Measuring value for Public Relations has always been difficult, and contrary to some commentators, digital metrics haven’t necessarily made things easier.

Far from a remedy to our measurement woes, the wealth of data has only muddied the waters for many PR professionals. The words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his Rime of the Ancient Mariner come to mind: “Water, water everywhere, nor any a drop to drink”. Never have more metrics provided less meaningful information.

The Content Marketing Institutes’ latest report examining marketing trends in the finance industry captures the difficulty of measuring the success of content. The CMI’s survey of finance marketers found more than 40% rank their ROI tracking as ineffective, while another 14% don’t track ROI at all.

Tracking ROI in PR has always been tricky given PR is not strictly a function driving sales and has innately an element of intangibility. PR is about awareness and building audiences; marketers then turn those audiences into paying customers. Or as marketing professional Al Ries once said, “let PR light the fire, and marketing fan the flames”.

But PR professionals must be accountable to our clients, and digital does provide a wealth of tools to do so.

So when it comes to measuring value for PR success, how should we do it?


I believe there are three categories to demonstrate the value of PR. These can be used separately, but are most powerful when used in combination:

1. Outcome measurement simply rates your PR output; share of voice, key message penetration, content rating, outlet rating, etc. At Buchan, we have developed a comparative analysis framework we called BOMS (Buchan Overall Media Score), which produces a score to demonstrate the quality and quantity of earned coverage – benchmarked historically and against competitors.

2. Causation measurement takes this approach one step further by attempting to demonstrate what actions your PR efforts sparked (i.e. social media sharing, web traffic, backlinks and branded search volume).

3. Return on investment measurement. Return on investment measurement is usually tied to sales, but given what we know about PR and the fact we are not beholden to sales KPIs, how can you measure value for PR?

One place to start is by measuring the number of leads your PR activity has created. Not everyone who has read an article or a tweet is a potential lead, but those who take the next step – seek out a website, place a phone call or send an email – can be classified as a lead. But this approach has some pitfalls:

How much is a lead worth? If we are measuring the number of leads created we need to place a value on how much each lead is worth. One approach is to examine historical website data to determine if a correlation exists between web traffic and new business (e.g. if I get 100 new visitors for every 1 sale worth $100, each lead is worth $1). But that can be misleading in an industry like finance where there may not be a clean correlation. And there’s as big difference between traffic and quality.

How many leads can be attributed to PR efforts? How much of your website traffic can be attributed to a piece of media coverage, contributed article or social media? Measuring value for short-term leads is easier (it’s a safe bet that website hits in the 48 hours after a piece of coverage can be attributed to PR) and Google Analytics can track direct in-bound links and new visitors, but long-tail leads, or anyone that doesn’t take immediate action on a piece of content, are far more difficult to quantify.

The other approach to measuring the ROI of PR would come not at the beginning of the sales journey but at the end by asking new customers what promotional activity brought them to the table. There are three main approaches to this:

Which promotional activity first introduced them to the brand?
Which promotional activity was the last you saw before deciding to make contact?
Which promotional activity was the most influential in making contact?
This methodology is also problematic. Are first impressions more valuable than last impressions? You’re also relying heavily on the accuracy of the customers’ responses.


Assuming you can determine the number of leads and the value of each lead, measuring ROI comes down to a fairly simply formula (one developed by Christopher Penn).

ROI formula:

(The value of a new lead x number of new leads) – PR Investment

PR Investment x 100


At the end of the day, communicators should apply a layer of introspection as well as ask their clients; what does success look like? Remember success is relative to the campaign, the client and the industry; ROI is simply one metric used to determine success.

If you go down the ROI route to measuring value, just ensure you are taking the utmost care to determine just how much each lead is worth and how many can be attributed to PR.

Metrics mean nothing in isolation – make sure the ones you’re using actually make sense and are meaningful to the success you are trying to demonstrate.

This post was first published on Buchan.

PR Measurement

Ben Oliver, Digital Lead, Buchan

Ben leads Buchan’s digital practice, and is the Australian lead for Studio D, the digital arm of our global partner, WE Worldwide. Based in Melbourne, Ben provides strategic direction and consultation to clients covering their paid, earned, owned and social media strategies, while managing account teams across both Buchan offices.