How to measure your PR campaign
In the first of a series of thought-provoking and practical guides, Head of Communications at Manchester's multi-arts venue HOME, Kat Harrison-Dibbits outlines the steps needed to effectively measure your PR campaign.
You might be an in-house PR who needs to show their worth in an era of tightening budgets, a manager who needs to show the value of paying for freelance support, or that same freelancer looking to differentiate their offer from their rivals. But whoever you are, it’s well past time to accept that vague claims about PR “raising awareness” that aren’t backed up with hard data will no longer wash with time-and-money poor organisations.
And while PR measurement is something that’s been a subject for discussion in the wider sector for years, it seems slow to filter through to the arts, where context-free lists of URLs and piles of cuttings accompanied by made-up Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) are too-often presented as “proof” of the success of a campaign.
It doesn’t have to be like this – and if you’d like to do better, here are some thoughts to start you off.
How do you know if you’re achieving your objective if you don’t know what your objective is?
A common scenario I’ve seen is where PR reports – particularly those focused on media relations – are created at the end of a campaign, proudly showing off the coverage gained in the name of “awareness building”. But with no PR objectives set at the beginning of the campaign, and no KPIs, how do we know if any of that coverage actually achieved anything?
Furthermore, with no objectives, the temptation can be to pursue low-quality “easy pickings” rather than trying to place features in titles that might be more challenging to pitch to but have greater resonance with your audiences. But the problem with focusing on quality not quantity is that execs who are used to being presented with an enormous list of coverage might suddenly start questioning the value of your PR – the opposite effect to the one you want.
Instead, ask yourself at the start of each campaign what you’re trying to achieve, and tie your objectives to that goal. That might mean working with marketing colleagues to get your hands on audience insight and coming up with a shorter list of key media to help drive ticket sales, using some of the methods I’m going to talk about in a minute, or it might mean a single feature showcasing your organisation’s brilliance in your industry’s most influential outlet, whether that’s The Stage or Museums Journal.
Unlike some marketing tactics, PR tends to be a slow burn, so make sure objectives work at both campaign and organisational level so even after your show or exhibition is closed you can reap the benefit of your work.
Not all coverage is equal
As we’ve ascertained, a list of coverage URLs is useless if you don’t know what they’ve achieved. I create a monthly report that includes not only URLs, but also context, including highlighting where we got coverage in titles that are key to us in terms of influencing our audiences and stakeholders. But how do you identify those outlets?
A good place to start is the Audience Agency’s free resource, Audience Spectrum, or Morris Hargreaves Macintyre’s Culture Segments. Even organisations that don’t use a segmentation model can find insight into the sorts of media outlets that influence the audiences they think they want to reach, for example MHM report that audiences falling into their Stimulation segment pick up free print publications and listings magazines, so if those were your target audience that would be a good place to start compiling your key titles list.
Online tools such as SparkToro can also be hugely useful – SparkToro allows you to search for audiences who talk about a particular subject online and see what websites, press and social accounts they interact with. Ofcom also release an annual report into news consumption in the UK that can help you understand which outlets are most used and trusted.
Of course, in PR terms audiences don’t only mean the people who sit in our auditoriums, it can be corporate stakeholders, peers or politicians, and so careful thinking about how they are influenced by the media is crucial to understanding who your key titles are.
Where to find metrics that show your worth
Another way to easily see which media are having the greatest influence on your audience is through the referrals section of your Google Analytics. Take a look at your last 12 months’ web traffic and note down any press outlets that appear near the top. Ask yourself if they’re the ones that you expected or if they’re social media publishers or the newer (at the time of writing) straight-to-inbox newsletters that are appearing.
And now we can see where understanding digital is really advantageous to PRs when it comes to measuring campaigns. Because if your previous 12 months’ referral traffic can tell you which media have been driving your customers, ongoing monitoring of Google Analytics can tell you in real-time if your coverage is paying off.
