Measuring the value of PR isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean we should give up trying

Businesses are really trying to implement solutions in response to the fact that PR measurement is hard. But even harder is getting those new approaches to stick, explains Herd MSL's Stu Wragg.

Based on my interactions with PR leaders last year, PR measurement will be front-of-mind for many in 2020.

There is growing appreciation for the fact that the news you create is as important as the advertising you buy, meaning lots of brands have doubled-down on their PR investment. But with that comes a need for PR functions to better demonstrate the impact and value they create.

Addressing that need, as many comms folks know, is far from straightforward. But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean we should give up having a go.

While lots of brands understand the need to improve how they measure PR, they’re often less certain on where to begin.

A good place to start is with a critical review of what’s already in place.

This typically uncovers three issues.

The first is that PR reporting tends to be backward rather than forward-looking. By that, I mean the focus of reporting is skewed to reviewing and showcasing (the generally positive) impact of what’s already happened. That’s clearly important, but what these reports often miss are the strategic insights to inform future decision-making.

The second issue is context. In lots of cases, reports are lacking in detail on how PR activity has supported and integrated with other marketing efforts. Given PR is generally one part of a broader marketing mix, it’s surprising to see so many siloed approaches to reporting.

The third issue concerns how PR results are presented. At a time when real-time dashboards and dynamic visualisation of data has become the norm for business leaders, PR reports can sometimes appear basic and limited in their value. Sure, there’s always going to be a place to showcase impressive media clips and social media content, but it’s the data and insight that’s more important.

Now, I’m not suggesting PR execs haven’t tried to tackle any of these issues. Far from it.

In 2019, we saw lots of PR teams launch new measurement projects into businesses. The stumbling block, however, seems to be getting new measurement approaches to stick.

There are many reasons measurement transformations don’t deliver desired long-term outcomes, but it generally boils down to the reality that pegging PR outcomes to commercial outcomes is tricky, and sometimes downright impossible. Connected to that is the challenge of unearthing the data that’s needed in the first place. In some instances, last year, it took us months to uncover the data we needed from a business’ insights team.

Then there’s the time and energy it takes to educate and achieve organisational-wide buy-in for new measures. All the PR leaders we work with have more priorities than minutes in the day, so it’s not surprising that measurement initiatives fall easily to the bottom of to-do lists.

To overcome some of these measurement project hurdles, we’ve found it best to start small and scale projects over time, so you can test and learn from what works. Last year, we worked with a large organisation to do just that. When we came on board, we found the organisation swimming in PR-related data but lacking in meaningful insights from the data. Rather than solve it all in one go, we began by determining what data was most useful to analyse and what information was valued most by internal stakeholders. We then built a series of interactive dashboards to showcase that data.

One of our key learnings from that work was the need to spend time clearly defining for internal audiences what each of the measures meant. Without this articulation, stakeholders struggled to fully appreciate the significance of data points and insights.

Through ongoing consultation with stakeholders, we also uncovered new and better ways to improve the way PR results were showcased in C-level meetings, which goes to show the benefit of not trying to take on everything from the start.

Demonstrating the value of PR will likely be a challenge for some time, but increased business interest in the power and potential of earned means we shouldn’t give up trying. The fact business leaders are taking a greater interest in earned and asking more questions is a good thing. Let’s make the most of the opportunity in front of us.

Stu Wragg is strategy director at integrated communications agency Herd MSL. Stu will also be speaking at this year’s CommsCon. Tickets and program details are available here. 

Earlybird ticket prices are available until 20 February. 


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.