For today's PR and strategic communications professionals, analytical skills have become just as important as storytelling skills. It's no longer enough to keep track of brand mentions; nowadays, communicators are expected to not only be able to dig deeper and track more granular data, but derive meaning behind those numbers to inform future strategies. Even as communications teams become more adept at this, "turning data into actionable insight" remains a top challenge for them, according to the most recent Global Comms Report.
How to address this challenge was a central topic during the webinar, Making Your Metrics Matter: Building a Strategy for Impactful PR. Industry leaders Johna Burke, Global MD of AMEC, and Jay Webster, Chief Product Officer of Cision, joined PRWeek Managing Editor Gideon Fidelzeid to discuss the metrics PR and communications professionals should focus on to build a successful and adaptable comms measurement program.
Go Beyond SMART Goals; Create SMARTER Goals
The first step in creating a PR measurement program is to start with setting realistic goals. Of course, that’s easier said than done; however, as Johna Burke points out, “If your goals are aligned with your organization, and if they’re smart, those are the first two hurdles to get over.”
When approaching their strategy, Burke encourages comms professionals to consider the traditional SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) goals and create “SMARTER” goals. The E stands for Ethical (“ethical in how you’re bringing data in, ethical in how you’re using data”) and “R” stands for making sure your strategy is reviewed prior to execution. “You’re getting results, and…it’s revolutionizing what your organization is doing through the power and the value of communication.”
It’s also important to differentiate between your communications goals and your organizational goals, and ensuring they’re aligned. According to Burke:
“When you understand how your communications goals ladder up to your organizational goals, suddenly that accelerates the value and meaning of every output you’re creating for your team.”
It’s About Quality AND Quantity
The cold, hard truth is that there’s no silver bullet to obtain an accurate measurement. For Burke, the key is “understanding the metrics that are available within what you’re trying to do, getting the most accurate, the most robust metrics in that process, and then…understanding the correlation or causation of those metrics along with those goals.”
That means looking at both qualitative and quantitative metrics in order to get a holistic view of the numbers and their meaning. While quantitative metrics can provide an early indicator of performance and what may or may not be working, Burke says, “It’s your qualitative metrics that are going to be able to show correlation to your specific outcomes and the impact for your organization.”
Measure Twice, Cut Once
For Webster, this old adage applies to PR: “It’s the same principle in design work: 90% of the work is in the design, and 10% is in the coding,” Webster says. “It’s really important to think about your campaign design every time. A lot of measurement breaks down when there is a lack of good campaign design.”
When you’re envisioning what you’re trying to achieve, take time to stop and ask yourself questions like, “Where are there reasonable endpoints? What are the KPI’s?” Consider the measures you can track or analyze in order to determine whether or not you were successful and how to optimize your next effort.
There's More to Vanity Metrics Than Meets the Eye
While there are metrics that, on the surface, appear to be vanity metrics, by digging deeper, you can often find meaning behind them. For example, “likes” on their own can be a vanity metric; however, “if you were to dig into the data behind the likes and determine the influence of the people who took the time to like [particular content], there might be something more interesting there,” Webster says.
Dig deeper and look into measuring your company’s interactions with those people who are important to your brand so you can think about how you interact and build those relationships moving forward. It’s also important to look at all your metrics together to formulate a better understanding. According to Webster:
“With all the data available to us, it’s important to migrate to an ecosystem so that you’re always able to measure interaction between all these different metrics you’re collecting.”
It’s All About Integration
Similarly, looking at media coverage alone can be misleading, Burke says. “A lot of people might only be looking at top tier media or scaling that media in a different way and not understanding the largest footprint of the elements that are going on in some of those microcosms.” For example, if you’ve gotten news coverage, are you also looking to see if you’ve gotten additional web traffic? Do you see things related to your key messages and key metrics that are now starting to generate organic SEO for your organization?
For these reasons, an integrated approach to measurement is critical to understanding PR’s true impact. When you can link news coverage and other metrics, like landing page traffic, that’s where you’re going to see the influence of that article, Burke says.
It may not happen immediately, either. For instance, someone might not see an article as soon as it goes up, but they may come across it later on through an organic search and make their way to your site that way. This underscores the importance of looking at your metrics in context.
“The better you understand and take an integrated approach to how paid, earned, shared and owned media all work together is really critical,” Burke says.
Make Friends With Marketing
Working with marketing is important for communications teams trying to understand the greater impact of their efforts. Working with your marketing team – who specializes in audience research and testing different messages – can help you identify which messages resonate more with potential audiences, and if it those messages are having the same net effect with your existing audience.
“If you can nurture your existing audience and bring them along into the same messaging, that ties into trust, consistency and reputation,” Burke says. “And reputation is ultimately what public relations is accountable for.