By Luke Bull

It’s amazing how things change. When I started my career, the success of a PR campaign was measured in client binders filled with press cuttings – now it’s digital marketing metrics and public relations KPIs that tell the true tale of PR value.

In those early days as a public relations advisor, what made my day was getting one of my clients a piece of coverage – the bigger the better, of course – in the Birmingham Post.

There was also the thrill of making sure they stayed out of the Post’s John Bright column – an acerbic, sideways look at local commercial life where any of the region’s business leaders who spoke or acted out of line were unofficially but publicly brought to book.

The success of a PR campaign was typically determined by the size and weight of the book of press cuttings – all carefully snipped out and stuck on to branded paper by an administration team with a never-ending supply of Pritt sticks – that you handed to a client at a monthly meeting.

PR measurement was rudimentary at best and I don’t suppose we were doing our bit to save the rain forests either, though the makers of Pritt sticks were no doubt happy enough.

Sentiment analysis

Sophisticated PR metrics started to come to the table with the introduction of sentiment analysis, level of presence in agreed priority titles, inclusion of key messages and so on. All well and good, but still not a sufficient measure of the real impact of a campaign on the client’s bottom line.

Then came the internet, bringing with it myriad measurement and evaluation opportunities and forcing public relations agencies to think far more carefully about how they could demonstrate the PR value of what they were doing.

Google Analytics, traffic to dedicated URLs, origin sites of web traffic – the list goes on. All these digital marketing metrics can be used by public relations advisors to show how media relations can deliver a measurable return on investment.

Public relations KPIs don’t just help the client understand the value the PR campaign is adding – they actually help the agency do a better job. Modern PR measurement gives a far greater insight into what’s working well and what isn’t, and so public relations teams can adjust their plans and recommendations accordingly.

Of course, social media offers even greater detail and analytics. In the B2B arena, LinkedIn Sales Navigator is now a preferred tool of marketers worldwide seeking to sell their company’s products or services to other businesses.

Column inches

It’s very simple to create a target list, issue connection invites and then supply those targets with relevant content before requesting a call or meeting. You know instantly who’s connected, who’s engaged, and of course who then expresses an interest in a further conversation.

In short, the days of “vanity” measures are long gone. Using advertising value equivalent – what the older generation call “column inches” ­– has been frowned on by those who lead the PR sector for some years now.

These days, if a public relations agency proposes activity  to a client, then it had better make sure it says how the PR value of that activity will be measured, too. If it can’t be measured, then the public relations advisor has to ask: “Why are we doing this?”

Always remember – outcomes, not outputs.

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