By Jody Lowe and Katherine Murray

Public relations used to have a measurement problem. But that is changing.

To set the stage, the media environment has changed dramatically.  The audiences you are trying to reach – institutional investors, advisors, high-net-worth individuals, retirement investors – all consume news in multiple ways. The traditional print news hole of the past has shrunk considerably and more information is consumed online, over the airways, through social media channels like LinkedIn and Twitter, and via new mediums like podcasts. The number of people reading print newspapers and magazines has also shrunk dramatically. And next to no one in the under-30 crowd will ever see an article or ad in print. This impacts traditional advertisers and changes the equation on how to reach potential audiences.

In any environment but especially in today’s predominantly digital environment, one of the challenges when making an investment in public relations is the ability to quantify ROI. Unlike digital advertising where you can measure impressions and clicks, it is harder to measure the impact of earned media.

Some try to measure public relations outcomes using “ad equivalency,” but this has its flaws. Using the ad equivalency formula, media outcomes are measured in column inches, appending a price tag to how much it would cost to purchase the same amount of advertising.  However, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Presumably your advertising will contain your full marketing messaging.  Earned media on the other hand may mention your firm, products or experts, but won’t include your well-crafted advertising and sales messages.  Further, ads run at one moment in time, while earned media often lingers on and can be read or shared over time.

Instead, advertising and public relations work hand in hand.  PR is often the spark that causes a consumer or an advisor to pay attention to and act on an advertising message, visit your website, answer a sales call or respond to a direct mail piece.  And once a potential customer responds to your marketing, good messaging from your PR efforts often supports the sale on the back end.

Today we are blessed with much more readily available information that can help to quantify dollars spent on communications outreach.  But there is no silver bullet – no one measure that gauges success.  Instead it is a dashboard of meaningful data points that together give you a sense of whether your investment is having an impact:

  • Media outcomes – Simply tracking the number of hits is a place to start. Track your media mentions, including the number of interviews and/or articles (in print, online or over the airwaves) mentioning your firm, your products or quoting your experts as sources. For a fee, media monitoring and reporting companies like Cision, TrendKite and Meltwater can provide additional analysis of the quality and impact of your media outcomes.
  • Share of Voice – Tracking share of voice is intended to gauge the percentage of media coverage your firm gets versus your competitors on a relevant topic. This metric has limitations and can be especially challenging for financial services firms where there is a wide range of market and stock-related commentary that cannot be easily bucketed into a single, measurable topic. However, it can be useful for measuring specific financial products—such as variable annuities or convertible bond funds—where there is a fairly well-defined topic and set of competitors. Media monitoring and reporting platforms like those mentioned previously often support SOV measurement.
  • Sentiment – Tracking whether your media coverage is positive, neutral or negative can be another helpful PR metric and is particularly important to track if your firm has experienced negative publicity.
  • Google Analytics – Look at your referral traffic. Every now and then, your firm may be featured in an online article that includes a link back to your website. Of course most articles do not, which is where mediatech vendors like TrendKite can help. Some offer PR attribution reports—though expensive for now—that seek to identify visitors that have come to your site after seeing an article that mentions your firm. Without access to PR attribution reports, you can look to see if traffic increases after significant media coverage. For example, if your firm was featured in a prominent story in The Wall Street Journal, did your website experience an uptick in traffic the day the story ran or shortly thereafter? As a best practice, you should also post media coverage to your website and keep track of pageviews and, if applicable, clicks.
  • Social media – If compliance allows, share your media coverage on your social channels to amplify its reach. Use your social media monitoring platform to track your posts’ engagement statistics such as likes, shares, retweets, replies and link clicks. You can also track your posts’ impressions, but keep in mind that an impression is counted anytime your post shows up in your followers’ stream—meaning people did not necessarily see your post let alone the media coverage you’re sharing.
  • Sales activities – Are you generating more responses on your advertising or marketing activities? Is your sales pipeline growing?  Are you able to get more meetings or schedule more calls?
  • Assets under management or account growth – More sophisticated tracking can help asset managers understand the sources of asset flows and better understand what audiences are engaging with their products. Other firms may track contracts, members, or other meaningful metrics.

Create your own dashboard to track a variety of data points each quarter.  When you see greater social media engagement, an uptick in web traffic, or your sales pipeline growing, make note of what is working and continue to invest in those PR efforts. Shift away from what isn’t working.

Taking the full measure of multiple data points in a reporting dashboard can provide more meaningful and quantifiable information on your communications investments.