It’s a common question: how do you measure the impact of PR?

Over the years, there have been many attempts to answer this question with frameworks and tools. In fact, a quick Google search delivers an overwhelming volume of opinion on the topic. But for startups (both early and late-stage) looking to evaluate the effectiveness of their PR campaigns, cutting through the noise to find a method that fits their needs can be tough.

Why is PR measurement so challenging?

  • Many measurement tools are focused on analyzing large volumes of media mentions. Most startups are still building their media profile and are working with less data than well established brands. Drawing correlations between PR activity and brand lift, for example, is difficult when you’re working with a smaller data set.
  • Comparative measurements of success are not helpful when you’re trying to compare a startup with a household name or a public company.
  • Startups have limited resources to allocate to PR in the first place, so carving out a portion of that PR budget for measurement can have a detrimental effect on the core program.
  • Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is that most startups are laser-focused on measuring the impact of PR on their growth, specifically revenue. Drawing a direct line between PR and revenue may be possible for B2C startups with an ecommerce model, but is very challenging for B2Bs with more complex buyer journeys. Multi-touch attribution models may help if a buyer visited your website directly from an article (and if your PR team can get access to that data), but even they can’t help if a buyer doesn’t come to your site directly via a link in an article. What if the buyer read an article then went off to make a cup of tea before searching for your company online? Or, more likely, disappeared into the dark funnel of buying committee meetings, online research, peer conversations and general cogitation for two months before making first contact with your business. 

Many existing best practice approaches skirt around these issues – especially when it comes to earned media. As a result, most startups struggle to find a pragmatic way to indicate, if not directly measure, that their PR efforts are helping with growth.

At Firebrand we encounter this question often. A core principle we follow is the importance of doing your research upfront, rather than measuring after the fact to see what’s worked.

For example, last week we wrote about ABM and the value of devising PR programs to complement account-based marketing. We call this Account-Based PR and it requires you to do your research upfront to identify the right publications for reaching your buyer and the right messages to engage them. If you’re implementing ABM, you will have the data tools to look at overall account engagement and see how effective the entire program is. And if you take the articles you secure as a result of PR efforts and weave them into email nurtures and paid media to reach target accounts, then you can track open rate and click through rates.

At the end of the day, taking the time upfront to be really clear about what you want to achieve and how you’re going to achieve it will allow you to greatly simplify and streamline your measurement. The problem occurs when your goals are vague and undefined – beware the comms pro who says they just want to “build awareness” without specifying who they want to reach or what they want them to do. Try measuring that cost effectively!

You can read more about our approach in A Startup’s Guide to Measuring PR Impact.

About the Author

Lucy Allen is a Principal at Firebrand with two decades of technology communications experience. Lucy leads client operations, from executing programs that help clients grow their business, to developing Firebrand’s team and services. Prior to joining, Lucy held leadership roles in global agencies including US tech sector chair and Bay Area GM at Edelman and chief strategy officer at LEWIS.