There's always been a lot of debate about whether public relations is effective, particularly when it comes to generating new sales. Some professionals will tell you PR is all about branding, and others will show how efforts correlate real results.
Here's my take on it: While PR can help develop your brand and build awareness, it can also be a very effective sales tool. To determine how effective it is, you have build public relations campaigns to track real results, not just the things that make you feel good or swell your ego.
Whether you have an internal PR team, have hired external help or are doing it yourself, following are the key PR metrics you should track to determine the effectiveness of your efforts.
Paid media has traditionally been left to the advertising guys, but today, small-business owners have an opportunity to get really good at it. Should you start learning how to write jingles and shoot commercials? Absolutely not. Leave that to the professionals.
What you may want to consider is how to use paid media to drive leads and conversions. Think about measuring the following four PR metrics:
- Landing pages and A/B testing. Software can help in creating landing pages and guiding you through A/B testing. It can attach to your content management system (or, in some cases, it becomes your CMS), and it provides data and recommendations based on the people who are already visiting your site. It will recommend content (see owned media below for more details) for you to put behind a landing page. That landing page will then collect email addresses from the people who want your content. Those people become warm leads, which can be nurtured and eventually turned into customers. Track them through the buying process and measure the effectiveness of your ability to get them to buy.
- Social media marketing ad conversions. Using data from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google AdWords, you can drive new leads to your website and track the PR measurement from it. In my opinion, Facebook, hands down, is one of the best ways to convert from social media. Are people clicking on your ad? What are they doing once they're on your site? You want to see a correlation between people clicking and people buying, which can be included in your PR tracking.
- Email database. I think there is almost nothing better for lead generation, nurturing and conversion than email marketing. I'm not talking about your monthly newsletter that is distributed and talks about your latest and greatest products or projects. That's typically not very effective. People don't care about you. They want to know what you can do for them. If you change your perspective on email marketing and offer content that puts your prospect in the driver's seat, you'll find it far more effective. When you set up your PR tracking dashboard, you not only want to see an increase in the number of email addresses in your database, you want to see an increase in the number of people who click on links in your emails. Set up your PR measurement program to include unique URLs so you can track what's the most effective.
- Leads and conversions. With Google Analytics and a CRM, it's easier to know if your public relations campaigns are working. For instance, with analytics and your typical sales conversion percentage, you should be able to figure out how many people you need to bring into your website every day. You can track that through a consistently updated blog, a resources library, insights, a media room or even frequently asked questions that are dynamic. You can then move to the middle of the funnel, which could include some of the things that are behind your landing pages, such as white papers and case studies. And from there, you could move to scheduling a demo or a sales call. You should be able to figure out how many leads at the top of the funnel will correlate a conversion at the bottom.
Earned media got its name because you garner results from the relationships you earn—with influencers, with journalists and with bloggers. Historically, earned media has been the most credible because the stories, recommendations and referrals come from third parties (though word-of-mouth from friends and friends of friends—see shared media below—is now in the leadership position).
To measure the effectiveness of your earned media program, consider the following three PR metrics:
- Web performance. In 2017 Orbit Media Studio conducted a survey among 1,377 bloggers and found that nearly half of those surveyed either never or only occasionally review their analytics. But there's so much data in that free tool! Get it. Play with it. Understand it. And create your PR measurement. Pay attention to how much new traffic a specific story, blog post, tweet or Facebook mention brings you. Is it qualified traffic? Do they visit other pages? Is the bounce rate low? Do they spend some significant time on your site? All these things can tell you how valuable that third-party influencer is to your campaign (and will help you with scoring in the future).
- New audiences. At the top of the marketing funnel are the audiences and loyal fans—the people who are becoming aware of the brand via all of its means of communication. These audiences come from the addressable markets that a brand can potentially serve, and it's the job of PR and advertising to build those audiences and to identify and cultivate the loyal fans of your brand. You can track your new audiences through the number of unique visitors to your website and quantify their value. Once your audience value is quantified, you can compute the ROI of your PR in real dollars and cents.
