“So, what’s the impact of PR on my bottom line?” 

Sound familiar? It’s a question PR professionals are asked on a frequent – frankly, too frequent – basis. Despite the growing commitment to PR by the wise, experienced chiefs that make up the C-suite, this single question continues to frighten many within our industry. They know they need PR, they understand its important role and believe in it today more than ever before, and yet the question persists.

Perhaps we have our friends in other marketing disciplines to thank. They have successfully proved their value where it matters: the boardroom. They’re showing how their activities directly impact engagement and sales through statistics and data – thus enabling them to secure bigger budgets. Meanwhile, many PRs are still arguing that our impact is harder to measure and prove.

With results, impact and ROI becoming increasingly important to decision makers, the responsibility is on PRs to find an answer to this as soon as possible. The reality is that we’re losing out to marketing when it comes to budgets and there’s a risk that we’ll see purse strings tighten in future, in favour of higher expenditure on marketing and sales activities.

Yes, proving tangible impact is a challenge. Is it impossible? Far from it. There are a vast number of ways to effectively measure PR impact and bring together meaningful information and data to create a compelling argument in favour of PR to show its value. All you need to do is P-R-E-P!

P Prepare

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. A cliché we all roll our eyes at, but oh boy isn’t it true.

Measuring the impact of PR successfully won’t be achieved by looking back at the end of a campaign and piecing together a random selection of meaningless stats (here’s looking at you, AVE). It requires strategic thinking. Measurement needs to be considered during the campaign planning process – that way you can set objectives and tactics you can measure against through data.

Say goodbye to AVE and impressions and say hello to more insightful statistics. For example, reviewing spikes in website visits during and following a campaign will reveal how well a campaign engaged your audience. And if your aim is to raise awareness, analysing what proportion of those visitors were new to the site or returning shows if you’re succeeding; a higher ratio of new visitors shows the campaign has reached a wider, yet still relevant audience.

A word of caution: while you should make stats and data your friend, don’t forget that they can be manipulated and window-dressed to appear better than they are. High stats don’t necessarily mean great results or significant impact. Just look at click-bait. It drives high traffic, but it can be counterproductive and damaging. Tricking your audience will most likely have a negative impact on reputation and in most cases won’t to lead to sales or repeat visits in future.

R – Review

PR has come a long way since reports were solely made up of AVE and impressions – but there’s still further to go. Over the next few years we expect to see more and more in-house and agency teams turn to new software and services that offer the opportunity to efficiently measure metrics like sentiment. But if you’re not there just yet, focus on the what you can measure and work harder to exploit them.

One option, that we at Firefly strongly encourage, is to review the quality of a piece of coverage in more depth as part of a scoring system.

It’s a very simple process. Before the campaign commences, simply identify criteria that are important to your overall strategic focus, then when coverage comes in, assign a score against each criterion. Simply add up the scores and you’ll have a total that will reveal quality. The criteria you choose might include: positive scores for whether there’s a backlink to your website, tier of publication and how on-message the coverage is; and a negative score for mentions of a competitor.

This tool can extend beyond secured coverage. You can apply it to non-media work, such as executive speaker slots, performance of paid social media, analyst relations, and networking programmes – all of which can help prove the impact of PR.

These other activities are often overlooked in reporting, but they have a role to play in showing the worth of PR efforts, especially at present when the C-suite is increasingly focusing on executive profiling and networking.

E – Evolve

I’d like you to take a breather for a moment. While you do, ask yourself this: when is the last time you or your team deep dived into your results and analysed what could’ve been improved?

The reason I ask is because it’s so easy to get caught up in the 24/7 nature of PR and not stop to evaluate. Often, and this includes our colleagues in sales and marketing, PRs will celebrate victories and move onto the next campaign without reflecting on what could’ve been done better. It’s one thing to review results in more depth, but it’s another thing altogether to analyse what could’ve been improved and then act on it.

The next time one of your PR campaigns comes to a close, be sure to celebrate meeting your KPIs and then ask yourself and your team what could be improved on. Consider if anything could be done more efficiently or more cost effectively and think about the hurdles you faced and how you overcame them. This is highly valuable information – with it influencing your decision making, your future campaigns will evolve to give you the best opportunity to meet and exceed your objectives.

P – Prove

You prepared well, you executed your campaign with aplomb, you’ve reviewed and analysed the campaign, and the results are excellent – now what?

It’s time to bang your drum and get buy-in from the boardroom. This is where all that planning, measurement and analysis will be worth the time, energy and effort. This is your chance to earn a bigger budget – or at least retain the current one if you’re at risk of it being cut.

There are two important factors to consider before you report on results and make your pitch for more resources. First, speak their language. Senior decision makers react best to top level reporting, not granular detail, so focus on your outcomes and the impact on the business. And combine this with the second factor – provide evidence in data form – to do so. Show them the spike in new website visits that proves you’re raising awareness. Show them a summary of a sentiment report that shows the company’s reputation is being enhanced. Heck, show them anything that proves your point, so long as you establish tangible business benefits.

Being asked to prove the worth and impact of PR can be daunting at first. But as you can see, when tackled bit by bit as part of a clear, logical process it quickly becomes straightforward and manageable. So, what’s holding you back? Go out there and P-R-E-P!

I took an informal poll of my Firefly colleagues by asking for some 2011 PR predictions. Always an interesting question to posit this time of year, so here’s a quick roundup of the top responses:

Measure, measure, measure: this could be a make-or-break year for some measurement and evaluation providers, covering both traditional and social media. Expect more consolidation as well as standardisation across the industry, which will necessitate even closer collaboration between third party measurement vendors and PRs . For some sound industry points of view, check out these principles (and “hoorah!” for principle 5, in particular).

Back-to-basics: this year, if they haven’t already, PRs should turn their attention to analytics. This means both the raw data served up by your measurement/evaluation tool of choice, as well as probing those figures like good, old-fashioned data sleuths. It’s not enough to drop pretty graphs into PowerPoint presentations: be prepared to answer why.

Great copy:  at the risk of sounding old-fashioned, we’re also big believers in the “return of great copy”. Whilst we’re still happy tweeting, poking and digg.ing, great copy is still great copy, and has its place in the world of PR and communications. Just ask Copyblogger.

Where are they now? Last year, we saw more friends leap onto new, social media platforms like Posterous, Quora and Gowalla. Admittedly, it’s getting harder to keep up with their sheer numbers (the platforms, not our friends), as well as gauge whether there’s a substantial enough following on each. Although the social media graveyard is growing, we predict it will be easier to resurrect some fundamentally great ideas, because of the low barrier to entry in the first instance. And when that happens – complete with the necessary tweaks to make these platforms truly great – then we can talk about the real, game-changing Web. 

Happy 2011!

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