used is the number of media hits achieved, which can be compared from year to year.

However, PR isn't just a numbers game, nor is it just about media coverage. To achieve long-term PR value, you need to embrace qualitative factors, such as relationships, awareness and positive perception. And while traditional tools are useful, less obvious measurements can help paint a more detailed, colorful and accurate picture.

1. Reporter relationships
One of the most valuable--but often overlooked--facets of a good PR strategy is the relationships forged with reporters. Take the time to assess the reporters you've built relationships with, the publication or media outlet they contribute to and how this association has affected your media coverage. This will tell you where you're doing well and which outlets need more attention.

When a reporter knows you and you understand what information he or she needs that you can provide, you have the basis for enhanced media coverage. Looking at your list, evaluate how you see each reporter influencing your PR activities in the next year. What do you think they'll write about, and can your business be part of that coverage? Can they be used as a resource for contacting other reporters or gathering information?

Another measure of successful relationship building is how often reporters contact you or your company without prompting. When reporters habitually contact you directly, you've hit the PR jackpot. A reporter seeking your input means you've established yourself and your company as a trusted, credible and valuable source.

Look back at the past year and list the reporters who have called or e-mailed you. Note the type of media outlet--publications, websites and broadcast media--and, if possible, what sort of inquiries you received. Is there a pattern of communication? Is there any way you can further assist a reporter or prepare in advance for such queries?

Finally, remember to add your reporter contacts to your holiday card list.

2. Internal processes
Take note of the internal processes related to your PR activities and evaluate what has worked and what hasn't. Have you established internal rules for speaking to the media and sending out news releases? How have you communicated your PR strategy to your team? If so, how have they responded?

Also step back and look at the results from an outsider's point of view. Analyze what you need to do to achieve your PR goals. Looking at the situation from other perspectives will help you identify areas for improvement.

3. Mentions in competitor articles
Counting media hits usually involves the articles you generated or that feature your company prominently. An often-overlooked area is the number of times your business was mentioned in articles about your competitors. For a growing business, this can be an important indication of success, particularly in developing brand awareness.

Once you have identified the number of articles your company was mentioned in, note how your company was portrayed in relation to your competitors. Was your business mentioned in a positive light? Over time, this analysis will indicate whether perception of your brand is changing.

4. Managing crises
In business, it's how you manage the ups and downs that matters. Analyze how you managed any difficult business issues from a PR perspective during the past year. Did you have a crisis plan in place and, if so, how effective was it? How did the media respond to the situation? Were you able to manage the process, construct key messages and ensure your side of the story was heard? If there was an article or other coverage of the situation, was it balanced and fair? Were you able to handle the situation and the media interest while running your business?

When the crisis occurred, you may not have analyzed the effect the media coverage had on sales or other aspects of your business. Time and distance can help you assess the situation with a calm and rational mindset. If you have a crisis plan in place, take this time to review it and amend it based on what you've learned. And if you don't have a plan, now is the time to start.

5. Sales activity and market share
The ultimate function of PR is to increase sales and improve the bottom line. The connection between an article and a sale may not always be direct, but all PR activities should have that goal in mind.

Track year-over-year sales to identify where PR exposure has influenced buying. When doing this, remember that PR, by its nature, is a slow process. But if you're achieving positive coverage and an increase in exposure, you'll likely see an upswing in activity at some point.

These less-obvious PR measurements can reveal a lot about your achievements--and weaknesses. Over time, you'll see trends emerge; acting on them in the right way will help you grow your business.

Rachel Meranus is vice president of communications at PR Newswire, an online press release distribution network based in New York. Get more information about PR Newswire and public relations with their PR Toolkit for small businesses.

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