"Metrics" A call for Performance Based Results in the PR Profession

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Performance-based marketing publicity allows clients to objectively quantify the value and effectiveness of their PR firmÂ?s efforts

Just as doctors have prospered for decades without ever guaranteeing a cure, the public relations (PR) profession has survived and thrived without guaranteeing any quantifiable results for their work. That is until now.

The day is over when a client can enlist a marketing publicity PR firm for a year, and then be confronted with an immeasurable result for his investment. Progress should be measurable after the very first month through the use of metrics. Our clients deserve no less.

The "Status Quo" No Longer

VPs of Marketing, sales managers, CEOs, CFOs and even COOs are waking up to the fiscal-driven reality that PR must be made to justify its cost in much the same way that advertising does. Publicity must promote products, increase understanding of the value of a product, and generate new leads that turn into new sales that grow the business.

The nebulous quality surrounding PR results has gone on far too long. The kind of metrics you might have previously encountered in our profession was the number of times you take the client out to lunch or the number of times you lose a round of golf to the client. But those benchmarks are not related to the performance for which you've been hired.

Perhaps this is why many manufacturing and information companies have shied away from using PR to publicize their products. According to a recently completed survey completed by Power PR (http://www.powerpr.com) of Torrance, Calif., 70% of clients have never utilized PR before. When asked what they previously tried to generate leads, they identified: 1. word of mouth; 2. trade shows; 3. display advertising; and 4. brochures and other sales materials.

In actuality, marketing publicity is the very best form of ‘word of mouth,’ but many marketing people don't make the connection. It should be number one on the list. In particular, performance-based product publicity is a very powerful lead-generating activity because those individuals quoted in the story, as well as the publication itself, act as a third-party endorsement.

The value of metrics in performance-based publicity

What might have prevented other PR firms from heading in the direction of quantifying and guaranteeing their results was a mistaken belief that such agencies have no control over the outcome of their work.

Performance-based marketing publicity “by the numbers”

Performance-based marketing publicity employs tabulation of measurable PR activities, and then statistical analysis to interpret and track the results. At Power PR, seven basic parameters are monitored. The PR firm tracks the first five, the client the last two.

1. Contacts

The number of times per week that editors are contacted on behalf of the client. This might be by telephone, e-mail, or fax. This is a measure of cumulative activity dedicated to each client.

2. Numbers of editors considering a story

After first hearing about a story, some editors will summarily dismiss it; others will convey their interest in possibly using the story at some future date. The latter group is counted here, on a weekly basis.

3. Numbers of articles scheduled per week

This refers to the number of editors who have committed their intent to carry a story in their publication, at a specific time. In effect, the story has been “scheduled” for an upcoming issue.

4. Numbers of published articles per week

The number of times that a particular story or stories appear in print, or on a Web site, on radio or television per week.

5. Total published article circulation, monthly

This is the cumulative circulation of all the magazines, newspapers radio and television that a story appeared in, over a given month. For example, if a story runs in a publication with a circulation of 25,000, and another with a circulation of 50,000 during the same month, then the total published circulation is 75,000. Things like the number of column inches or minutes on air that indicate scope or length. This could be called impressions per week.

6. Article-generated responses

This metric is used by client to track how many leads the client receives from all articles in a month.

7. Cost per lead

By dividing the number of responses per month by the monthly PR fee, the cost per lead can easily be determined. If, for example, the number of responses is 1200 per month, and the PR fee was $6000 per month, then the cost per lead would be five dollars.

The value of metrics in performance-based publicity

Metrics act as a “progress report” and are absolutely vital to any PR firm that hopes to have a handle on what it is doing for the client. It is the close monitoring of these figures that provides the metrics to demonstrate worth.

Not knowing these ‘performance figures’ is like having a car without a speedometer—you don't know how fast or slow you’re going. If you don't check your speed often enough, like weekly, then you could be down the road too far before you discover that you need to make a correction. Metrics give you predictive value, so you can fix problems early on. For example, if the number of ‘schedules’ isn't going up, then the first remedy is to increase the number of media contacts. It doesn't guarantee that a story will get published, but the schedules will begin to materialize if you start talking to more editors.

While these figures are of extreme value to the PR firm itself, they are hardly reserved for internal use only.

You should ask your PR firm to give you feedback as to the number of editorial contacts, schedules, etc. These reports provide you with a minimum idea of what the firm has done for you in a given week or month. This close monitoring of effort should not be taken as a threat that you feel they are not doing their job, because it is such a logical request.

Over time, these metrics provide valuable guidance. Each week should be compared to the next. By graphing the values over several weeks, trends can easily be noticed.

What you are looking for is an overall upward swing to your graph—just like charting a winning stock. All of the metrics should head in the direction of expansion. This is very fundamental. Never try to maintain the status quo because nothing stays the same. It either increases or deteriorates. If the number of editor contacts goes down for example, you know that the number of published articles will soon drop as well; therefore a fix is in order. But as long as the number of published articles keeps going up, then you should strengthen those strategies that led to the improvements.

While all this charting acts as a management tool to help a PR firm, it excels as an objective guide as to how the firm is benefiting the client. Since the client tracks the number of leads, and ultimately the cost per lead, they know exactly what they are getting for their dollar.

If the client is smart, he will compare his cost-per-lead for our PR against his cost-per-lead with advertising, trade shows, direct mail, and even ‘schmoozing’ by the sales team. It becomes painfully obvious which kinds of leads are most cost-effective.

The whole idea of performance-based publicity is to demonstrate cost-effectiveness in objective terms. Having measurements of effectiveness makes the PR firm highly accountable. It’s one reason why we offer a month-to-month contract. The day we can’t demonstrate a good ROI, then we know the client will be gone. This keeps us under-the-gun to turn in a good performance.

A call to Action

Now is the time for clients to demand metrics. It will improve the performance and image of public relations in general. Once PR firms are judged by statistics, they will become truly accountable to their clients.

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Heather Metcalfe
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