PR is about so much more than column inches, but how do you measure a campaign’s success? Amy Finlayson guides us through her straightforward approach.

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PR can be a difficult and unwieldy beast in terms of measurement. But with limited PR budgets in the arts being stretched even tighter in the current climate of cuts, it’s never been more important to gauge return on investment (ROI). 

We know that a piece of editorial has a much larger impact than an advert, and yet for many years PR consultants have used advertising value equivalents (AVEs) – measuring the value of PR by creating a calculation of 2.5 or 3 times what the equivalent advertising space would have cost.

Was an increase in ticket sales directly attributed to the PR and did it change people’s perceptions?

Thankfully, this method has now been discredited by the industry, and the professional body CIPR immediately disqualifies any awards entries that contain AVEs as a measurement. This is excellent news for two reasons.

First, it lessens the constant comparison with advertising that PR receives, as it is a very different method of communicating with your audience.

Second, by creating an alternative, it ensures that PR campaigns are more focussed from the beginning and ultimately more effective. This is particularly important in the arts where budgets are small and it is more likely to be done in-house without the resources of a big agency.

Objectives and measurements

So what is the best way to effectively evaluate a PR campaign? Essentially you need to consider what you want to achieve (planning), think about what success looks like (evaluation) and use that to inform what you do next (learning).

In simple terms, you set objectives for the campaign during the planning stages (which need to also align with wider communication objectives). You are then able to measure the results or the outcomes against these objectives at the end.

For example, you can use key messages as an objective, then evaluate how many pieces of coverage used them, so at the end you can identify that a certain percentage of the coverage you received used a particular key message. This can be whatever you like, either the name and date of an event, a website for people to go to or a message about the organisation.

Other things to measure against include web traffic, which is easily identifiable through Google Analytics. Did you have a spike in visits when the campaign went out? Or perhaps you want to set ticket sales as a target. The outcome of the campaign is key and you need to ensure you are achieving the desired outcomes as you go along, and if not, reviewing your outputs (how you are communicating with your audience).

A PR campaign must have an integrated social media approach. So again, consider here what results you want to achieve. This creates its own challenges in terms of measurement, but there are lots of ways to monitor this: hits on certain links, increase in followers, shares, engagement, use of hashtags, retweets, likes, etc. Google Analytics is also useful as you can track links back from certain social media activity to your website.

You can also undertake evaluation by running audience surveys before and after the campaign. You can completely tailor this to what information you need. For example, asking questions about awareness of your venue or event before and afterwards, or asking how many people engaged in the campaign and whether that will result in a change in behaviour in the future, such as an increased likelihood of buying tickets with you. It’s useful to incentivise people with a prize for filling out a survey to get more responses.

Four-step process

The whole evaluation process can be summarised in four steps:

  • Input: This is the research stage. Researching the organisation, brand or event and its key messages – desk research for the campaign and the materials you will need – setting objectives – what do you want the campaign to achieve?
  • Output: What messages are you sending out? How are you communicating to your audience? Press releases, website, surveys, etc. This is information that you are putting out that can be measured in a quantifiable way, such as the number of articles, website visits or people who attended an event. But you can’t tell what people’s opinions and behaviour changes are from output.
  • Out-take: This is all about how aware the audience is of the message. So analysis of the coverage and key messages used, looking at social media comments, engagement and running surveys.
  • Outcome: This is what it all comes down to. Did the campaign achieve your objectives? Was an increase in ticket sales directly attributed to the PR and did it change people’s perceptions? PR is all about clearly communicating a message, so did you achieve this?

The importance of outcomes

The outcome is the key element in any evaluation and you can look at it in various ways:

  • The objectives versus results (which is why putting objectives in place at the beginning are so key).
  • The hard evidence – ticket sales, attendance, money raised, etc.
  • ‘Soft’ evidence which is observational and anecdotal.
  • Analyse the return on investment. How much did the campaign cost and was it worth it in terms of what was achieved?

Learning for next time

Finally, what can you learn for next time? Some elements of a campaign work well and others don’t, so take these on board. Get to know your audience and target them more effectively. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a post-mortem exercise. It is more effective if you evaluate as you go along, changing tactics on the basis of what elements are proving successful and what are not.

So PR evaluation is not only an artform in itself, but a moveable feast. It’s time to grab the proverbial fork and dig in.

Amy Finlayson is a freelance PR and marketing consultant specialising in the arts.
Tw @troubledcure

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