Picture a world where everyone on your public relations team has the information they need to be successful. Everyone has clear PR goals—and set timeframes for achieving them. They all track key performance indicators (KPIs) to calculate, quantify and optimize their programs and measure PR to prove its ROI. Everyone knows exactly where their projects stand.
This world is no longer a fantasy. But taking advantage of this brave new data-fueled world requires identifying the right KPIs, using tools that measure PR performance, then presenting results in clear, convincing reports.
It can seem overwhelming to zero in the right KPIs, gather the data you need to track them and show how your PR activities are contributing toward the company’s goals. Start by looking at your business goals, and breaking down what you need to do to get there. As you progress and compare metric results over time, you’ll gain significant insights into what’s working and what needs refining.
Although the idea of setting PR KPIs can feel a little intimidating at first, it isn’t that complicated once you document what you’re trying to achieve with your external communications, how those efforts positively support your business, and how you can measure ROI from that support. We’ve broken down how to do this into four steps, with the questions to ask yourself along the way to identify your KPIs and public relations metrics.
As the saying goes, you can't manage what you can't measure. It's important to link your public relations goals back to the wider business goals if you're to have control over strategic elements that affect the direction of the general business. Furthermore, aligning what it is you do with that of the c-suite will help you get buy-in.
When identifying the business goals you want to influence with your public relations strategy, ask yourself, what measurable outcomes are your efforts designed to increase? Market share? Web traffic? Positive brand sentiment? Brand awareness? Attendance? Enrollment? Donations? Are you entering a new market or launching a new product? Or are you maintaining or growing an existing business and product line?
Decide what is your top measurable priority? Here are some ideas:
- To change perception
- Increase brand awareness
- Manage brand reputation
- Establish thought leadership
Now think about how your efforts in PR contribute to specific business goals through media outreach, awareness building, and customer engagement. For example, perhaps your brand has recently gone through a crisis and sales have slumped as a result. If your goal is to change brand perception and reduce brand reputation damage, you might want to tie this back to customer engagement. If you measure customer engagement and see it start to rise again, this would suggest your brand is recovering, plus, it has a more direct line to retention and sales - two goals the c-suite are likely to place a lot of attention on.
How can you connect and calculate what you’ve outlined and measured above to concrete business value? Profit.
It's important to document what public relations can both do and measure and compare that to what the business is trying to achieve. This will help you decide which measurable KPIs are the most important.
For a simplified KPI example, using the above framework, let’s look at building awareness for your brand through thought leadership. You’ve identified specific themes to emphasize in your outreach. Your goal is to increase media coverage associating your brand for a thought leadership boost.
If you know from experience that it typically takes three interactions with a reporter before you get a reply to your pitch, and you typically need to reach out to 10 reporters to get a month’s worth of coverage, your monthly outreach quota would be 30 outreach attempts. If your hit rate gets better over time, and your goals stay the same, you’ll be able to lower your monthly outreach quota and dedicate your time and resources toward other KPIs.
In addition to internal KPIs, which measure how you are performing against yourself over time, you’ll also want to benchmark the results you found from PR measurement against those of competitors and aspirational brands. This is important as it gives you an accurate picture of the possible results a company in your industry can attain.
KPIs are worthless if you don’t have the right tools for tracking and measuring progress. The combination of tools that your communications and marketing team uses is known as your “marketing technology stack,” and choosing the right ones involves making big decisions. Historically, PR measurement was a difficult process, but thanks to advances in technology such as AI, machine learning and predictive analytics, PR measurement is no longer an uphill battle.
PR measurement tools, like Meltwater’s comprehensive media intelligence platform, will deliver the data you need to track essential metrics. As you dive deeper, you’ll want to get yourself familiar with the tools other departments are using and the overlapping goals that you are all supporting. This will help break down the silos between departments and allow you to offer a more holistic customer experience as a result.
The communications and marketing teams will likely have several shared goals, such as:
These are all things PR can influence and measure ROI from.
However, when you understand what’s important to your colleagues—and they better understand what’s important to you—you can then align KPIs accordingly and share the metrics you need to track them. For instance, PR might traditionally focus on media coverage and the number of brand mentions. But the modern PR pro understands the importance of measuring how coverage has both indirect and direct implications on leads, including generating web referrals, and SEO increasing domain authority. When the PR team demonstrates through clear metrics that they are supporting business goals in this way, it helps move PR from being a “nice to have” to a driver of business growth.
As you start measuring performance, you’ll want to determine an initial baseline number as the starting point for tracking each KPI.
This baseline represents the results you expect given normal operation. Instead of looking exclusively at industry standards, compare your latest monthly, quarterly, and annual results to your results from a similar time period. Choose whatever intervals make the most sense to your organization. As your results improve, you’ll want to push yourself to even greater heights—with the data to prove your results!