How Do You Measure PR?

Most public relations professionals now measure PR. Most clients expect some form of PR measurement, whether PR is managed by an agency, an in-house team or both. But with no widely accepted standard for PR measurement, how do you accurately measure PR?

Can you imagine another marketing discipline that used dozens of methods for measuring results? Take search engine marketing for example. The standards are pretty cut and dry: visitors, page views, time on site, cost per click, etc. For email marketing, we have delivery, open rates, click thru, unsubscribes, opt-ins, etc.

How do you measure PR? In a recent survey conducted by the American Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) and Institute for Public Relations (IPR), 520 global PR professionals were interviewed about the topic of PR measurement. The survey found that 88% of PR practitioners believe measurement is an integral part of the PR process, and 77% are currently tracking their programs. Am I the only one that thinks this should be 100%?

The ugly truth is that most PR firms have their own approach to measuring results. And while the results of this survey indicate measurement is a priority, and a large percentage of PR pros are tracking results, I wonder how many clients and organizations really know how effective PR programs really are. If PR teams are in control of how PR is measured, it is too easy to cast results in the most favorable light.

So how are PR practitioners measuring PR? Here are some of the most common approaches:

  • Most PR agencies still emphasize publicity results – their ability to generate clips for clients
  • Some PR agencies will use advertising equivalency measures to evaluate publicity placements
  • More progressive agencies measure public opinion or audience sentiment – this includes time-consuming focus groups, polls, surveys
  • Benchmarking results is growing in popularity among PR teams
  • A few agencies use “share of voice” measurements, comparing press results to the results competitors generate (who has more mentions)
  • Many agencies are now using media evaluation tools to compile results

Some of the key findings of the survey include:

  • The overwhelming majority of PR professionals, 88%, believe measurement is an integral part of the PR process (70% believe this strongly).
  • While 77% of respondents claimed to measure their work compared with 69% in a similar survey five years ago, the survey results show that the PR profession are still not agreed on the best tools and methodologies.
  • Measuring ROI (return on investment) on communications is viewed as an achievable goal by the overwhelming majority of professional communicators taking part in the survey. There is, however, very strong agreement that it is possible to calculate ROI on communications, and that demonstrable ROI would enhance the budgets (and status) of PR practitioners.
  • PR Professionals still tend to judge their success criteria more by their ability to place material in the media rather than on the impact such coverage might have on shifting opinion, awareness, or moving markets, although there is evidence that this is changing.
  • The survey found that the tools used by PR professionals includes press clippings – still the favourite – closely followed by AVEs (Advertising value equivalent) and more rigorous tools including Internal Reviews, Benchmarking, and the use of specialist media evaluation tools. Various forms of opinion polling and focus groups also remain as popular tools.

The data indicates there are two camps – the output measurers (clippings and AVEs) and the outcome measurers who tend towards more cerebral – and costly- measures (internal reviews, opinion polls etc).

Mike Daniels, member of the Commission on PR Measurement & Evaluation and chairman of AMEC’s Business Development Committee, said: “The survey presents a clear challenge to the media evaluation industry that more education is needed within the PR industry to demonstrate the business benefits of proper evaluation rather than continue to rely on clippings and AVE’s.”

A full report with findings of the survey will be available for participants and the public at the end of July 2009 on

Most PR pros still judge their success by their ability to place material in the media rather than on the impact such coverage might have on shifting opinion, awareness, or moving markets.

How Should PR Be Measured?

Everyone has a different opinion on how PR should be measured. If we’re talking specifically about media relations, I like to use sales models to evaluate campaign success. On the marketing side of the equation, I consider media outlets to be “prospects”. Pitching media outlets is “outbound sales” – often telemarketing. With this model, each team member has a “sales funnel” with projected placements. Each “opportunity” is a potential close for the media relations professional, with each media target representing a different (albeit arbitrary) value. With this approach, status reports become nothing more than activity notes. The real value is in the organization’s ability to track conversion (call to close ratios) for their media relations efforts.

When you get into more complicated areas of public relations, such as public opinion or audience sentiment, it’s difficult to automate these processes (unless you have large budgets and teams). For smaller organizations, this level of effort around measurement can take away from time that should be spent pursuing results.

