As PR and communications professionals, we are regularly asked how we define success. Unlike some marketing techniques, where there is more of a trackable correlation between activity and business performance, PR evaluation has historically been quite difficult to quantify in the same way.

PR primarily concerns raising the profile of businesses or individuals and promoting, protecting and projecting reputations. While sales uplifts, improved business performance or even investment often follow campaigns, the ultimate aim of PR is to sustain a positive public image – but how exactly can we measure this?

When it comes to evaluating the impact of PR campaigns, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

It’s all about reputation and influence on brand impact. Traditionally, the evaluation of PR may have loosely been categorised into three subsectors: awareness, share, and sentiment. However, as we progress through the fourth industrial revolution, technology has increased our ability as professional practitioners to quantify results more accurately – the central theme to Cision’s recent CommsCon X Insights event, which I attended.

We now have a wealth of digital channels and tools available to promote brands online and we can monitor everything from spikes in web traffic and referrals from PR activity, to SEO and page ranking, and social media performance covering impressions, engagement, geographical reach and demographics. We can dig deeper into exactly who has been consuming our content, where, and at which touchpoints. At Definition, our AIM measurement model assesses Audience, Impact and Message and we build bespoke evaluations that fit each client campaign. This ensures our work directly meets clients’ KPIs and we can provide accurate campaign analysis by reviewing a range of metrics whether these be monthly unique users, whitepaper downloads or influencer engagements.

What we do want to move away from is the dreaded AVE (advertising value equivalent). Rightly discounted by our industry’s governing bodies the CIPR and the PRCA, AVE is an outdated practice that measures column inches or the equivalent cost of buying the space taken up by coverage. While these figures often look great for return on investment, they don’t take into account more important metrics such as tone, quality and audience. With more sophisticated metrics now available that allow us to provide more targeted activity and tangible results it is our responsibility to move our clients on from viewing AVEs as the be all and end all of PR ROI.

I recently attended PRmoment’s #PRmetrics seminar in partnership with Signal. While this focussed on what the c-suite wants from PR metrics, one of the key takeaways was that communications isn’t solely concerned with driving sales; rather upholding reputations. We must get to know our clients, learn what they want and assess what really matters to them by creating suitable metrics that correctly measure campaign activity and performance.

All in all, PR professionals must embrace innovative new reporting methods that enable us to demonstrate real impact against objectives from our work in ways other than attaching a monetary value. PR is much more than this and our ability to influence others and build positive reputations enable clients to manage risk, plan for the future and ultimately grow as businesses. Using technology, we can measure our work better than ever and amidst ongoing economic uncertainty at the time of writing, this will ensure clients can justify PR spend for the long-term.

Dan Stead, Account Manager