Think before you ink. Why PR reporting shouldn’t be a paint-by-numbers exercise.

By Andrew Sroufe


“So, how is our PR doing?”

There are few questions from a marcomms client that create more anxiety for an earned media consultant than this.

And after more than 15 years fielding this question, I believe what causes the most consternation for PR pros is the ambiguity that’s inherent when measuring the effectiveness of earned media. Especially with a new generation of digital-savvy marketers that have come up with massive amounts of quantitative data at their fingertips.

“How is our PR doing?” Well, it can be a challenging question to answer, but it’s not for lack of trying.

Everyone loves to talk about the Gospel of the Barcelona Principles. But do you even remember what they are without Googling? Or how many there are?

Spoiler: It’s seven.

And I wager your agency has at least that many “PR Measurement Best Practice” decks sitting in your file server that haven’t been accessed since 2016.

Analysis is a journey, not a destination

It’s natural to want to take a tough question and find a way to solve it forever.

Because if you’ve got some numbers and graphs that you can point to that shows how awesome your PR is doing, it must be the truth, right? It’s why we tend to talk about things we can quantify; Opportunities To See, Message Penetration, Positive Sentiment.

The more data-obsessed amongst us have even gone so far as to create proprietary scoring rubrics, overlay Earned SOV charts on top of sales data, or preach the gospel of “social echo” to anyone who will listen. (And lest you think I’m throwing stones, I VERY much include myself in this group.)

And look, sometimes these templates and tools ARE useful. But what I’ve seen happen over and over is that once a reporting template is “approved”, it never again receives any critical thought.

This is exactly the opposite of what a great consultancy does.

When you turn off your brain and start pumping out reports – this is when your PR analysis becomes hot garbage and belongs in the bin.

Spend more time on the “Think” than the “Ink”

This may be a controversial opinion – there are no “best practices” when it comes to measuring PR. Every client and stakeholder you work with have different needs, and it’s up to us to find a way to demonstrate the value of earned media as a channel.

So instead of a scorecard, an algorithm or an app, I’ve put my faith in a list of five(ish) guidelines that PR should keep in mind when thinking about how to answer, “How is our PR doing?”

1) Develop a methodology and stick with it

Consistency (year over year over year) is far more important than picking a specific measurement tool or using some measurement guru’s multiplier. Get buy-in from stakeholders up front on methodology and the hard part is done!

2a) Contextualise performance

Measure against your own internal benchmarks. Measure against last week/month/year. Measure against category averages. Measure against your competitors. But don’t just puke out reports with data that has no meaning. Which is a nice segue into why you should…

2b) Lead with the most interesting bits

Half of the job is analysis – you need to show your stakeholders the most compelling things, not every thing. Bonus points if the analysis covers topics that can be acted upon and improved.

3) Try to measure incrementality

Especially important for big, mature brands. There is plenty of “organic” reach that exists just by nature of being part of the popular culture. Communications consultants can really show their value of their work by doing some benchmarking and understanding how much “cream on top” their programs are delivering.

4) Differentiate between Diagnostic Metrics and Business Outcomes

Also known as understanding “what we can measure” vs. “the end goal your team is trying to achieve”.

For example: ‘Reach’ metrics help you measure the scale of contribution your Earned Media program is making to the business objectives. And although it’s vitally important that you DO measure reach to understand the channel’s impact, “20,000,000 OTS/month” shouldn’t be viewed as a business objective the way Awareness, Consideration or Purchase are.

5) Never stop thinking critically

Your methodology might be set, but your perspective on measurement should be fungible. Even this personal list grows and contracts as I’ve encountered new ideas, experiences, and points of view. Get yourself a few mentors on analytics and effectiveness (ideally some who don’t always agree), and don’t be afraid to make changes if you think it will help your teams make better decisions. 


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