Can you really measure the success of PR?

Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar believes marketer’s jobs are under siege because they struggle to prove their value to the company. Traditional PR key potential indicators like awareness don’t mean much to the CEO’s and CFO’s of America’s largest companies. What they really want to see is where the money is going, and where it’s coming from. Rajamannar says to be successful marketers need to “connect the dots between the marketing KPIs and the business results”. 


One of the toughest areas to prove and track ROI is public relations. How do you put a value on something that is earned or in a very simple sense “free” to the client? If Rajamannar is right, simply reporting impressions isn’t enough, a business objective must be easily digestible to any C-suite member, and their favorite flavor of results starts with a dollar sign. 


So far the jury is still out on an exact way to report ROI in Public Relations but here are three ways I’ve come across in my research.


  1. Engagement Value

Regina Conway, head of public relations and events at Slickdeals, suggests in her Forbes column a way of combating the various types of earned media hits by ranking them by engagement value. A one sentence mention in a newspaper shouldn’t be weighted the same as a full page feature — something simply reporting impressions wouldn’t catch. They promoted using engagement value, which is placement quality score x estimated audience. Placement quality score is a range 1 – 5 that you assign to the quality of the media hit (5 being a full feature, 1 being a one-line reference) to take into account the prominence of the mention. 



  • Can be used across all types of outlets
  • Takes into account the quality of the media hit



  • The placement quality score is arbitrary and if multiple PR firms  are guesstimating this metric, agencies could end up comparing apples to oranges


  1. Conversion Tracking


Another Forbes contributor Henry DeVries suggests conversion tracking as an effective way to see the value a PR campaign brought in. Conversion tracking is using various attribution models to track where consumers originate from. This can look having clients reference an email subscription list or give out a unique coupon code for listeners. This way, an agency can compare how many consumers originated from a PR campaign. Michelle Stansbury from award-winning Little Penguin PR promotes tracking “someone right from a PR placement to a sale”. This is a good end-of-funnel measure to share with executives.



  • Shows a high level, concrete value of publicity efforts



  • Doesn’t take into account the value of other phases of the marketing funnel
  • Doesn’t take into account the value on long-term customer relationship building 


  1. Native Content Value


Calculating earned media like advertising is the simplest approach but still has some validity. Native content is heating up in the digital advertising world because of its ability to appear like an earned media hit. A way to report the value of a PR feature on an outlet could be to see what it would cost to buy the same space. Eddie Kim, the CEO of Memo, a marketplace platform that allows PR professionals to access traffic and engagement data from publishers, echoed this saying “We need to be using paid media calculations to quantify how much it takes to reproduce earned media coverage.”



  • Simple
  • Proves value of space secured by earned media



  • Not every outlet offers native content and therefore its respective cost
  • Doesn’t take into account the added value of consumers trusting organic content more than paid


Overall all of these methods are great ways to communicate value to clients. However, it is important to not look at any of these options as a one-size-fits-all prescription for ROI. PR metrics should be tailored to the individual needs of each client and leadership team. As the media landscape becomes more diverse and competitive the winners will always be those who know their worth and are able to prove it to the consumer.  

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