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 increasingly on podcasts (see our recently published insider’s list of investment 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.
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 return on investment (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.
Some also seek to measure an article’s “reach” giving greater value to media coverage that appears in news outlets with large audiences. However, as we pointed out here, sometimes the value of an article in a low circulation but highly focused media outlet is far better than one in a broader but higher circulation publication.
Often, advertising—along with other marketing tactics—work hand in hand with public relations. PR can be the spark that causes a consumer or a financial advisor to pay attention to and act on a marketing 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. There is no silver bullet, no single measure that gauges success. Instead, a dashboard of meaningful data points together can give you a sense of whether your PR investment is having an impact.
You can develop this dashboard using both inputs from external tools and from data only you and your firm have access to.
Using external tools
Use external tools to gather data on:
- Media outcomes. Simply tracking the number of earned media hits is a place to start. Track your media mentions, including the number of interviews and/or articles (in print, online, streaming 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 and Meltwater can provide additional analysis of the quality and impact of your media outcomes.
- Share of voice (SOV). 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 directionally 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.
Using data only your firm has access to
In addition, you and your colleagues can gain access to additional data that you can monitor in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of the overall effectiveness of your PR program:
- Website data as reported by Google Analytics or whatever system you use. If you’re using PR to raise awareness, your website should be the beneficiary of that heightened awareness. You should be able to monitor website data to see if your PR efforts are driving traffic. To capture, though, may require extra work on your part.
- Tracking in firm press releases. Where allowed, when you include a URL to your site in a press release, add campaign tracking so traffic produced by that link can be attributed to the press release. Not sure how to do this? Your digital marketing colleagues can help you, and may need to set up reporting for you, too (see our recent post Financial PR and digital marketing: How they work together). Be careful not to load up your release with multiple links, though. There is no search benefit to doing so, as some mistakenly believe, and it might make your news release appear too self-serving.
- Live appearances. If your portfolio manager or other thought leader makes a media appearance or lands a speaking gig at an industry conference, did website traffic spike during that time? Was there a pickup in searches for their name or their fund? Again, your digital marketing partner can help you study and report on that effect.
- Interviews citing your firm. Not every media partner will do it, but it’s not uncommon for a publication featuring your subject matter experts to link to your site. You can see the value of those referral links in your website analytics. In the absence of those links, mediatech vendors 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.
As a best practice, you should also post media coverage to your website and track and report pageviews and, if applicable, clicks.
- Social media. Once you’ve scored an interview with a publication, you’re not at the mercy of that publication to promote it. If you’re active on LinkedIn and Twitter (and see our recent post on Twitter), share your media coverage on your social channels to amplify its reach. Your social media monitoring platform can track your posts’ engagement statistics such as likes, shares, reposts, retweets, replies and link clicks. As described in this post, write your own post summarizing the interview so you can link to your site, where you can measure the interest. This is often a fix when Compliance doesn’t permit linking to an external site.
- Sales activities. PR can support Sales in real ways. Imagine how much easier it is for a fund company wholesaler to initiate a conversation with an advisor who has just read about your company. Connecting this cause and effect is not so easy, and capturing this impact takes some care and thought. Ideally, PR efforts are a trackable source of traffic pulled all the way through to your CRM. If you’re not there yet, you’re going to want to be. PR can make a meaningful contribution to your team’s effectiveness in scheduling more meetings and growing the sales pipeline, you’re going to want to measure that.
- Growth. In the end, most firms want to see growth in assets under management. While it is hard to track that growth back to any individual article and asset levels are obviously impacted—both positively and negatively—by market performance. But keeping overall tabs on AUM is a good idea. It is the ultimate bogey for most PR and marketing efforts over time.
Creating a dashboard
Tracking these datapoints can be as basic or sophisticated as you want it. For most, a quarterly report that includes a list of all media outcomes, and highlights those the most significant, is a starting point. You can then compile and link to or add in any of the other relevant metrics your team chooses to monitor. At the Lowe Group, we create quarterly media reports that are accessible via a web link.
Media dashboards provide a point-in-time report but can also be helpful in tracking your PR plans. They can help you identify progress you’ve made toward your goals and areas where you’ve come up short. They become a checkpoint throughout the year to let you know areas where you may need to focus more attention.
While it can take time to combine these disparate data points into a meaningful dashboard, it is well worth it. Executive management needs to see that you’re focused on demonstrating a return on the firm’s investment in PR. And you too deserve to see the quantifiable impact of your work and to manage to it. 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. Need help measuring or even starting to track? Send us a note and we can discuss a range of ways to work together.