PR Metrics Evolve to Show How Discipline Drives Sales

Rise of Social Media, Digital Spark Shift for Ms&L, Weber Shandwick

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a little over a year, Allyson Hugley, VP-insight creation at Publicis Groupe's MS&L Worldwide, has seen the conversation on how to measure the impact of PR shift 180 degrees.

Allyson Hugley, VP-insight creation at Publicis Groupe's MS&L Worldwide
Allyson Hugley, VP-insight creation at Publicis Groupe's MS&L Worldwide
She recalled how a 2009 planning meeting with a product-safety certification company that tasked the agency with creating awareness went nothing like their recent meeting for 2010.

"Over the course of a 12-month period, it evolved from a conversation about softer metrics like brand awareness and perception to harder metrics like what impact the campaign is having on sales and business," Ms. Hugley said, adding that those measures of effectiveness are still important. "Now success will be determined by demonstrating the impact on the business, how we're driving lead generation and how this campaign is driving sales."

Measurement has long been a thorn in the side of the PR industry, which has still yet to settle on an industrywide standard, although the Public Relations Society of America announced it will issue a set of recommended metrics and approaches this fall but is first seeking industry input. And since marketers are much more likely to cut an agency's budget than they are to increase it, the ability to prove their worth has become all the more important.

"The notion of marketing accountability and how it relates to spending, effectiveness and efficiency has been taken to another plateau over the last 12 months as the economy has turned," said Joseph Russo, head of global research and measurement at Omnicom Group's Porter Novelli.

Integrated results
He said one of the biggest shifts he's seeing is clients calling for more-integrated measurement solutions. "It's not acceptable to say here is what was generated on the print side, and here's what we got on the digital side," Mr. Russo said. "We can't treat them separately, so measurement offerings tend to feature more integration of the results irrespective of the source."

MS&L's Ms. Hugley agrees and said the idea behind integration is explaining how the results from the various channels -- traditional and new media -- drive one another by demonstrating the impact each one has on the overall success of a campaign. She said while analyzing traditional, digital and social-media measurement data from a consumer client's campaign, the agency determined the majority of site traffic was driven by entertainment, paid and earned social-media activities, while only a small percentage was coming from search.

"So based on the outcomes and learnings from last year's measurement activity, we are not only incorporating more social media activity into the campaign," Ms. Hugley said, "but we are modifying the search terms this year to boost traffic."

Along with the notion of integration, Tim Marklein, exec VP- measurement and strategy at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Weber Shandwick, has seen two other adjustments occur in the measurement space -- the "cycle times of measurement" and a transition from impressions to engagement.

"It's moved from rearview measurement to decision-time measurement," Mr. Marklein said, noting that there were two advantages to this for the agency. "You're getting data in a timely enough way to make decisions and impact the program. And tracking data in the same time frame that businesses track sales and web traffic data allows you to better correlate PR's impact."

Engagement
He said getting clients to understand the benefits of engagement over impressions is the biggest challenge agencies have. "The beauty of engagement is that it's a deeper level of involvement with a brand than you had in the eyeball or impressions world," he said. "People were comfortable knowing the value The Wall Street Journal had for whatever vertical they are in. But with the number of blogs out there and traditional media putting more emphasis on web properties, marketers are unsettled on the traditional things they believed in but now know they need new approaches to figure this out."

Mr. Marklein said the need to shift from a pure impressions mind-set to an engagement mindset was highlighted while recently working with one of Weber-Shandwick's biggest consumer clients. While evaluating which type of media coverage -- traditional or online -- drove web traffic and converted visitors into customers more successfully, the agency determined that more topical, social-driven and service-oriented outlets drove higher engagement and conversion rates. The measurement analysis caused the brand to alter its media strategy, refocusing its investment on the higher-impact outlets that drive higher conversion rates, Mr. Marklein said.

MS&L's Ms. Hugley said clients aren't alone and that the rise of digital and social media has caused everyone to rethink their approach to measurement.

"We had to fine-tune our approach to measurement not as something that happens at the end of the discussion but from the beginning and throughout the process," she said. "And we have to make sure we are clear on how clients define success within their organization and that we are tailoring our measurement approaches appropriately."

Three keys for effective PR measurement:

Measurement is still very client- and industry-specific. But PR professionals say more and more they are finding commonalities across verticals that allow them to standardize a majority of their measurement programs. Here are three components an agency and client need to have in place in for effective PR measurement.

  • Client and agency must hammer out a clear understanding of the campaign's objective and what it is intended to affect (sales, reputation/brand equity, employees or public policy) to establish exactly what needs to be measured -- media impressions or engagement.
  • Find a "fit-for-purpose solution," as Joseph Russo, head of global research and measurement at Porter Novelli calls it, or an approach to measurement that takes into account the size of the PR program so that the measurement approach can be sized accordingly. The goal is to avoid spending more on measurement than the overall cost of the PR program.
  • Establish a clear communication of impact and results with the target in mind.
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