Forecasting PR and not the weather

Now more than ever companies are asking PR agencies to substantiate the results they should anticipate when considering their services.  But how is this done? How can you measure the results, let alone the impact of a PR program for a company? It’s certainly fair to ask, every company employing the services of an agency should be held to some form of metrics. But what if the company is asking for metrics that are more in line with business performance, for example people visiting the web site following the publication of a story, or the amount of users who sign up for a particular service following a segment that appears on the NBC TODAY Show? The bottom line, PR is very tricky to measure. It’s sort of like forecasting the weather, only God knows if it’s really going to rain tomorrow or not.

The best thing a PR firm can do is be a weatherman when it comes to providing a fair set of metrics for a program. I’ve worked for nearly 100 companies (from startups to industry bellwethers) since getting involved in the PR agency business back in the late 90’s while in Silicon Valley, and so I’ve seen my fair share of metrics that work and don’t work for clients. During that time, I’ve learned one very important thing, the best way to size up a PR firm isn’t necessarily based on the metrics they offer you, but on the results they’ve achieved for other clients. Some PR agencies can promise the heavens, but in reality they’ve produced very little results for their current clientele. Any good agency that is producing consistent results for its clients, whether it be press releases or media coverage, will employ the same methodical approach to the tactical programs of all its clients. One way to measure this is checking the websites of its current clientele for media results, just keep in mind that every firm most likely has a different size PR program so results will and can vary.

At Freestyle, all our clients except a couple are on sustained (recurring monthly) type programs, where we measure our performance on both a monthly and quarterly basis. In fact, quarterly measurement is the best tool when evaluating the performance of a media relations program. Why quarterly? Media relations is a tricky business. When dealing with third parties like reporters, who have no affiliation to the PR agency or the client, it’s up to the reporter (as well as their editor) when a story might appear. With this in hand, it takes time for media coverage to appear, which is why quarterly checking in on the metrics is more ideal than doing it monthly  because it gives you a more holistic overview of the program.

Example of a good metrics tool is below. It’s important that ranges are built into metrics (a low and a high) so clients and new business prospects can understand that there’s a variance to the results that can be accomplished, especially with media relations. If a PR firm provides you without a range in terms of metrics, ask them if they’ll guarantee those numbers. When dealing with media relations, it’s almost impossible to hit a specific number since the agency is dealing with a third party (media). Moreover, there are variables to consider when dealing with PR. So many different parties contribute to the overall PR program that all it takes is for one product marketing manager to get sick and a press release they were suppose to approve ends up getting delayed until the following month. This then delays the pitching of the press release and the subsequent coverage, which was all suppose to happen the previous month. The next thing a client knows, the metrics that were set for the month are completely off. Keep this in mind when setting metrics with a PR firm, since clients are just as responsible for helping to contribute to a certain results for the program as the agency is, too. It’s a team effort when it comes to a PR program and achieving the metrics set in place.

Metrics Table (sample for enterprise tech firm):                          

2011 Q2 PR Program

Media interviews: 10 to 14

Analyst briefings: 2 to 4

Press releases: 6 to 10

Media coverage (standalone article):  2 to 5

Media coverage (inclusion in industry article): 5 to 7

Product Reviews: 1 to 3

Twitter followers (new): 75 to 100

Facebook followers (new): 50 to 75

-David Splivalo

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About Freestyle PR

Pushing boundaries.
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