With the increased use of online strategies and tactics for PR, it only seems logical that teams would adopt many of the tools already on the market for measuring online marketing performance. Simply using unique phone numbers and URLs for each PR campaign can generate a lot of useful numbers to crunch. Monitoring traffic and lead generation from publicity efforts, all the way through a transaction, makes the most sense for me. PR agencies should be able to show a contribution to increased revenue, improvements in customer retention, or some other measurable outcome that translates to the bottom line.

What Do Clients Think About PR Measurement?

The survey indicated that clients are becoming more price sensitive about PR, but at the same time, they are demanding PR agencies measure in more effective and targeted ways. Some of the trends highlighted in the survey include:

  • Client demand for measurement of online communications increased from 29% in 2008 to 41% in 2009
  • Client demand for broadcast media evaluation is up from 15% of assignments in 2008 to 25% in 2009
  • 77% of clients commission single country measurement programs or projects
  • 69% of survey respondents say procurement specialists are becoming more involved in the purchase of measurement and evaluation services

Most PR professionals and clients agree that measuring PR ROI (public relations return on investment) is achievable. The real issue becomes how we should all measure the results of PR. This is an opportunity for professional organizations to step forward and establish some industry wide standards. This will enable PR services vendors to adapt or develop new solutions to help organizations measure results more effectively. With a variety of new online and social media monitoring products on the market, there will no doubt be tools organizations can leverage to more easily (and accurately) measure PR.

How do you measure PR? What standards would you like to see the industry support? What are your clients or management teams asking for most in terms of measurement?

Please visit IPR here for additional information about the study.

(Image Credit: Gauges and Dials by mag3737)

About Jeremy Porter 215 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.


  1. Hi Jeremy,
    Good post that raises many issues the measurement community has been discussing but not really resolving. Couple of points/counterpoints:
    – Anything worth doing is worth measuring. All programs should have a measurement component. 100%.
    – On the ‘ugly truth’ issue, I don’t really believe there is much of a fox guarding the chicken coop problem. Sure it’s there. But the bigger issue is that the team members probably don’t know how to design and implement a proper measurement system. And as yiu say, their time may be better spent in other areas
    – The major impediments to good measurement in PR and social media are 1. no agreed standards as you said 2. Lack of education and knowledge about research and measurement 3. Perception by clients that measurement is too expensive (which loops back to No 1 as you suggest). Cost seems to be the primary impediment.
    – Standards are a tricky issue. There are two camps here also, the ‘snowflake PR’ camp that suggests each PR/SM program has unique objectives, therefore measurement approaches must be unique/customized and the one metric camp that seeks an indexed score (“we rose to an 87.5 this Q”) they can present to management. IMO, we should be able to establish standards on basic metrics and approaches while recognizing, for example, ROI studies will always need to be customized.
    – We should focus on outcomes – what happened as a results of our efforts in PR/SM rather than outputs. Outputs may be used as diagnostic tools (i.e. what seems to be working/not) but don’t really measure success.
    – Online efforts require a mixture of web analytics, content analysis and audience research to determine impact/value and ROI. As you suggest, tracking across platforms throughout a buying cycle is an emerging approach.
    – Finally, with due respect, your method and metric for measuring media relations is just measuring the efficiency of the activity, not even measuring outputs let alone outcomes. I would ask the question, ‘what do we want to occur from the receiver/consumer’s perspectives a result of the media relations effort?’ and measure that. Awareness, relevance, message believability, changes in attitudes, etc.

    -Don B @donbart

  2. It’s absolutely true that everyone should be doing something to justify the worth of their work to their clients. Unfortunately, here’s an example of why even the most clear-cut calculations aren’t exactly painless:

    A good portion of my PR business is promotions, specifically on radio. And just like the neatly pasted-up print articles that PR clients like to see, read, and pass on to investors, my promotions clients love hearing disc jockeys crow about and give away their products on air. So I multiply the number of mentions they receive times the station’s advertising rate and, voila! I get a tidy, not-so-little sum called “Total Promotional Value.”

    Simple? Not quite.

    One piece of feedback I consistently hear is: “Is this ‘quality’ airtime?” So the numbers game gets a little more involved: How long was the spot? When did it air? Did the DJs rhapsodize about it? Any message points? What about a URL? And this is all before I consider things such as Arbitron, wattage, format and DMA. All these things need to be factored in before I can calculate a promotion’s worth and submit the wrap-up report.

