Public Relations is a profession that is fast catching up with the digitally-transforming world. Brands are now opting for external consultancies that can handle their accounts, right from featuring articles in print publications, crafting press releases and capturing quotes from media spokespersons, to a complete brand management in the online space.
So, how does one measure the return on investment in the PR space? ROI is all about numbers. But PR being so dynamic and volatile, where yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s street food takeaway paper, as well as being a highly subjective and qualitative field, it is not always possible to calculate an accurate and justifiable ROI for PR campaigns and activities. So, even though tools and metrics are in place for various parameters, the results of these need to be interpreted with the ultimate PR objective in mind.
Let’s first take a look at some methods of quantification.
Domain Authority & Search Engine Optimisation
There are certain metrics over and above the basic calculation of earned media costs versus paid media costs. Used to iterate a data-driven story, DA & SEO ensures that your website ranking remains amongst the top. Complementing Google Analytics, these results help PR firms position their client’s news to generate more visibility. News websites such as BBC and The Guardian are said to have the highest domain authority by implementing this. While this does not deliver ROI in the sense of providing a number-based impact, it does ensure that whatever PR initiatives are taken, are at least getting maximum exposure.
Optimising Existing Data Points
A lot of companies use HotJar and Website Grader by HubSpot to track their page views and click-through-rates. Additionally, parameters like page taps, scroll depth are also factored in. Website Grader also gives brands an idea of how comfortable the user interface of a website is with elements like upload speed and mobile optimisation indicating how long users are likely to stay on and use a website. To a great extent, the returns can also be measured through the enquiries received and the conversion ratio of potential leads to business, generated via LinkedIn. Another technique is by creating hyperlinks (of other brands and for your brand). This can earn you more credits in the SEO ranking process, thereby producing measurable data that indicates an increase in traction to the website.
Media monitoring is an important yet complex way of determining ROI on PR initiatives. However, while these tools deliver a wide range of insights, the interpretation is what truly matters. Analysis of this data must be based on the initial objective of a PR campaign and the routes that have been taken for communication. With short copy and simple creatives, views might be enough, but with longer copy such as blogs and featured articles, scroll depth is a better indicator. As long as PR is retaining its principle of being earned media, it will be difficult to actually extrapolate engagement to sales directly, unless PR content provides direct links to products and services on a brand’s website.
The tools have been used. Now what?
PR consultancies need to define specific PR KPIs, as well as specific objectives for each client and each campaign. What is it that the client expects of you? Changing an existing perception, rebuilding a new one with renewed branding, reputation management or simply keeping the brand in positive highlights?
These KPIs need to be documented and aligned with the company’s existing business goals. Defining a clear PR strategy based on a definite concrete goal for the brand, and then focussing efforts in that direction is the most important step in ensuring that PR efforts yield tangible results.
Once such clarity is in place, and the tools for measuring engagement, visibility and brand recall have yielded some numbers, the next step comes into play. By virtue of the very nature of Public Relations, PR efforts are not meant to directly drive sales, but rather are aimed at establishing a brand in positive light as trustworthy experts with a favourable reputation. Therefore, expecting direct sales numbers that genuinely reflect PR impact is futile. Those can be obtained from advertising and marketing ROI analyses. Instead of diverting these numbers to calculate a skewed or indirect perspective of profits or sales from PR strategies, perhaps the prudent way to go is to look at cost effectiveness, meaning that the ROI in PR must focus on whether said investment has helped achieve the PR goal, and whether there is a way to achieve the same goal for less.