- Media, blogger and influencer scoring. Consider this: Does a local paper have as high a score as the New York Times? Does an influencer with 10,000 followers have the same score as someone with 1,000 followers? It could very well be that the person with 1,000 followers can incentivize purchase with 10 percent of his followers, while the person with 10,000 followers can incentivize purchase with only one percent. When you set up your PR campaign to focus on the third-party influencers who can truly help your business, try not to get caught up in the ego-driven results. You may want to focus on that small local paper if they bring you better results than the New York Times. Not as many people read the former, but this is about sales, not about your mom seeing your name in the paper.
There's almost nothing that drives me crazier than PR campaigns that tout their increases in social media followers as “results." Yes, you have to track those things because sharp declines—or a trend of decreasing followers—will tell you something is wrong. But an increase, week-after-week, do not results make.
The following three PR metrics, which you should measure, do:
- Social media advertising. Think particularly about Facebook and LinkedIn advertising. Both have the potential to drive both leads and conversions. While I've had considerably better results from Facebook, LinkedIn also is effective. It's more expensive and it doesn't reach as wide an audience, but if you're in a service or B2B organization, it could be the right tool for you. Social media advertising can drive new email subscribers, which can generate qualified leads and convert them to sales. Every industry has different PR metrics, when it comes to cost per lead and percentage conversion, but I recommend aiming for less than $1.00 per lead and 1 to 3 percent conversion.
- Rating system. Just like you can score your earned media, you can do the same for your social media updates and shares. Consider assigning a point system to your efforts. For instance, likes are one point, comments are five points and shares are 10 points. Then you can assigns points to each social network. On Twitter, you can use five points for a tweet and 10 points for a retweet. The point here is that you very quickly learn which campaigns worked really well and which fell flat on their face.
- Unique stuff. By “stuff" I mean unique URLs, landing pages, coupons, discount codes or even telephone numbers. I recommend only using these on social media. (You can have different ones for the other media types to measure their effectiveness in a larger campaign.) This allows you to easily point to the success of one tactic or marketing platform. In Google Analytics, you can track how many people are using your unique stuff assigned to your shared media updates.
The beauty of owned media—content that lives on something you own, such as your website or blog—is it completely integrates with the other three media types. You can't have owned media without paid media (increased reach), earned media (increased awareness) and/or shared media (increased distribution).
So think about measuring these PR metrics:
- The vanities. Yes, you should pay attention to unique visitors, time spent on the site and bounce rate. Those things, such as an increase (or decrease) in social media followers, can indicate success or failure. But these are the tip of the iceberg.
- Email marketing. If you have an organized owned media program, you likely are distributing through email marketing. When you integrate your content with this paid media tactic, you can track things such as downloads and shares. Do people download the content? Do they read or watch or listen to it once it's been downloaded? Is it so good they can't help but share it with their communities? Are they bringing you new website visitors—which correlate to new leads—because you've provided so much value?
- Social media shares. Social media shares matter. Ever been to a site where you've read a piece of content, thought it brilliant and then noticed there are no social shares? Your first thought is probably “What's wrong with me that I thought this so brilliant?" Social shares matter because they provide social proof.
- Community. There is a lot of debate about what a community can do, both for your vanity metrics and your social shares. Having built a community and replicating that same success for clients, I can tell you—hands down—an engaged community drives sales. Track the effectiveness of your community through sales, speaking engagement recommendations, client referrals or paid webinar attendees. Build your community! In some cases, it will integrate with your influencer relations and brand ambassadors.
- Sales. I think that any public relations campaign that does not include sales as a metric is doing it wrong. Start at the top with things such as website traffic and social media referrals. Move to the middle with attribution and lead generation. Then move to the bottom with conversions and sales. The ultimate goal is cold, hard cash and the best PR campaigns can get you there.
Get really good at measuring and analyzing these PR metrics.
As you do, you may find that you can determine what effect your PR campaigns are having on sales and learn to tweak them to improve your results.
This article was originally published on August 13, 2014.
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