Measuring the success (or lack thereof) of public relations
February 4, 2017 4:29 AM   Subscribe

I work for a small association that has made a very large investment in public relations but does not know how to measure whether it has been successful. The staff member who does PR has been allowed to come up with their own metrics, and I think our board and membership are getting an inaccurate portrayal of what is being achieved. Is there a simple, cohesive set of PR metrics that I can present for use going forward? (Misadventures aside.)

Our PR staff member does not maintain media lists or contact writers/reporters. They send out flurries of press releases through paid services, which are then reprinted verbatim on spam websites and on recognizable sites like Yahoo Finance, which reprint all paid press releases in a cordoned-off section of the site that isn't accessible from the front page, navigation, or search. Then the staff member announces that the story has been "picked up" by Yahoo Finance (which excites people who recognize the name) and assigns the pickup a "reach" of 60 million because that's how many people visit Yahoo Finance -- except none of them are actually seeing that story. Rinse and repeat.

A media monitoring service spits out data reports about this, so our board hears that there have been "X,XXX media mentions" without understanding that these "media mentions" are not being seen by anyone and in many cases are not in what they think a "media" outlet actually is.

Similarly, the PR staff member does no social media but will report that there have been thousands of "mentions" on Twitter, almost all of which are spambots repeating the headlines of paid press releases or aggregating job listings. (This, too, is provided by the media monitoring service.)

Meanwhile, our website views are flat, search traffic is flat or down, etc. However, people's eyes glaze over at my attempts to explain what an aggregator is or what organic content is. So I'm kind of at a loss. I like our board and our members a lot, and I hate seeing them get ripped off.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think this question boils down to how do you get the Board to listen to you that the PR person is doing a terrible job. In my experience, this is a really difficult hill to climb. It's easier if the Executive Director agrees with you but you don't mention your ED's opinion so I'm going to guess they are also not interested.

If your Board has tome set aside for education sessions at meetings or a Board retreat, I think your best bet is to get a social media expert to come in to give an update on what's current and possible for an organization like yours. That will often get a Board interested enough to ask questions. The expert will talk about measuring engagement because that is standard.

If there's a social media program at a local higher ed institution, you can see if an instructor will come give a talk.

Unfortunately, my experience with nonprofits and Boards is that they HIGHLY value outside opinions over those of existing staff.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 5:17 AM on February 4, 2017

The true measure of success is not the amount of coverage but whether people's opinions change towards your brand. First you need to give your PR person a goal to reach and then decide how to measure that.
posted by KateViolet at 7:24 AM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Are there negative reports regarding the media monitoring service your pr person is using (rip off report, BBB, etc)? You might have more luck presenting the situation as a problem with the tool rather than a problem with the person, to start.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:39 AM on February 4, 2017

Ask the Board members what they are seeing about the company online. If they are super excited about those Yahoo Finance views, surely they want to see the article with their own two eyes? Don't tell them how to find it at first...let them gather a bit of info themselves. Are any of them somewhat knowledgeable in Twitter? See if they are following those bots that retweet the press releases...hopefully when they see the account that is retweeting they will get curious and want to learn more about the account. That might set the stage for wanting to learn more about how all these mentions and page views are being generated.

Basically, get them curious about who is reading and tetweeting everything (what are these companies? Can we partner together? Where's their webpage?'s a WHAT?). Then explain to them how this all works. They might be more receptive to the message if you get them to form their own questions first.
posted by MultiFaceted at 11:36 AM on February 4, 2017

I've run up against this before. I find it's a super-hard nut to crack. Usually, the faker has to leave their job before real change can happen.

In a previous full-time gig, once I took over, I killed off almost all press releases; coming from a journalism background, I knew they mostly didn't work, at least not in a way that would lead to customers and sales. It took quite a while to persuade people that it would work. By having a media list of a few hundred names, we were able to get all sorts of media attention by simply sending out a personal email, from me, any time something was going on.

What is your role? Are you able to separately provide regular data about how website visits are flat, social media adds are flat, etc.? Carefully worded, such a report could underscore the weakness of the current PR scheme.

Are you in a position to run referrer reports for the website and show how few of these mentions are sending back any traffic? This, too, would be a nice contradiction.

And what about Facebook and Twitter comments? A comment is worth way more than retweet. Even Facebook shares are worth a heck of a lot more than retweet. A report underscoring how few of these this PR seems to be generating could help make your case.

Are you in a position to do customer surveys that ask "how did you hear about us/this event/etc.?" That data would be very telling and likely lead to people wondering why all that PR attention isn't reflected in the survey results.

Have any of your events had poor attendance? If so, then see if you can share around a side-by-side comparison of event PR vs. results.

Are your staff or members quoted or interviewed in the press? Not quotes pulled from the press releases, but from person-to-person interviews? They should be. Are you in a position to push for more of that? That would force the PR person to change their tactics and develop true one-to-one relationships with media.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:50 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a PR background, and you've hit on the key thing here: PR people always want to use PR metrics to define success, but companies should always use business results. This can be challenging because senior people often get excited by being profiled in some paper or something that no one reads, but you gotta keep bringing it back to sales numbers ultimately.

The best way of doing this in my experience is through linking to marketing metrics (marketing spend is generally scrutinised far more closely and the metrics are much tighter). PR people will fight this tooth and nail because it will expose the charade of what they are doing, but you can say if there's no movement in our numbers, why are we spending this money?

Also, god, rote press release dumps? Is this 1997? That tactic hasn't worked in years; you have a terrible PR person. Best of luck,
posted by smoke at 2:32 PM on February 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

With googling "pr metrics," I had no trouble coming up with several articles, such as:

PR Metrics: How to Measure Public Relations and Corporate Communication (PDF)
Four PR metrics you can start using today
How to Measure PR: Standard Media Metrics
Is Your PR Working? Key Metrics to Track

The third one might be nice to share around, if possible, because it has a graphic showing a spike in web traffic due to "Big PR hit." You should also learn some of the lingo, like conversions, and then start very quietly and politely asking pointed questions, like 'Well, Gina PR Person, that sounds really good. Now, can you tell me what the conversion rate is? How are conversions being measured? What outcomes are we looking for in pursuing this campaign?"

Try to not turn it into a big stink. Let PR Person hem and haw and change the subject or whatever. Do not make this your hill to die on. But start educating yourself, pointing this stuff out, and give it time to sink in for other people. Change can happen, but don't expect it to happen both overnight and without drama. You generally need to choose one or the other. If you don't want to get caught in the fallout, without drama is the better way to go, if possible.
posted by Michele in California at 3:45 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was thinking marketing, too. Go back and ask the board what was the desired result from their investment? You mentioned no traffic on the website. What do you want your target audience to do? And measure that. Show the board the amount of customer activity as a result of investment dollars.
posted by mountainblue at 4:36 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

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