Public relations and business growth are inextricably connected. But while executive leaders and marketing managers routinely rely on an assortment of PR tactics, few have a solid sense of the return they are receiving for their PR investments.
Here’s the problem: Unlike other multichannel investments, PR strategies don’t necessarily lend themselves to turnkey tracking solutions or measurement tools. So to discern ROI, executive managers need to take a broader look at the impact PR is having in their companies.
In a recent marketing measurement survey conducted by Ifbyphone, a significant percentage of marketers (82%) reported that they have no way to evaluate the return they receive from PR, and identified PR campaigns as the most difficult initiatives to measure.
That’s unfortunate because a good PR strategy delivers real results to the company’s bottom line. But to properly measure the ROI of PR, executive managers and marketers need to analyze the connections between public relations and the indicators that are driving growth in their organizations.
Key Indicators of ROI
PR measurements will never be as neat and tidy as the metrics that are deployed in other areas of the organization. But return on PR investments can be measured and quantified through the evaluation of key indicators:
1. Inbound Leads: Good PR shines a light on your company’s strengths, communicating expertise to targeted audiences and driving leads to your door. When your company prioritizes strategic placements in trade and consumer publications, your sales organization will inevitably experience a bump in the area of inbound leads.
Leveraging your Web site is one way to get a better idea of which inbound leads come from PR efforts. You can measure traffic to your Web site, number of branded searches, and conversion rates to establish a “traffic benchmark.” Every six months, or after a significant PR push or campaign, measure these again and compare, taking into account any PPC, SEO, or print and digital advertising efforts, which are generally easier to calculate. The leftover spike in traffic is a solid indicator of inbound leads generated from PR efforts. Companies can delve deeper by utilizing this same process to measure conversion rates.
Another indicator of the effectiveness of a company’s PR effort is growth in social media. Typically, PR campaigns will generate a larger social media following. Similar to Web traffic, set a benchmark and measure your follower count, “likes,” comments, and social-engagement levels before and after a significant PR push. This is applicable to virtually all social-media outlets, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, and blog subscribers.
2. Prospect Credibility And Conversions: PR strategies create tools that can be utilized to convert prospect calls to booked appointments. By referencing recent media placements during prospecting calls, sales teams instantly gain credibility with and are better equipped to transform boilerplate sales calls into meaningful sales dialogues.
A key indicator of elevated credibility resulting from PR can be found by examining the nature of requests that contacts approach you with. For example, a strong PR process will generate prospects higher in the sales funnel that trust you to answer questions about higher level corporate issues.This gives you the opportunity to offer input and suggest a full range of solutions, opening up opportunities to build rapport and develop a solid, long-term relationship.
3. Sales Cycle Efficiencies: A robust PR strategy should substantially shorten the length of your organization’s sales cycle. In general, the use of thought-leadership materials and media placements reduces sales cycles by 10% or more–creating efficiencies that can be leveraged to increase the volume of prospects and leads that are managed by your existing sales team.
As you leverage public relations to elevate your brand, and position yourself and company as an industry expert, you will notice more keyword searches specific to your brand name and executives. This demonstrates an enhanced level of credibility and awareness. Instead of searching “widgets company Chicago,” prospects immediately associate your name with a particular product or service.
That heightened trust in your brand leads to a heightened belief in your abilities. This shortens the consumer research and comparison process, in some cases eliminating a competitive process all together and, in turn, shortening your sales cycle.
Next Page: Incenting investors.
4. Investor Contacts: Investors avoid the unknown. If your business isn’t generating interest in the investment community, then the problem may be that you lack visibility and/or credibility in your field. Done right, PR demystifies your business and incents investors to fund your organization’s growth initiatives, eliminating the risk associated with sinking dollars into an untested and invisible investment target.
5. Crisis Management: Many businesses don’t fully appreciate the value of PR until they are in the midst of a crisis. In a crisis scenario, it’s all about protecting market share–a quantifiable outcome that is achieved through the rapid deployment of a detailed PR crisis management strategy.
6. Recruitment: Organizations that consistently invest in public relations experience higher returns from their efforts to recruit employees and strategic partners. Rather than tracking down the best partners and job candidates, companies that make regular and strategic PR investments often become magnets for individuals and companies at the upper end of the spectrum.
7. Shareholder Relationships: Shareholders appreciate companies that excel in communicating key messages to multiple constituencies. Although your campaigns may be intended to reach prospective customers or other targeted audiences, strong PR messaging will ultimately attract acquisition interest, securing the value of your stock and reinforcing your relationships with shareholders.
8. Competitive Visibility: It can be difficult to quantify the value of market visibility that is achieved through public relations. A better approach may be to consider how your bottom line would be affected if the competition’s PR investments outpaced the commitment to PR in your organization. Although it may not be readily apparent, PR investments protect revenue and market share from competitive pressures.
Keeping Public Relations In Perspective
In today’s business environment, you can’t afford to invest resources in strategies that can’t be measured. With that in mind, it’s important to understand that PR isn’t a panacea; in some cases, a PR campaign simply may not be the right tool for the job.
Return on PR investment begins with a newsworthy message. If the message you need to promote isn’t likely to capture the attention of trade or consumer media targets, then it will be impossible to generate meaningful returns from the dollars you dedicate to public relations. Ideally, your company’s PR offerings will be compelling story ideas that are differentiated from other ideas in the marketplace and are capable of creating organizational value.
In some instances, common measurement devices like site traffic, targeted keyword searches for the brand, call volume, brand-awareness analysis (pre- and post-PR), sentiment tracking, and SEO metrics can be deployed to gauge the effectiveness of PR messages. But when it comes to ROI, the real issue isn’t granular measurement. After you have determined that your offering has PR potential, your focus should shift to maximizing the impact of your PR efforts through strategy, execution, and monitoring routines.
It can also be helpful to gain clearer insights about the objectives tied to specific PR tactics. The more adept your organization becomes at discerning the nature and purpose of targeted PR initiatives, the easier it will be to identify the ROI of public relations in your company.