It’s no secret that evidencing PR outcomes to drive business objectives is vital. In an increasingly uncertain economic climate, comms professionals from all industries are under pressure to justify their budgets and prove the value of their activities and agency partnerships.
The good news is that PR measurement is improving, assisted by a myriad of new tools and data availability that can be used to analyse campaigns’ success.
But not all measurement is equal, and the bad news is that a fresh wave of ‘vanity’ metrics has come crashing into the world of PR and communications.
What are vanity metrics?
Vanity metrics are those that feel important but are ultimately superficial, or worse, deceptive. While some vanity metrics are important for benchmarking, such as traffic and unique visits, they shouldn’t be mistaken for intelligence. In the big picture, vanity metrics actually hold you back.
What is an example of a vanity metric?
One example of a vanity metric is how many times a report or whitepaper has been downloaded. Sure, it’s a great piece of data, but does it really mean anything to your business?
Just because a site visitor downloads content doesn’t mean they engaged with it, that it influenced their perception or prompted any action. What does that download actually deliver?
Other vanity metric examples include:
All of which can look great but lack accuracy and fail to provide insight or value.
What makes a good metric?
A good metric that your PR team should focus their analysis on are those that:
● Analyse the quality of coverage – Rather than focus on how many external sites covered your content, how many relevant and well-known publications picked it up?
● Are actionable – Based on the results of a ‘successful’ piece, is there another topic you can try or a new angle you can take that will mean the same publishers pick up more pieces?
● Assist conversions – External pieces should have a link to a specific and relevant page on your website. How often did this page result in an assisted conversion? Or, for non-eCommerce brands, where did site visitors go once they land on the targeted page? Is the piece playing its part in helping visitors navigate through the marketing funnel?
How to make sure your PR metrics matter
With technology now available to measure almost everything, it’s easy to drown in data. There’s no one-size-fits-all, and you need to identify what matters to you and ignore the noise and abundance of numbers that aren’t helpful.
The measurements you use to quantify success will differ from campaign to campaign. So, it’s not as easy as saying focus on X, Y and Z. Instead, you need to approach each campaign and decide beforehand what metrics you will use to measure success.
Here are three quick checks you can make to ensure you’re opting for quality metrics rather than vanity metrics.
1) Choose your PR measurement metrics at the start of the campaign
You must decide what metrics will give you the data you need to take action before the campaign begins. It’s easy to get swayed by beautiful-looking data, especially if the quantifiable metrics aren’t looking quite as good, so having a list of metrics to focus on at the start, and sticking with them, is vital.
Every campaign should have an objective, so decide what metrics will help you prove that your efforts have met that objective. Say you’re working for a brand that’s targeting a niche audience, is a broad media hit as impactful as an article In a well-respected trade publication? The chances are the answer is no, so your metric here would be quality of coverage rather than quantity of coverage.
2) Ask, ask, ask
Listen to senior management, your team and your clients (internal or external) and ask questions to help you decide what’s important.
A good place to start is to ascertain the strategic goal. You may hear, for example, “increase share of voice” – but why? Or, you might hear, “we want to put this message out on social media so people can see it” – Again, why?
What is the outcome you are trying to achieve? Is it to increase sales, prompt action or change perceptions? And how does that support the broader business objectives? How long do you have to achieve your mission? Information like this helps you decide what to measure and how, so ask as many questions as you can.
3) Are you being guided by the Barcelona Principles?
Take a look at the Barcelona Principles. These guidelines offer advice to help avoid vanity metrics and measure and evaluate communications activity in a meaningful and relevant manner. The principles include:
● Ensuring goals are measurable
● Choosing metrics that identify outputs, outcomes and potential impact
● Those metrics should lead to both qualitative and quantitative analysis
● Metrics should be transparent and drive learning and insights.
By measuring what’s important and continually validating procedures, the PR industry can leave vanity metrics and other meaningless measurements behind.
But there are no silver bullets when it comes to PR evaluation. Looking closely at your business goals is a crucial place to start while trying to ignore the noise from irrelevant or unnecessary data sources, and focusing on what works for your brand will keep you on track. Critically, measurement shouldn’t be an end-point to your campaign but a learning tool to shape where you go from here and what you do next.
What is a PR Measurement Framework?
AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework is an educational tool which helps PR practitioners on their measurement journey, from planning and setting objectives through to where we measure and evaluate communications outcomes. Putting your organization and its objectives first, the framework forges a path to not only output metrics, but also out-takes (what people now think) and outcomes (what people now do). Used by thousands of organizations and now taught in universities, the framework helps one to understand the metrics that matter – those insights that will actually help an organization know how well its PR is doing and what it is delivering. Find out more with CARMA Co-Managing Partner and AMEC Chairman, Richard Bagnall, here.