Market Analytics Platform

18 October, 2023

PR: How to measure ROI and separate vanity from value

We’re all drowning in a sea of information these days, especially if you’re responsible for overseeing business growth in the broadest possible sense. A quick look at the key metrics every brand leader must consider provides a sense of the scale of the challenge we face.

PR has long been a particular issue, with the demonstration of value and impact a constant challenge for in-house and agency practitioners alike. There can be no doubting that there has been too much fluff over the years. The now discredited use of advertising equivalent (or AVE) as a futile attempt to claim PR’s value as greater than advertising is as good a case of any.

But in defence of AVE, the rationale for using it was sound – how do you put a pounds and pence value of return on a PR programme? How do we say that a piece of earned media in a target publication is worth £x in spend? How do you demonstrate that this activity does, in fact, link through to driving bottom line growth?

We strongly believe in the power of PR as a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of any integrated marketing strategy. In the long-term, it shapes an organisation’s reputation and adds huge value to the brand; but in the short-term, too, it can have a tangible impact on outcomes if the way you measure it is set up for success.

Setting the right objectives – and thinking beyond traditional media monitoring

The root of the problem can be found in the fact that PR measurement has not historically been linked closely enough to business objectives. The extent of measuring success has been isolated to the movement of PR-centric metrics – has the volume of our coverage gone up or down, or followers, or engagement, or reach, or whatever other metric that, while by no means useless, in isolation tell a business leader little about the impact on the brand or its commercial objectives.

So setting the right objectives, based on the right metrics, is key. This is the data that helps organizations truly assess progress and demonstrate commercial impact.

The critical metrics for any PR team

  1. Volume of brand mentions: are you driving greater volume of outputs in places you know your audience reads? This is not a demonstration of business value, but it’s an important starting point.
  2. Engagement rates: is your content – press, social or owned – being engaged with?
  3. Awareness: is brand awareness on the rise and are you tracking it through pulse check polling of your target audience, ideally monthly but at least quarterly?
  4. Consideration and intent: alongside awareness, are you tracking whether that target audience has increasing consideration of your products and services – also tracked at least quarterly?
  5. Web traffic: what is the impact of these metrics on the number of eyeballs on your product or service?
  6. Share of voice: crucially, how does all of the above compare against your peer set?

Hint: all six of the above can be delivered through BoldLens – book a demo today to see how.

The critical metrics to truly demonstrate value

  1. Media quality over quantity: it’s often easiest to report on PR based on volume. If you had 100 mentions last quarter, 200 this quarter is a big sign of progress. But truth be told, measurement done right should support the premise that good PR focuses on quality rather than quantity. It’s about securing exposure in publications, blogs or through other influencer channels that are relevant to your audience and reputable (in the eyes of the brand and, as important, the Google algorithm).
  2. Engagement over impressions: impressions indicate how many times content is displayed, but not actual or known views. Keeping an eye on impressions (or reach) is not without use – it is a helpful metric when comparing long-term trends (higher reach = higher value or higher reputation outlets), or when looking at competitor benchmarking. But focusing on engagement – likes, shares, comments, and clicks – offers more direct insight into the actual interaction of the audience with the content, and therefore its true value to the brand.
  3. Conversion rates: measuring conversion rates is essential to link PR activities to tangible business outcomes. It helps in understanding how PR efforts are contributing to the delivery of business goals (like lead generation and sales). More on this later.

Demonstrating commercial impact

Calculating the ROI from PR activity can be challenging due to the often intangible nature of its benefits, such as improved brand reputation and visibility – though both of those can and should be tracked, and these days this is achievable in a far more cost effective way than ever through BoldLens.

To substantiate the commercial impact of PR, a business should focus on aligning PR goals with business objectives. Sounds simple, right? Well, spoiler alert – it’s not, but it is achievable. Here’s a short version of the long story of how to do it:

  1. Set objectives: define your goals by establishing clear and measurable PR objectives aligned with business goals.
  2. Identify KPIs: determine the associated metrics – such as increased brand awareness, consideration, favourability, lead generation, web traffic, or all of the above – to accompany those objectives that can be measured so you know whether or not you’re making a dent.
  3. Assign monetary value to PR outcomes: determine value per lead by assigning a monetary value to each lead or conversion generated through trackable PR activities. Calculate the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) to understand the long-term value of customers acquired through PR.
  4. Track and measure results: leverage your analytics tools to track the outcomes of PR activities. Monitor conversion rates from PR-generated leads to sales (or any other commercial objective/s you have set).

