May 06, 2015 / by Jim Dougherty

It probably seems like a gross exercise in hubris (or click-bait) to say that this post will give you the “perfect” PR metric. After all, there are plenty of books and posts and miscellaneous expositions claiming the same. And when you read through different iterations of Shonali Burke’s Twitter-mediated #measurePR chats, you get the sense that there isn’t a universal PR metric that will satisfy everyone.

Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) (the measurement equivalent of the self-esteem movement), justifies what you have by what it would have cost if you’d bought it. And of course that reasoning informs very little about how PR drives business objectives.

There are plenty of different software packages that offer unique ways to capture and measure PR data, but there is still an unsatisfying aspect to these. You probably wouldn’t walk into a hardware store and buy an elaborate tool that you have no evident use for, but for some people this seems like an acceptable way to measure the value of PR to an organization.

Let’s define the “perfect” PR metric, then. The perfect PR metric is a metric that ties your PR activity back to your overarching business objectives. It may be quantifying referred business from media placements, or email subscribers gained from social channels. The perfect metric isn’t something you’ll read in the Cision Blog or get from analytics software, it’s something you vet by understanding the expectations for PR to your business and then engineering measurements that quantify how you are doing relative to those expectations.

What I want to do in this post is to take a look at five outside-of-the-box ways that people effectively measure PR and marketing activity relative to their business objectives. These examples may not be perfect for you…. in fact they probably shouldn’t be. But I hope they give you a sense of what is possible if you determine what metrics you need before you capitulate to use what metrics are available.

Customer touchpoint sensing

PR Measurement

When I use the term “engineering” metrics, I’m stealing the term from Johna Burke. She is the Co-Chair of the North American chapter of AMEC (International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) and Vice President at BurrellesLuce and one of the prominent voices in PR measurement.

In a talk for the PRSA, Burke describes an organization where all of the organizational roles are defined. Marketing is responsible for X, Customer Service for Y, PR for Z. In this scenario, engineering a solution is straightforward: how do I measure my (defined) contribution to the organization? She gives an example of a PR objective to generate referral business from earned media. One way to measure this would be for the customer service reps to ask customers how they heard about the company.

You see this in many different places (I got a haircut the other day and they asked me how I heard about them), and it is a technique that can be applied to nearly any customer touchpoint if appropriate.

Referral codes

If you listen to advertising on the radio or on a podcast, more than likely you’ve heard referral codes: When you use X service use promo code “give me the Jim Dougherty discount” to get 10 percent off of your order.

What this retailer is saying is that it is worth 10 percent of their retail cost to understand the referral channel that your order came from. If they’re advertising on three different channels, this would qualify the relative and absolute value for them of any particular channel.

You often also see referral pages on websites (for Facebook referrals as an example), which allow conversions to be tracked by channel in a
tool like Google Analytics.

The Ultimate (open-ended) Question

Fred Reichheld’s Ultimate Question is seemingly unavoidable in nearly every industry you could imagine. You know the question: on a scale from one to 10, what is the likelihood that you would recommend us to a friend or family member?

As somebody who has seen this implemented in a couple of different organizations, I can attest that it can create a hot mess. You haven’t lived until you’re spent hours debating the reasons a customer assigned you an arbitrary number (other than 10 of course). But there’s another aspect of the Reichheld’s Ultimate Question that you rarely see implemented: an open-ended question such as “why did you give us this rating?” (It’s in the book, I have no idea why so many businesses overlook this part.)

Survey questions can be leading and suggestive, but an unbiased “why” leaves the customer to tell you what they’ve experienced. It’s a scary proposition for some (and it’s resource intensive relative to other measurements), but it also gives excellent, honest feedback about nearly anything you want to know.

Google Analytics / Tag Manager

Smart PR Measurement - Shonali Burke

From a digital standpoint, Google Analytics is a great measurement tool to understand customer behavior on a web property. Aside from the standard capability of Analytics, Google also has their Tag Manager tool that can be used to measure more granular activity on a web property. As an example you could measure the Facebook shares that you get from a specific page, or clicks to subscribe to an email list.

The bigger point when it comes to analytics is that you can find ways to measure things at a much more isolated level if you take the time
to explore some of the tools that are out there. While unique visitors is interesting to know, mapping those unique visitors to different components of a purchase path may be more informative.


Many retailers, restaurants and grocery stores offer post-purchase incentives to offer feedback about goods or services that they receive. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but you may be able to sense some interesting insight depending upon the response rate that you are able to achieve.

From a PR perspective, post-mortem consumer analyses may be able to shed light on the effectiveness of media placements relative to other
factors on the purchase path.


I hope this was a helpful way to frame the discussion around PR measurement. The fact of the matter is that there isn’t a universal condition for PR practitioners, and there isn’t a magic bullet for PR metrics. Hopefully, you have opportunities to implement pertinent PR metrics, rather than settling for cheap (easy) measurement or cutting edge metrics full of assumptions, jargon and gobbledygook.

What I wanted to do is show that there are ways to measure communication that only require awareness of how PR contributes to the greater good and a pragmatic approach to try and measure these.

I’ll close with one last thought shared about the evolution of communications measurement by Amit Jain in PR Week:

“It is no more a matter of debate whether the PR industry needs better models of measurement. Everyone recognizes that need.” – Amit Jain in PR Week

Prove the value of your PR with this Measurement Toolkit!

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About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.