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Assessing the Long-Term Impact of PR Work

One of the more significant challenges in public relations work is keeping an eye on the long-term impacts of PR work. It can be very easy to slip into a pattern of only paying attention to the immediate, short-term successes of a well-placed interview or the triumph of a product or effort that is a viral hit.

In part, it’s a challenge because unless you set out to track long-term goals, your measurement tools might not be set up to capture all of the data you need. Adding to that are other factors, such as changing goals, shifting priorities of leadership, and a media landscape that is vastly different now than it was even a decade ago.

So, how do you go about assessing the long-term impact of your PR efforts? The first step is to not make the perfect the enemy of the good—meaning if you are looking for a perfect match between past efforts and current programs, you’re setting yourself up for frustration. What you should be looking for are general alignments and logical connections.

For example, a company’s PR messaging will change over time, so rather than going on a potentially fruitless search for current key messages in coverage you received five years ago, look to see what the commonalities are in the messages that resonate over time.

How to create benchmarks using older data

If you’ve been measuring and monitoring for a while and have access to your older data, you can use that older information to establish benchmarks.

Essentially, you’ll be working backwards, based on the information that you have available. For example, if the older data has sentiment attached to it and you are still monitoring for sentiment, you can use the oldest available sentiment data as your baseline.

One challenge in using older data to establish benchmarks is that issues that might have affected volume or sentiment can get lost in time. Quickly review the monthly volume and sentiment charts for the full year you’ll be using as your baseline, just to make sure that you are using data that is reasonably “typical” for the organization.

Working with data sets that have changed over time

Whether it’s a function of new features added to your monitoring tool, or simply the shifts in social media that occur when a new platform takes off, your data sets will change.

These changes can make charting and analysis difficult. There are two fairly simple ways to address changed data sets. One, you can add notes indicating when and what the changes are, or, two, you can separate your analysis into a “before” and “after.” As long as there is a clear indication in the analysis about when and how the data set changed, the analysis should not be negatively affected.

Using monitoring to determine the long-term impacts of PR work will always present some continuity challenges. Publications close, social media platforms rise and fall, and the news industry has been under significant pressure for years, resulting in a vastly altered media landscape.

Changing priorities, shifting goals

With the more sophisticated monitoring and analysis tools available to PR practitioners, it’s easier than ever to track a wide range of metrics. Combined with a more methodical approach to measurement—such as matching PR efforts to business goals—communicators are gaining a greater understanding of how public relations work directly impacts the bottom line.

Business goals and PR messaging can change over time, adjusting to internal and external factors. How does this impact a PR pro’s ability to assess the long-term impact of PR on these areas of focus? The answer lies in looking at goals met, rather than the impact of specific messaging.

When monitoring to measure the impact of specific messages, or in meeting specific business goals, PR practitioners are making the connection between their efforts and explicit outcomes. When looking at the data over a longer period of time, the question is not whether there is a connection or not. Instead, you’ll be looking at frequency (how often has there been a connection between PR efforts and outcomes) and rate of change (such as shifts in sentiment, or whether there was an increase or decrease in the inclusion of factors such as key messages or mentions of specific spokespeople, for example).

Assessing the long-term impact of PR is looking at trends in the success rate over time of meeting goals and securing coverage with key messages included. So, even though goals and messages change over time, that change should not negatively impact your ability to assess your overall success.

Setting up for success down the road

Most of the discussion above is designed to help PR practitioners extract insights from data they have already collected. In part, that’s because monitoring and analysis have been around for a while, and organizations are typically really good at using the information collected for planning and gauging short-term successes. They are less likely to think about using older data, which is a shame because there is value there if you know where to look!

However, if you’re developing a new monitoring and analysis program and know that you’ll want to look at information at the one, three, and five-year marks, you can make that work easier by setting it up correctly.

Think about what you want to show at each reporting stage. If you’re looking to improve your reputation, sentiment analysis will be an important metric. If you’re aiming for more coverage in priority outlets, make sure you have an actual list of those publications—it’s better to measure against a list than an abstract feeling of importance.  Create your baselines, as it is easier to show what has changed if you have a fixed starting point.


Whether you’re starting a new program and can set parameters that show what is working, or looking back through data already collected, media monitoring can help an organization determine the long-term impacts of PR efforts.

Doing this type of deep analysis over time can offer insights into which communications tactics have staying power. This in turn allows an organization to make smart decisions and wise investments in PR, which can have a lasting impact.

Speak with one of our experienced consultants about your media monitoring and communications evaluation today.