Ifbyphone Measurement Survey Reveals Eighty-Two Percent of Marketers Could Not Measure the ROI of #PR

A new marketing measurement survey by Ifbyphone found that an overwhelming majority of marketers (82%) are not effectively measuring the ROI for their public relations campaigns. On top of that, PR was stated to be the most difficult to measure out of all marketing campaigns. In light of the survey findings, I interviewed Mike Santoro, President of Walker Sands Communications, about the factors business owners and marketers must consider before investing in a public relations program. Mike also shared his advice on how companies can better measure their public relations programs.

Here’s my Q&A with Mike Santoro about the survey:

Q. What are several of the key questions executives ask when they need to determine the return on public relations investment?

A. It’s very difficult to correlate investment to return directly, but people should ask the following types of questions when considering investing in a public relations program:

  • What impact would it have on the business if the number of inbound leads I receive went up by 5%?
  • What impact would it have on the business if we increased the number of appointments we schedule through our prospecting calls by 10%?
  • What impact would it have on the business if our sales cycles were shortened down to 90% of the current time?
  • What impact would it have on the business if an investor took an interest in our business and wanted to provide us with funding?
  • What impact would it have on our business if we were able to get through a crisis situation without losing market share?
  • What impact would it have on the business if certain companies approached us about being our strategic partner?
  • What impact would it have on the business if we were able to recruit a higher level of employee talent, without having to overpay for improved talent?
  • What impact would it have on our shareholders, if we were approached by a company that wanted to acquire us?
  • What impact would it have on our competitive positioning if we suddenly became much more visible to the audiences we want to reach? On the flip side, if our competitors were to achieve higher visibility that outpaced our own visibility, how much might we lose?

These questions get to the heart of the issue: What is the value of heightened visibility and growing acclaim? What can potentially be lost if you don’t invest in visibility and your competitors do?

The second question to ask is: Can a good PR firm really get the impact I’ve outlined above? By walking through this exercise, companies can get a feel for whether PR should be a strategic lever that they tap into for business growth.

Q. From the survey, do executives care more about public relations that lead to inbound leads and sales or crisis and reputation management?

A. Ifbyphone’s 2011 State of Marketing Measurement Report revealed a large gap between executive demands and the ability to demonstrate tangible return on marketing investment. While the survey identified public relations as the most difficult program to measure return on investment (82%), it didn’t delve into the specific aspects of PR executives are most concerned with.

In my experience, the clients we work with, mostly in high-tech, business-to-business sectors, are much more interested in generating inbound leads. However, if a client is in a crisis situation, executives are most concerned with managing their reputation and retaining clients and brand loyalists for the time being.

Along the same lines, executives in very well-established companies, with high brand recognition, often view public relations as a solid tool to uphold and build their reputation, rather than generating inbound leads. But, for anyone who has not yet become a market leader, the top priority of public relations is generally to drive inbound leads, which will set up their position as market leader down the road.

Q. What can a company lose if competitors invest in visibility and it does not?

A. Companies can lose quite a few important drivers of growth but most namely – market position. Public relations offers third party validation and an outside stream of positive referrals, among other important aspects. When prospects see your competitor’s executives quoted in a large business publication, or a prominent trade publication that reach your target audience, they will recognize your competitor as a leader and expert in that space, while you’re quietly working away missing out on improving your market position and capitalizing on “warmer” leads.

We have helped a number of our clients move into the leadership position by sharing their company’s story with the media and generating more leads through credible information from news stories.

Q. What are some of the best metrics to capture PR return on investment?

A. This goes back to the first questions that executives need to ask when determining whether it is time to invest in a public relations program. There are three levels of metrics you can use to better determine the return on public relations investments.

At the basic level, capture placements and impressions. Are you generating more brand recognition simply because more people are reading about your company or seeing your executives quoted in a well-known publication?

Delve deeper by tying those numbers to impact. Are website visits increasing, more calls coming in, and more ‘followers,’ engagement, and conversations on your social networks?

Analyze the quality of your job applicants. Have you had more job seekers visiting your page? Are they higher quality applicants? Most importantly, don’t benchmark these analytics based solely on your company, but look at your competitors as well. This will give you a well-rounded sense of whether your public relations program is effective and help to shape your future program goals.

To dig even deeper, invest in research on brand awareness by surveying your target audience, or even the general public, about your company to gain a sense of the population who recognizes your company, is aware of your service offerings, and how they ‘feel’ about it. This is requires a significant monetary and time investment, but once you become a more sophisticated global player, it is necessary to understand how you stack up to the competition. If you are still a startup or a mid-sized corporation just starting to mature, the latter options are generally enough.

Q. What other interesting findings did the survey reveal about return on public relations investments?

A. This survey evaluated a number of different marketing tactics, and found, overall, PR and social media are the most difficult to measure. We, as PR and social media professionals, need to be aware there are tactics to employ to better measure and demonstrate the value-added of our services, which definitely exists, then, communicate this to C-level management.

Q. Why don’t people measure public relations?

A. It’s very difficult to measure and unfortunately, a standard metric has yet to be adopted industry-wide. Public relations works on a lot of fronts – it helps shorten sales cycles, boosts credibility, and improves inbound leads – but it’s hard to measure what this looks like exactly.

In marketing and public relations, there are many different factors working on a number of fronts and it can be tough to determine whether a targeted keyword or followed link, for example, was responsible for a particular lead.

If you do not at least try to measure public relations programs, it can be cut from the budget and you’ll lose a very credible and essential marketing tool. Overall, as an industry, we need to improve our public relations metrics to make it resemble those of pay-per-click, for instance.

Q. What steps can a company take to start measuring public relations?

A. Do something and do not give up. Many companies stop at the basics with capturing placements or impressions, but companies need to delve deeper and establish standardized metrics that make sense for their industry. A few starting points include measuring followed links, or matching up your target audience with publications you appear in and value publications based on the audience they reach.

Most importantly, set goals and determine benchmarks to ensure your public relations efforts are aligned with your short- and long-term goals.

Mike Santoro is President of Walker Sands, a full-service marketing and public relations firm focused on delivering growth for business to business clients.