The reason the old standard models of PR measurement no longer cut it can be summarised thusly: the internet. 

It’s pretty obvious to anyone familiar with these old standards that they’re just not going to work in a world of blog posts, tweets, viral content and multiple screens. 

If you break it down further, however, the problem is even more fundamental. Pre-digital era, the basic measurement methods were circulation, and AVE; advertising value equivalency. 

PR has always been measured against the ‘known value’ of its big brother advertising (for anyone not familiar with AVE, it basically involves saying a half page of advertising is £X, therefore our coverage is £X). The irony of this being that, of course, no one really knew the true value of advertising either. 

So how on earth PR’s worth was determined as an equivalent of what was already of unknown value is anyone’s guess. The metrics were clearly faulty before the internet came along and ruined everything. 

Half of every dollar spent

I know. No blog post on measurement is complete without a nod to this old line. It may be hackneyed, but like most clichés the quote ‘half of every dollar I spend on advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half’ contains a truism. 

Or at least, it did. We’re seeing a resurgence in the use of this quote because marketing attribution vendors left right and centre are making claim to be finally tackling the problem. 

You can, they say, now see which half of your advertising spend is wasted. And then you stop spending it there, investing it instead where you know it is working, therefore making your money work a lot harder for you. 

The last click model is even less relevant in PR

One of the biggest issues marketing attribution attempts to resolve is that of last click model. We know that there are multiple touch points for a customer in the journey between discovery and purchase. 

The number and variety of those touch points is going to vary almost infinitely, depending on the customer, the market, the product value and type, the platforms involved and so many other variables.

What we all know though, is that there is almost never just one, so attributing all value to whatever the customer last clicked through from is always absurd. 

My colleague Debby Penton has rightly argued that last click attribution is especially absurd in PR. Bizarrely, as the rest of marketing is moving away from last click, PR seems to be moving towards it.

As PR is adopting content marketing practices, we can finally be seen to be contributing to the sales funnel.

Which is great. But the problem with that is us PRs, and our clients, are now getting too preoccupied with measuring this contribution, to the detriment of all the other benefits of PR. 

You could, but should

An excellent post in October from tech industry VC Mark Suster explained the many silent benefits of PR covers this topic well.

The fact is that despite its newfound capabilities for lead generation and user acquisition, the benefit of PR has always been, and remains, predominantly about brand and not direct sales.

Trade versus brand

I attended a seminar at the Festival of Marketing back in November about marketing attribution success at O2. Dan Michelson, O2’s Head of Digital Capability – Direct Marketing, said something that inspired hope in me. 

Apparently, O2’s marketing attribution strategy has not only helped the business make better decisions about which channels it is using, it’s also helped them better appreciate the value of brand messaging. 

Prior to adopting this strategy, O2 had been moving further and further towards what it calls trade messaging; deals, offers, messaging designed to instigate a direct sale. What its use of sophisticated marketing attribution had allowed O2 to see was the value of brand messaging and campaigns that focus more on added value and brand benefits. 

You can see where I’m going here, can’t you? If a sophisticated marketing attribution model can help a huge brand like O2 see the value of brand communications, could it help PR? 

There are complications here that I appreciate. O2 may have been able to see the value of brand messaging but it was still in online advertising, where all the clicks can be seen and tracked.

As someone who is regularly asked by clients to give media custom URLs for the purposes of measurement, to see media (understandably, as is their editorial prerogative) either use a simplified version or not use a link at all, I know that level of tracking is going to be tricky to say the least. 

But still I can’t help asking, is there some way we can at least move closer to seeing PR measurement fixed in the marketing attribution model? In a way that values like its brand impact and the weight of authoritative editorial are appreciated? 

Ian McKee

Published 7 April, 2015 by Ian McKee

Ian McKee is Social and PR Director at AgencyUK and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn

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Comments (5)

David Somerville

David Somerville, Strategy Director at Fresh Egg

Great article Ian and I sympathise on many points. Social media has also been tarred with the same "top of the funnel" brush, but actually over the past few years measurement and tools have improved to an extent that we can now clearly show that in many cases social networks can drive traffic AND conversions.

For PR, it is naturally going to be harder to attribute, for example you can send media a nicely tagged link to try and track the click-through, but often they will not use that link or even use a link at all (however a citation in our eyes is often just as good).

I feel that as measurement of digital channels in general improves there will definitely be new ways to try and measure the effect of PR beyond simple eyeballs.

over 3 years ago

Ian McKee

Ian McKee, Social and PR Director at AgencyUK

Thanks David. Agree some of the social media measurement tools have come on leaps and bounds in this area, and the old metrics don't cut it there any more.

Just a mention can often be just as good. That only makes it more complicated though, there's obvious value in that but no technology is able to tell you how much it might attribute to a reader's decision to purchase or perception of the brand!

We have ways of doing that to an extent, tracking messages as well numbers of eyeballs, share of voice and things, but it needs to be better joined up. Hope you're right that this will improve!

over 3 years ago

Celina Burnett

Celina Burnett, Partner at Gain Theory

Great article – and completely agree! PR can absolutely be measured in attribution models given the right level of activity. For measuring across online/offline activity it’s often the lack of data available that can cause an issue, which is something we need to address as an industry.

It can also tend to get forgotten in the mix of many attribution projects because the investment in measuring communications comes from the departments investing the big bucks in media.

over 3 years ago


Christine Perkett, CEO & Founder at SeeDepth, Inc.

Thanks for taking a look at the very hot topic of PR Measurement. While I appreciate that click throughs are not the be all end all of PR value, they are important to include when analyzing PR's impact. Although PR is not to be considered only a lead generation tool, I do think lead gen is a part of what PR provides - we do have a role in the funnel - but in a wider definition. Lead gen goes beyond driving traffic. Leads don't convert without all the other valuable impacts PR provides such as credibility, thought leadership and certainly awareness. (In partnership with sales and product dev of course - everyone has a role.)

The trick to valuable PR measurement isn't to just count numbers, it's to analyze all of the attributes that PR provides and begin to recognize patterns of success so that you can repeat what's working and pivot from what isn't. Using data to simply surface numbers is a bit pointless. Analyzing data to surface trends of success is where PR measurement really makes an impact, and that's what we're doing for brands and agencies at SeeDepth.

PR execs need to stop counting just clicks, outputs and activity - and start analyzing. We need stronger correlations between quantity and quality. Only then will we truly understand our impact on the business, and how to create more strategic and successful campaigns.

Christine Perkett
SeeDepth, Inc.

over 3 years ago

Ian McKee

Ian McKee, Social and PR Director at AgencyUK

Thanks for the comment Celina. It's a lot about where the money's going of course! I guess my hope is that some of the people spending those big bucks will start to realise some of the true values of PR via the implementation. That's going to take some time though, naturally.

over 3 years ago

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