Measuring Media Relations: More than ‘Word’ and ‘Awareness’

My colleagues and I cringe and roll our eyes when clients or others speak of their public relations goals as needing to “get the word out” or “raise awareness.” At first blush, those goals sound obvious and appropriate. But the problem is that they are too basic and don’t seek the true value public relations can offer.

The other problem, relative to an earlier post I wrote, (and someone reading that asked  for my perspective on this) is that such a view of publicity or earned media is not a complete view of public relations. The measurement goals of publicity should be consistent with the broader objectives of the big picture PR that goes well beyond getting yourself in the news.

Public relations is all about measuring objectives, and those objectives should be about the whole organization, not just the PR function. The PR industry has worked to derive standards for measurement of PR impact globally, resulting in a set of seven standard evaluation guidelines called the Barcelona Principles. PR measurement guru Katie Paine has a good summary of them on her own blog.

Given that broad background, let’s take a look at the ways to measure the publicity or earned media–again, just one aspect of public relations work–in the enlightened way consistent with measurement standards. In order of importance from least to most meaningful, measuring earned media includes:

  • Production. These are simply the copies of news releases, pitch letters and other media relations tactics produced by the PR professional or team. They show you have done something, but not the result.
  • Exposure. The old-fashioned clip reports, either hard copy or digital, that show actual articles, blog posts or transcripts of broadcast stories that result from the media relations tactics. This shows you got some coverage, and maybe even millions of impressions, but it says nothing about the quality of it.
  • Content analysis. Taking a bit more involved approach, this method looks at sentiment–positive or negative–as well as whether or not intended key messages of objectives were included in the resulting coverage. Negative coverage, contrary to the alleged statements by PT Barnum that “all news is good news,” getting negative media can damage reputational objectives quickly and broadly. Also, you can get lots  of coverage but the focus is not your intent and all that media is a fail. As an example, I once publicized the fact that the governor was speaking at a client event but the media only came to ask her about state budget issues, not at all about her purpose or speech that day for my client.
  • Competitive analysis. CEOs and others in management must grapple with how the organization is doing relative to competition. It’s how THEY are measured. So good media relations measurement should look at the “share of discussion” resulting from your efforts. If you get 50 media mentions in a month in targeted media, that’s good if the next closest competitor in your industry got 20, but bad if one or more competitors are yielding 75 or 100 articles or stories in the same period.
  • Response. Just as digital analytics looks for ‘conversion goals’ (people clicking on and doing things in response to digital PR, media relations measurement should include noting a causal response. This means after information is published or broadcast is there a corresponding increase in requests for information, attendance, voting, sales or other organizational objective?
  • Engagement. In the social media era in particular, media efforts that result in dialogue and conversation with key publics is important. So if media relations move conversations to your own blog, web site, and social platforms, as well as offline interaction, this is an important metric to plan for and measure.
  • Outcome. As the Barcelona principles note, this is the gold standard of all PR measurement and should be for media relations as well. Basically, do the publics  who see your publicity respond the way you intended in your stated objectives? This could mean a positive change in awareness, a depth of understanding, an attitude formed or strengthened and ultimately a specific action taken in response.

There are firms to help with large-scale measurement of media relations, including the PRTrak software by Burrelle’s Luce, Cision, and Meltwater. But much of this can be done by professionals in house with good planning and attention to these details.

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