man reading a newspaper

The evolving art of PR evaluation

PR has long been known as a difficult discipline to evaluate. AVE has been dead in the water for years (thank god) – and how could we forget PR value? In my first PR role we multiplied AVE by three to get the ‘PR value’ of a piece of coverage because editorial was ‘known’ to be three times more effective than advertising (apparently…).

You can see how easy it becomes to manipulate figures and deliver reporting that isn’t, in any way, meaningful. Let alone doing nothing to help the Ab Fab reputation of the industry. In the days where senior members of the board might not be as au fait with marketing metrics, it was all too easy for PRs to blind them with big numbers with no substance behind them.

Evaluation is still a huge hurdle the industry needs to overcome. There are so many different ways of doing it, but are we missing a standardised approach that removes any creative interpretation of results, and puts all agencies or in-house practitioners on a level playing field?

Another bug bear of mine is output or volume-based KPIs. How can you be delivering quality coverage if you’re frantically flapping trying to place one more piece so you’ve hit that monthly target (especially if it’s on a site you can upload to yourselves… you know what I’m talking about PRs…)?

So, what are the metrics we have at our disposal, and what are our thoughts on them?

  • Number of cuttings

An age-old metric, it would be hard not to include this in reporting but there needs to be commentary behind it. It really doesn’t matter if you’ve had 100+ pieces of coverage one month, if the media outlet they’re in is irrelevant and doesn’t reach your target audience.

  • Reach/circulation

This one gets complicated. It’s important to know how many people have had the potential to read your content but, again, the way the figures are reported isn’t always consistent. You need to take into account whether the media outlets are daily, weekly or monthly and make sure the way you report the circulation figures works regardless. Similar to social reporting, it’s important to position these figures properly i.e., we’re not saying aone million people have read your news, we’re saying one million have had the potential to read your news… It doesn’t mean they’ve engaged with it.

  • Top tier coverage

For me, this is key. It’s easy to place coverage. It isn’t easy to place coverage in the right titles; the titles your clients want to be in. Obviously, there’s an element of managing expectations here… Everyone wants to be in the Sunday Telegraph and I’ve lost track of how many briefs say ‘broadcast coverage is key’, with the client unable to explain why… But having a list of top tier titles is crucial when it comes to delivering meaningful results and trying to get in front of the right audience. This should be a critical part of any comms strategy and naturally form part of the reporting too.

  • Key message inclusion

This is also key. But it’s important to align on key messaging – these should not be sales messages because they’ll get stripped out straight away by any decent journalist. You also run the risk of your content being discounted straight away if it reads like a sales pitch – journalists don’t always have time to re-write copy anymore – so the messaging you’re evaluating needs to be agreed on up-front and needs to have a benefit for the reader (not just the brand). If this can be agreed on, evaluating it is important.

  • Image inclusion

This isn’t relevant for everyone but can be a nice addition to certain stories or for certain clients, depending on the subject matter.

  • Share of voice

If you’re able to benchmark share of voice against competitors, this is a great metric to include. It doesn’t necessarily have to be done monthly but if you can add your [key] competitors to your press cuttings service, it enables you to keep an eye on what they’re doing, what’s getting traction, and where they’re placing their coverage, which is all useful insight to have (and the type of information clients generally love).

  • Analytics

Depending on a client’s objectives, having access to their analytics can be really powerful and enable you to add commentary around their reporting e.g., the coverage in Good Housekeeping drove the most traffic to their product page since the start of the year… How can you question the value of PR with stats like that?

So, while there’s a myriad of reporting mechanisms (and the above is by no means extensive), it’s important to focus on the metrics that matter. Evaluation is still evolving, and will no doubt continue to do so, but a standardised approach set by an industry body is what we’re crying out for. Standardised reporting would help remove any blurring over the accountability of the discipline we all know is critical for the success of brands.

About the author: Amy Airey is CreativeRace’s new Communications Director. Amy has extensive experience in communications and PR, working on big name brands such as British Military Fitness, Morphy Richards, Landsec, Barratt Developments, Yorkshire Water and Thomas Cook.