    The point of all this? Even something as straightforward as radio airtime can’t be calculated in a neat, concise way. Everything publicists do requires nuance, including gauging the value of our work.

    Drew Avril

  3. The quest for the Holy Grail is legend … and it can be said the same is true of evaluating the value of public relations, in terms of success or impact. For three decades, I’ve been on a personal quest to find this Holy Grail of PR because if the value of PR can be defined, then those expenditures could be evaluated on the basis of ROI – meaning not as an expense but rather an investment.
    Working recently with one client in the open source software business, we were able to quantify impact of our PR program in terms of website traffic, which showed a demonstrable improvement over 2+ years. For all the gory details, go here

  4. The quest for the Holy Grail is legend … and it can be said the same is true of evaluating the value of public relations, in terms of success or impact. For three decades, I’ve been on a personal quest to find this Holy Grail of PR because if the value of PR can be defined, then those expenditures could be evaluated on the basis of ROI – meaning not as an expense but rather an investment.
    Working recently with one client in the open source software business, we were able to quantify impact of our PR program using website statistics, which showed a demonstrable difference over a period of 2+years. For the gory details, go to the website link.

  5. I’m not a professional PR type, more of a client.
    Nobody seems interested to measure attention span.
    In this image and impression rich world the attention span decreases daily.
    Everyday more paper is “filed vertically” (i.e. thrown in the waste bin) faster.
    With that in mind measuring square millimeters of editorials or advertising space, be it on line or off line loses more of its value
    just my 2 cents

  6. The biggest problem with PR measurement is people calling for a “standard..” If you accept the fact that all measurement should be based on stated goals and objectives, you have to agree that all PR programs have different, unique goals. The goal for some is to stay OUT of the media, for others it’s to save money, or raise money, or educate. Even accountants have different standard practices for government agencies, non-profits, small cap and large cap companies. Sure there are some “generally accepted practices” and these exist for PR as well. I helped write them in 1996 for IPR. Similar guidelines exist for social media as well that I also authored.
    The real problem is that PR people seem to be ignorant of or allergic to the language of business. They are incapable of understanding that just reaching a set of eyeballs or achieving a “hit” does nothing for the bottom line. Either PR saves the company money by lowering legal costs, or turnover, or recruitment costs or whatever the stated goal of the program is, or it makes the company money,by generating awareness, consideration, preference or leads. That’s how business people think. And if PR people can’t explain their benefit to the company in those terms, they deserve to be fired.

  7. What people need to understand is that PR is not a guarantee of a sale any more than a consumer seeing an ad and then going to purchase said product or service. To say that PR is attached to the bottom line in such a cut and dry way is not very realistic. I do agree that a program needs to be associated with a specific goal in mind and that is definitely what a program’s success is to be measured against, and THAT is what makes a standardized measurement tool so difficult, as most simply measure based on the amount of “hits” and is always based on circulation numbers, which can be misleading.

    For example, a PR company gets a hit in Magazine X, which has a circulation of 1,000, let’s say. Most PR companies will then have a multiplier (usually 2.5 to capture what they term “pass along readership”) so they then state that their story in Magazine X reached 2,500 people. To me that is highly unrealistic to think that not only did every person on the circulation list of 1,000 read the article but they then passed on this magazine to 2.5 more people who all read it as well. So the science behind capturing a true representation of PR measurement is very difficult. The ad world is in the same boat. No tool will ever really know. The one with more realistic measurement is DM, where you can clearly track who returns an envelope or calls into a special number, plugs in a special online code, etc.

    This will always be a point of contention for PR practitioners and their clients. Not many clients (and of course there are many WONDERFUL clients who truly understand PR) want anything more than to list off the top 10 media outlets they want to see their company name featured on, and that too is unrealistic if their prodcut is not one that makes sense to those outlets. So it really comes to a special relationship between PR and client to work together and create programs with realistic and attainable goals that work for both parties.

    And finally, while many PR agencies and freelancers have been let go by their clients for not delivering on program goals or as Katie stated above “if PR people can’t explain their benefit to the company in those terms, they deserve to be fired” many clients have been let go of by PR agencies for also not understanding what PR can do and what PR is capable of doing.

