Ad Age Blogs this week saw fit to allow Rosanna M. Fiske, chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, to expend 508 words on "In PR, Measurement Moves From Fuzzy Math and Social-Media Snake Oil to Actual Metrics." "AH HA," says I, who have followed this circumloquacious discussion for more than 35 years, "Finally, some guidance on how to TRULY calculate the ROI of PR." But no. Nothing new from her or the seven items she linked to. Rather than provide a solution, there were just more "we should's" and "somebody oughtta's."
It was, in fact, a delicious example of PR speak, where someone expends a significant effort, tops it with a provocative headline, and then says nothing worth hearing -- something that nearly all reporters feel most news releases are guilty of.
The PR industry is tripping all over itself to use social media to further annoy reporters, since scribes by and large have stopped answering phones or responding to email pitches. Or PR imagines that it can now "bypass" the media and reach client target audiences directly on Twitter and Facebook. Yet the flag still really goes up when they deliver on the traditional promise of PR: a nice story in a good publication. Don't get me started on all the other nonsense PR wants to claim credit for, like "shifts in awareness, comprehension, attitude and behavior related to purchase, donations, brand equity, corporate reputation, employee engagement, public policy, investment decisions..." Yeah, and don't forget making sure the CEO's tuxedo is pressed before he speaks tonight.
Over the years I have seen dozens of "formulas" to calculate PR success. Most of them were simply bullshit; nicely packaged, but BS nonetheless. There seemed to be a focus more on appearance rather than substance (hey, kinda like how most people regard PR anyway).
Here is a really easy way to measure your PR success. It doesn't neatly fit into some prefabricated formula or even give you a way to measure the ROI on your PR spend, but here goes anyway: When a nice story about you appears in a good publication, a couple of things should happen. Your phone should start to ring and your inbox fill up with queries from prospects who never knew you had the capabilities covered in the story. In a perfect world, some of them convert. Your friends will tell you they saw the story and pat you on the back. Your enemies will call their PR folks in and yell at them that this story was about you instead of them. At a cocktail party, someone will say, “Yeah, I read that about you the other day, can't recall where, but yeah I saw a story." Your VCs will be happy for about 24 hours, since they think that good press will lead to an earlier, more profitable outcome for them. Another reporter might see that story and mentally put you on their call list for a similar or different story in the future. You can make your folks tweet it or put it on the company blog, assuming that it will have some sort of multiplier effect. You will feel better about paying the PR firm's invoice at the end of the month.
And that is pretty much that. Put together a string of good stories in good publications, and suddenly someone wants to acquire you. Then you will see the true ROI of your PR.