Measuring the Value of Digital Outreach: Keep it Simple

Setting blogger outreach objectives Photo credit: view7 / photocase.com

“So my Public Relations account director, tell me the value of that?”

Does this question make you squirm in your seat or leap up with joy? I think I know the answer!

Where’s the value? What worked and what didn’t work? Why should I pay you that monthly retainer? Can you justify your fees?

Perhaps not often asked as directly as this, but similar questions are increasingly being asked as budgets are squeezed and clients look for greater accountability to maximise value from their resource allocations.

So why is value in PR such an issue?

To a large extent the public relations industry still suffers from an historic debilitating condition where measurement and value are simply too far down the agenda.

This is in part down to a reliance on a traditional industry standard, the Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE). For some time now this has been recognised as flawed and has been widely discredited. I think it is also in part down to the nature of the beast – PR people are good with words – they like to tell stories, be creative and paint pictures with words; they are not inherently good with numbers or analytics.

And yet as long ago as 1999, the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) set out “Guidelines for Setting Measurable Public Relations Objectives”. It starts by stating:

Measurable objectives in public relations do two things:

1 They facilitate and support business objectives, thus demonstrating that PR activities support the business or performance goals and are thereby ‘strategic’; and

2 They enable PR practitioners to show they have achieved what they set out to achieve, and thereby demonstrate accountability

All eminently sensible, but it seems that the industry took little notice. Without an easy standard to jump onto and with old ways prevailing, little changed.

But the world has now changed

Old-school attitudes that prevailed in the last century are now out-dated as the dramatic changes in the way the world communicates transform the industry – and not just in terms of measurement. PR agencies must grapple with how to effectively change their business models to accommodate the digital consumer and the rise of social media.

In a wider context Brian Solis calls it “Digital Darwinism” – “adapt or die!”. This week’s ICCO (“The International Communications Consultancy Organisation”) Summit has borrowed from this by boldly calling their event Change or Perish: The Future of PR”.

For a more in depth look at the history of PR measurement and current developments, this presentation will point you in the right direction:

The impact on measurement of the digitisation and disintermediation of communications is considerable. On the plus side, a digital world enables much greater transparency via analytics and data mining. On the down side, it brings with it the potential for enormous complexity and in a world where time is one of the scarcest resources, complexity is a killer.

We all crave simplicity

A number of the industry bodies have picked up the baton and joined forces to help define industry standards for measurement. Having been party to some of these discussions, I commend those involved for leading the profession in this area. However, the material problem that is largely unresolved is the application of these standards.

There are a vast array of analytics solution providers out there, but the majority require a considerable amount of investment of time and money just to understand them, never mind working with them to derive value. Complex dashboards filled with a variety of metrics mined from the big data in real time – starting to squirm in your seat again?

But it doesn’t have to be like this. I am a strong advocate of simple, actionable measurement, focussing on the small number of important variables that really matter. I recognise that PR has a much broader remit than just digital outreach and that there are often qualitative longer-term benefits that should be considered, but how about this for a simple starting point:

Visibility: how many people might have seen your story?

Engagement: how many people actually engaged with your story (via social media)?

Links: how many new links to your landing page were created?

Traffic: how many new visitors to your website were there?

Would presenting this type of simple data to a client not be more compelling than a list of mentions or a spurious AVE number?

Google analytics is your friend to help you here and if you’ve got this far, you are nearly at the point where you can measure right through to what really matters – business outcomes: sales and the impact on the bottom line.

It’s possible to collate this data from a variety of sources across the internet, but Inkybee can do it all for you as this one minute snapshot demonstrates.

Using analytics to get beyond monitoring and tracking may seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Ultimately, simplicity is key. How do you do it?

NOTE: A version of this post was originally published by Elena Verlee on her public relations blog, “PR in your Pajamas: Practical Publicity for Entrepreneurs”.

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  • http://www.polarisprinc.com/blog Shelley Pringle

    Hi Hugh, we are definitely aligned. I especially like your thoughts on AVEs. I thought we had buried those for good, but they are starting to appear again in client conversations.

    • http://blog.forthmetrics.com/ Hugh Anderson

      Thanks, Shelley. AVE’s aren’t dead yet. It would be an interesting graph to plot the rise in occurrence of “Google Analytics” against the fall in occurrence of “AVE’s” in PR conversations.

  • http://www.bluevolcanomedia.com/ Marjorie R. Asturias

    One of the biggest challenges that I’ve found with some clients and prospects is the fact that we don’t control all stages of the sales and marketing pipeline. So I sometimes have to educate clients who wonder why they’re not getting any leads and remind them again that, say, their website (which someone else on their team created) isn’t optimized for conversions. Or their landing page is missing a call to action or confusing or inappropriate. Or their call center agents aren’t well-trained or can’t speak English. Or any number of other reasons. Since we’re at the top of the sales funnel driving leads, we find that the drop-off in conversions happens at the end of the funnel, where leads flee when they receive an off-putting email pitch from the company salesperson or a message with just a link and a thank-you.

    We’re getting better about clarifying expectations at every stage of the online marketing and PR process, but it’s still a challenge. Fortunately, thanks to the analytics tools you mention in your post, we’re able to give hard numbers as to the influence and reach of our campaigns.

    Cheers,
    Marjorie

    • http://blog.forthmetrics.com/ Hugh Anderson

      Thanks for commenting, Marjorie, and great point. It’s guess it’s quite a headache when a client falls down in another part of the process that you can’t control. All part of the education process.

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