Measuring PR Success

Few topics can whip a group of public relations professionals into a lather faster than news clips. For the uninitiated, news clips refers to the regular and systematic collection and analysis of news stories. It harks back to the bad old days when entry-level public relations people would spend most of their time scanning newspapers and magazines for mentions of their clients or companies.

These stories would be clipped, copied, stapled, and distributed to senior mucky mucks as a testament of how much the public relations department or firm was doing. Never mind that many of those stories were not actually a result of any proactive work, but more reaction to reporters’ queries for information or interviews.

Clipping went digital a while ago with services such as Bacon’s and Luce Press Clippings. These services automate all the clipping, freeing up those entry-level PR people to call and annoy news assignment desks, checking to see if they received their most recent press release.

These clipping services also now scan the Internet – web sites, newsgroups, relevant mailing lists – for positive, negative, or neutral mentions of companies. Companies can access reports over the web or via fax. PR agencies often use these as part of larger public relations activity reports to their clients.

Clip And Save!

Some more advanced public relations departments are even performing algorithms on those newspaper clips to determine the advertising value of the particular article. In other words, they’re trying to determine how much that press coverage would have cost had the client bought the equivalent space as advertising.

For example, a recent Delahaye Medialink study suggested that public relations has an average cost of less than a penny per impression, with the average cost per article at about $1,080 for 25 top companies.

While these numbers may be cooked a little more than a well-done holiday roast, there is movement afoot to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of public relations versus advertising. The intention of this analysis boils down to justifying one’s existence.

The bottom line to all this frantic clipping is allegedly to show the results of all the hard work the public relations department or firm has done in the past week, month, quarter, whatever. But the problem is that it often falls woefully short of impressing senior mucky mucks.

Basically, this kind of short-sighted “see what we did” showmanship just tells the CEO what the PR people have done. While this is important, it does not take things to the next level of showing what the PR people have accomplished.

Press Coverage Is Not An Ends In Itself

If public relations departments want to be taken seriously in their companies, they need to develop more sophisticated forms of measurement. You need to spell it out for the CEO.

So you landed a front-page, above-the-fold story in the local newspaper – that’s nice. But how did it improve our business?

This is the task before public relations people – to demonstrate more clearly how these activities (including media relations, community relations, investor relations, etc.) contribute to the success of the company. To that end, this requires more strategic planning and measurement of public perceptions, attitudes, and awareness.

Next week, we’ll examine some tools the experts are using, and how they are showing the CEO how their PR activities are just as valuable as “the other guys.

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