2 Feb 2018

How to quantify the impact of PR

Sean Hand – Senior Account Executive

When it comes to evaluating the success of a PR campaign, working out how best to quantify this can be a challenge. After all, reputation and public image are abstract concepts that can’t always be explained by numbers on a spreadsheet.

However, a framework for effective evaluation of PR activity does exist. The Barcelona Principles, formulated and agreed in 2010 at the second Annual European Summit on Measurement, are a set of seven principles that aim to cut through the complexities of PR evaluation, by helping PR agencies and teams to find the best ways of demonstrating proof of performance and fostering continued improvement.

In this post, we’ll provide a brief overview of each of the principles and what they mean on a practical level.

Goal-setting and measurement are fundamental

Before any campaign or concerted PR effort can be evaluated, sensible and achievable goals need to be set from the off. These goals can be qualitative or quantitative, and should address the target audience and what part of them the PR programme is intended to affect, including what these changes should be and the timeframe in which they will be achieved.

This should take a holistic approach, covering both traditional and social media and including key changes in awareness amongst key stakeholders. Without clear goals in place, success is naturally almost impossible to measure.

Measuring communication outcomes alongside measuring outputs

It perhaps goes without saying that PR evaluation should take into account the outcome of any activities, alongside simply the output itself. With this in mind, agencies and PR teams should consider closely the shifts in awareness, comprehension, attitude and behaviour amongst key stakeholders that have come as a result of PR activities. An effective way of doing this is through target audience research, incorporating carefully worded questioning in order to ensure the most accurate results.

Measuring the effect on organisational performance

In order to measure results effectively, it’s important that PR teams embrace models that determine the effects of quantity and quality of communication outputs on organisational performance, while taking other variables into account. For this to work properly, practitioners need to recognise the role that PR plays as part of a company’s wider marketing and communications strategy.

Combining qualitative and quantitative methods

To get the most accurate picture of how well PR campaigns are performing, it’s important to combine both qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods. Tracking surveys can go some way towards measuring quantitative change in outcomes, but qualitative approaches are required to really add some meat to the bones.

When it comes to evaluating media coverage, for example, simply adding up clip counts or general impressions lacks a great deal of overall meaning. Instead, the quality of this coverage should be closely scrutinised: does it reach the right stakeholders and target audiences? Is it positive, negative or neutral in tone? Are the desired key messages communicated properly? All of these areas should be taken into account before an accurate overview of success can be formulated.

AVE does not express the value of communication

Historically, advertising value equivalent (AVE) has often been used as a figure with which to quantify the impact of PR activities. However, using AVE as a barometer for success is unreliable. AVE measures the costs of media space or time, and reveals little about the qualitative value of PR. Instead, agencies and teams should focus on the evaluation methods highlighted in the above point: analysis of the quality of media coverage in terms of its tone, messaging and relevance to target audiences.

Social media should be taken as seriously as other channels 

The ubiquity and impact of social media across all aspects of modern life cannot be understated. With this in mind, those in charge of PR efforts should incorporate social media into their evaluation procedures as a matter of course.

As with traditional media channels, social media evaluation should incorporate both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Looking at metrics such as likes and retweets is all well and good, but this doesn’t go far enough in terms of finding out whether your messages are having a lasting impact. Thus, evaluation should focus on web and search analytics, sales data and engagement levels.

Evaluation should be transparent, consistent and valid

To be effective, any measurement procedures should follow valid, tried-and-tested methods that are known to be reliable. This means that evaluation needs to be honest, open and ethical in its approach, with PR teams keeping meticulous, accurate and consistent records of evaluation work.