Calculating ROI

Once you have all of the above in place, you need to aggregate the total cost involved in PR activities – including agency fees, content creation costs and any activation expenses. Alongside costs, you need to measure the pure revenue generated OR by multiplying the number of conversions by the value per conversion. Your ROI is then simply the difference between the total spend v generated revenue, divided by the total spend and multiplied by 100.

Measuring revenue generated from PR activity

The eagle eyed amongst you might look at the above and think “great, but you’re not addressing the fundamental question here: how do you attribute revenue generated to PR activity?”

  1. Monitor website source traffic / referral tracking: set up your web tracking to clearly demonstrate where traffic has come from an ‘earned’ source and then track the conversion from those sources specifically. While not all earned traffic will be solely attributable to PR, the impact of PR on long-term metrics, such as increased branded search, is a valuable benefit and one that should in part be attributed to PR.
  2. Integrate PR and sales data: ensure you can very easily and quickly overlay the output data (e.g. media monitoring) with the outcome data (e.g. conversions). This needs to be instant and real-time – no manual cross-referencing of spreadsheets or needing to ask other teams for the data you need. (See example below.)
  3. Make the most of cross-channel AI analysis: picking out what action led to what outcome across many different channels isn’t always easy or obvious, but these days you can let AI do the hard work and automatically identify spikes (or dips), with instant analysis of cause and effect (also available within BoldLens).
  4. Custom URLs: using custom, campaign-specific URLs can help track traffic originating from PR activities.
  5. Product tracking: if a PR campaign is specifically focused on a specific product or product line, you need access to the data that shows relevant data to that area of the business in isolation to track traffic and sales in that category specifically.
  6. Use UTM tracking codes: add UTM parameters to the URLs shared in any PR content (press release, social content, partnership activity, etc) to track a visitor’s source, medium, and campaign name in analytics tools.
  7. Leverage promo codes: make the most of unique promotional codes in PR content and track the usage of these codes to attribute conversions to specific PR activities.

Above: instantly see output data (media coverage volume and reach) with overlay commercial KPIs (in this case, inbound leads through the website) to be able to identify spikes that demonstrate commercial impact from PR activity.

Build your base of knowledge to estimate more accurately

Many metrics simply cannot be attributed at the outset, so it is vital to look at the before and after impact of increased spend. If, for example, you invest £100,000 on a PR activation around a product launch, you should be able to look at the changing traffic and revenue/conversion sources around the period of that activation and build a base of evidence that supports future estimates.

Every time a campaign of this nature is undertaken, your base of knowledge – and the accuracy of your estimates – will improve, meaning that over time you build a reliable picture of PR impact on the intangible metrics that drive business growth. (And, in the most simple terms, an accurate value that can be attributed to all PR-generated leads that ensures you can more accurately report ROI.)

Ands don’t be afraid to say that revenue doesn’t matter

While ROI is a critical metric in assessing the success of PR activities, it’s also important to consider the benefit of less immediately tangible and long-term outcomes including increased brand awareness, reputation and relationships, which may not directly translate to the bottom line in the short-term but have significant long-term value for the business.

It’s all back to that objective setting: PR isn’t always about short-term revenue. Sometimes the challenge is directly reputational, or focused on a need to raise awareness and credibility with a specific target audience with whom revenue is not the goal – like investors, regulators or policymakers. But the key to effective PR measurement is setting out very clearly what the objective is and having data sources in place that demonstrate whether or not your activity is driving the outcomes and impact you need.

Where to start?

The biggest single challenge to achieving an effective measurement framework is access to the right data, in a digestible format, in one place, and without barriers to access.

And that is where BoldLens comes in. If you’d like to hear more, check it out today at

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