My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys… err… PR Measurement Pros


Sep 3, 2019

The real PR superheroes are the creators of the Barcelona Principles, the basis for modern PR measurement.

Not too long ago, PR News Online published a fun piece about PR superheroes. I loved this story because I’ve always wanted to be a superhero. It made me believe that one day, if I try hard enough and excel in my career, I might be able to gain PR superhero recognition and be invited to join the Justice League… OK, OK, never mind; my kids have me grounded enough to know this is highly unlikely. Though I may never gain superhero status, I have devoted some time to searching for a few real life PR superheroes.

Great news, I found a group of people PR pros can admire (though my kids were not impressed)! These caped* crusaders are the collective group of legends who brought us the basis for cohesive modern PR measurement, the Barcelona Principles. The principles they defined paved the way for three different types of PR measurement: media impact, customer impact, and business impact. All three types can be simplified with modern technology.

PR Measurement Pain and The Birth of the Barcelona Principles

Everyone working in PR knows the challenges of PR measurement. For me, it all started in college when my mentor/instructor looked at the class on the first day of the “ROI” section and grimly told us that proving the worth of PR would be the biggest challenge of our career. She explained that PR and marketing were always the first departments to be cut when budgets gets tight, making success metrics imperative.  Even more challenging, she said every client would have a different opinion on how to properly measure PR success. Yes, she was a bit of a downer that day.

To her credit, this was the 1990s and at the time we didn’t know a heroic team of crusaders (a.k.a. superheroes) would gather in Barcelona 15 years later to conquer PR measurement evil..

Their work, published by the Institute for Public Relations, is known as the Barcelona Principles and is the basis for cohesive thinking across the PR industry.

As a refresher, the principles and short summaries are as follow:

  1. The Importance of Goal Setting and Measurement: All campaigns should be built with a set of quantitative and qualitative goals – know from the beginning what impact you are looking to achieve.
  2. Media Measurement Requires Quantity and Quality: Your success should not be based on clip count alone. Quantitative measurement should look further, towards impressions among targeted audience members; qualitative measurement should place importance on tone, message pull through, prominence, etc.
  3. Advertising Value Equivalencies (AVEs) are not the Value of Public Relations: Let’s face is, some clients/CEOs still love the AVE, but it is universally agreed that AVEs do not accurately reflect PR campaign success.
  4. Social Media Can and Should be Measured: Not surprising in 2013, we should measure social media. This principle acknowledges that social media measurement is equally important as traditional media.
  5. Measuring Outcomes is Preferred to Measuring Media Results: This principle acts as a reminder that we need to look at our long game; we are not just measuring the result of an individual pitch or campaign. Measuring change in awareness, customer attitudes and behavior over time is imperative.
  6. Business Results Can and Should be Measured Where Possible: What impact is PR having on universal business goals? When possible, we need to find ways to measure leads, revenue, or other corporate business objectives.
  7. Transparency and Replication are Paramount to Sound Measurement: Make sure your measurement is transparent and digestible; it must make sense to those with whom it’s shared.

Three Types of PR Measurement and How Technology Can Help

If you dig into the Barcelona Principles you’ll begin to see a pattern take shape that can be broken into three types of PR measurement. Principles 1-4 fall into campaign-based measurement that capture the media impact of PR campaigns/pitches (type 1). Principle 5 looks at the macro trends of altered perception and customer impact (type 2). Principle 6 recognizes the need to prove/measure a business impact (type 3).

Many have broken these principles down into similar, digestible types of PR measurement. To my knowledge no one has done it better than Ketchum as they described in their “Principles of PR Measurement” presentation.

Measuring the impact of PR is now much easier than it once was thanks to the vast capabilities of PR software.

PR Measurement Type 1:  Media Impact

Measuring PR impact on media looks at individual PR campaigns and should be captured on a regular basis or in real time. Type 1 includes the metrics most of us are familiar with today: clip counts, AVE, impressions, tonality, prominence, social media activity, share of voice, coverage in target publications, etc. While some of these metrics are controversial in the PR world today (e.g. AVE and clip count) they all have merit when measuring the results of an individual campaign or pitch.

Ultimately, what you choose to measure should depend on the goals of the individual campaign. For instance, if you are launching a new B2B software product you are likely more interested in the quality of coverage than the quantity. In this case, you’d look less at clip count, AVE or impressions and more at coverage in target publications, tonality and prominence. On the flip side, if you are launching a new consumer product and your goal is to reach as many eyeballs as possible, you are likely focusing on impressions and possibly clip count or AVE. These should be measured for every pitch and campaign and/or captured monthly, quarterly and annually.

Today’s media monitoring tools can easily track all of the above-mentioned metrics. If you choose your tools wisely, you can easily set them to do quite a bit of the work for you. For instance, if you know that you need to measure tonality, impressions and share of voice you can set your tools to capture all of this information “automagically” and create digestible charts, graphs and coverage reports.

PR Measurement Type 2: Customer Impact

Measuring PR impact on your customer base is historically tricky, costly and time consuming, however, it’s also the most important in illustrating PR value. I recall the days when I paid handsomely for in-depth focus groups that measured customer brand awareness, perception, etc. These studies are extremely valuable for setting benchmarks and measuring impact on customers over time, but as we see budgets shrink, they are tougher and tougher to justify. I recommend collecting awareness/customer impact data once or twice a year.

Today, those of us working with tight budgets and limited bandwidth can create similar reports using technology we simply did not have access to a few years ago. Measuring customer awareness can be as simple as partnering with a market research firm (such as Harris Interactive) for an annual awareness survey. By harnessing the technology of third-party research firms, PR can pinpoint a proper customer base and create questions to be included in an omnibus survey. The resulting report will help you to set a baseline you can measure against. This type of study will deliver valuable insight into overall awareness, demographics, etc. Alternatively, a less expensive option is a web-based survey company (such as Survey Monkey).

PR Measurement Type 3: Business Impact

Measuring the impact of PR on business results is the step many skip; it can be very tricky and remains the toughest nut to crack. Each and every one of us will have a slightly different business impact goal, most likely related to revenue, leads, traffic (brick and mortar or online) or similar. Determining which of these makes sense for you can only be answered internally and most likely will be heavily influenced by what your CEO finds most valuable.

Assuming you have an online presence, your digital marketing team should be your best friends; they have access to analytics that will help prove business impact.  Tools, such as Google Analytics, make measuring revenue, traffic or leads from PR possible. I don’t want to downplay how tricky this process can be, but is well worth the effort. Seeing and sharing metrics that prove PR drives meaningful business impact is simply magical.

I started this article with feelings of admiration and awe for the superheroes who standardized PR measurement with the Barcelona Principles; if these folks don’t have capes we should send each of them one. Along the way, I realized that there are many superheroes in our world, for instance the people who create the technology that supports each of our measurement efforts. We can’t forget the digital marketing teams that help us along the way – they too are superheroes, in my book.

With that I think I have convinced myself that there’s an untapped market opportunity – superhero capes! Look out for my new online business “Ye Old Superhero Cape Shoppe.” I may also carry tights and utility belts, but I haven’t decided yet…

*In truth, they probably did not and do not wear capes