Calculating the return on investment—ROI—of public relations activity is a notoriously difficult process. Ultimately, the objective of PR is to win hearts and minds. How do you measure that?
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) crowdsourced its definition of PR, and came up with:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
This is probably the best place to start in an attempt to break down what can be used as a standard to both establish a baseline and therefore measured to get to ROI. The phrase “communication process” is important, because established processes can generally be measured.
PR efforts are often tricky to measure quantitatively. There is of course value in positive brand or company perception, but assessing a number—to be precise, a dollar figure—that directly maps back exclusively to PR activity can present a challenge.
Here’s how to do it
- It’s said often, but step one is to tie PR goals to the KPIs of the organization.
- Always establish a baseline for whatever you are measuring. You need to know where you are starting from if you’re going to be looking at numbers.
- Define your target audiences, and identify all of the channels through which they can best be reached, whether it’s traditional media, social channels, grassroots outreach, or all of the above.
- Determine your measurement process—this could mean using measurement tools, like a monitoring platform, or, it could mean deploying things like user/audience surveys.
- Determine your timeline(s). If you’re running a fixed-length program that will go on for six months, you know your start and end times, and you’ll probably want monthly or halfway measurement markers too. If your timeframe is ongoing, determine useful intervals to measure.
- Determine what outcomes or consumer behavior you’ll be measuring.
- Give your measurement programs enough time to collect data before you start adjusting your processes too heavily.
How will collecting and measuring this data improve ROI?
As you are measuring these elements, patterns will emerge. You’ll be able to see what is working and what isn’t. Moving resources to what is working will improve results—this could mean anything from shifting resources to social media outreach programs that work from efforts that did not, or it could mean allocating additional dollars to improve results.
Establishing a measurement program will directly impact your ability to demonstrate the effectiveness of PR—and it will also likely show where inefficiencies exist in your programs. By discovering and correcting these inefficiencies, you’ll be able to spend more time on the strategies, tactics, and programs that work. That is how you use measurement to improve ROI of PR.