For example – we’re currently making films available to stream online, on a revenue share basis with distributors. My savvy Digital Comms Manager spotted via social that a small local newspaper – the same one I worked for many years ago, in fact – had mentioned online that a film they had featured was available via the HOME website. The problem? There was no link from their site to ours. A super polite email later and that had been rectified – note, we didn’t ask them to add a link in where there was no mention before, I don’t run that kind of operation, just to make a tweak that would be more beneficial to their readers anyway.
Very soon after we started to see in Google Analytics that referral traffic was arriving on our website from The Bolton News. Great, the email was worthwhile. And then things took a turn for the more surprising. Like many local newspapers, the BN is part of a national group, Newsquest. And often titles across the group share their content. So when the Hereford Times ran a version of the same story, they lifted the paragraph about how to watch the film from their sister title, complete with link. And the traffic spiked as visitors came to our website from the Hereford Times to stream the film… in their hundreds.
Not only could we see that the film was being talked about, and so make sure it was optimised for SEO and move it onto the homepage where it could be found more easily by casual website visitors, we could show the benefit of the media coverage in the monthly report. Without the link, we would never have had access to that data. Furthermore, we can use that information to draw some conclusions about the value of local media which we can feed into future campaigns. Now local media might have no effect on your audiences – but if you’ve no data, then how do you know?
That’s all well and good, but of course not all press coverage is digital, so how can you use GA to show the value of, for example, a piece of national broadcast coverage? Here there’s a little more guesswork involved, but to give another example we had a commission featured on Radio 4’s Today programme a few weeks ago. Shortly afterwards, we saw the volume of organic search traffic – people typing things into Google and ending up on one of our webpages – spike dramatically. Sure, I can’t 100% prove it, and I do spend a lot of time saying ‘correlation is not causation’ to idiots on social media, but it’s not an outrageous conclusion to come to on this occasion.
PR is not just press!
So far we’ve only discussed measuring the outcomes of media relations campaigns, but a good PR campaign is much more than that.
It’s storytelling – and on her excellent blog, Spin Sucks, Gini Dietrich talks about the PESO model and how it can be used for PR. Here it is:
If you have a story that’s good enough to catch a journalist’s attention, why stop there? Consider how you can use it on your other platforms – which will also give you more data you can use to show the effectiveness of your campaign.
You don’t need expensive software to measure social content – native platforms can give you lots of data. And if your team aren’t using UTM links, you should be – that way you can see exactly what content is driving your campaign objectives, whether it’s paid marketing activity or PR.
The AMEC framework
If by this point you’re really getting into this measurement and evaluation lark, you could check out the AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework. It’s the gold standard of objective-setting, planning and evaluation – but arts PRs should know that it works much better for longer-term, purpose-driven campaigns than it does for short-term, event-based ones. It’s free though, and a good place to start with objective setting and measurement if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by a blank piece of paper.
Say no to AVE
Finally, let’s talk about the dreaded AVE. Putting an equivalent advertising value on your coverage is like a marketer telling you how much they spent on advertising and refusing to say any more. Even if it were worked out in anything like a credible manner – which it’s not – it would still tell you no more about the impact of your campaign. Firstly, that’s because it confuses cost with value, secondly, there’s no allowance for sentiment, and thirdly, this is exhausting to still be discussing, so I’m going to let AMEC say it for me. Bookmark that article, and refer back to it next time someone asks you to report on AVE. They will – in 2017, a third of PR practitioners surveyed said they still used it as a metric.
And while I’ve read articles saying that if a client asks for AVE you provide it – and I do get that point of view – why report on something that doesn’t give a real picture of the value you’re bringing to a campaign? I’ve been in that situation, where major sponsors asked us to report AVE of coverage that included a mention of their sponsorship. I refused – and they didn’t like it, except I also offered some more meaningful metrics, just like those discussed here. They didn’t ask again, and they didn’t pull their sponsorship. And maybe, just maybe, they stopped asking their own PR departments to provide meaningless metrics as well. I can’t say – I don’t have the data.
Kat Harrison-Dibbits, Head of Communications, HOME