  8. Lauren, you are correct — there is not a single shred of evidence that there is anything like a “multiplier effect” — it as completely bogus as AVEs. See this paper:
    And, even if you actually did reach 1000 eyeballs, so what? You’re also right that you have no idea whether any of them did anything. Which is PRECISELY why this form of measurement needs to be flushed down the toilet along with all those other quaint 20th century notions that Google, SEO and Social Media are doing away with faster than you can say “hogwash.”
    By using unique URLs, survey research, marketing mix modeling and a host of other far better tools, you can in fact very concretely prove the value of PR.

  9. As a PR service vendor I have issued my own call for professional organizations such as PRSA and IPR to develop standards for measuring PR, but in a slightly different way: by providing industry specific guidance and templates that show PR pros how to self-measure PR results in terms of business objectives that are specific to their industry. In surveys of our client base at BurrellesLuce, we find if any measurement is taking place, it’s mostly centered on outputs, which no one beside PR pros cares about. However, show a CEO how PR supports business objectives in numbers he or she can relate to and understand, there’s no doubt in my mind that PR in that organization gets more budget, both for communications and measurement. You can read the post here:

  10. Hello. My name is Michiel. I’m not a PR guy, but a Marketer by nature. Together with my partner, who is a PR strategist and writer, I run a small Online PR outfit. On the client side I have quite a bit of experience with PR agencies. I’ve gone through the motions of clippings and advertising equivalents.

    Client pressure on PR to deliver more measurement has all to do with the standards set in online marketing (especially search marketing).

    I think a large part of the problem is that PR has been for a very long time exclusively about media relations. Getting publicity, getting the eyeballs, driving awareness. The infrastructure of social web and search engines has once again made PR public. It’s about building relationships with prospects, customers and stakeholders. With real people. One on one.

    What appeals most to me, is what Don Bartholomew suggests. In his comment he says: “Online efforts require a mixture of web analytics, content analysis and audience research to determine impact/value and ROI”. Exactly right.

    The problem is that PR doesn’t sell. Technically. PR doesn’t close the sale. But PR is part of the sales process.

    McKinsey (my blog post has recently conducted a study which scientifically proves the change in the way consumers buy and research products. As consumers actively evaluate their imminent purchase, they are actively reaching out for information.

    When a brand publishes content on the web that doesn’t ‘sell’, but ‘informs’ they establish a relationship with that customer that increases the chances he will come to them, not their competitor. Every time a brand enters an online conversation with a ‘customer service’ instead of a sales headset, they are visible as a trusted resource.

    PR is in a perfect position to drive this process.

    Publishing relevant and informative content helps people with their decision process. Offering content as PDF downloads, views on tutorial videos, comments on blog posts, activity on forums, visits to specific URLS etc, are all measurable activities. Combined with web analytics it is very well possible to determine the outcome of online PR activities.

    Core of the matter is that PR needs to realize it is a part of the sales process. Measurement will soon follow and become a great friend of PR.

  11. Jeremy:
    Patrick Rafter, Principal of INTRASTAND here…

    Enjoyed and learned from your “How to Measure PR” post. Just re-Tweeted it.
    One thought on the percieved value of PR in the PR 2.0 world (i.e when blogs, social media muddied the PR>>Media pitch to story cycle):

    Public Relations is increasingly about relating to all relevant publics (not just media and analysts). With citizen journalism and free blogs everyone is a columnist, a pundit, an influencer.

    TPFKAPRP (“The People Formerly Known As PR People”) will continue to add value if they can help share the value that companies have with people who will be interested in those companies’ offerings– products, services, thought leadership, innovations.

    While I don’t know how to measure it yet (because site traffic and Re-Tweets are an imperfect measurement of impact)– PR 2.o is more about “Return on Interaction” than “Return on Investment.”

    I blogged about my view of PR ROI as “Return on Interaction” back in January 2009 on my INTRASTAND blog:

    We live in interesting times.

  12. I am a rather junior PR. The problem for the evaluation of PR is that the ROI is directly influenced by the perception of the client or other target group in comparison with the evaluation of sales promotions and advertising for instance.
    You can easily measure the ROI of sales and advertising because you have at your disposal quantitative sales figures that you can analyze. In PR, you can also analyze sales figures but it’s not the essential. I think the only rather realistic ROI measurement is to make (face-to-face) surveys dedicated to this issue, to have a realistic view of the ROI. Even phone surveys loose a lot of the study and measurement as body language gives an additional measurement tool. In other words, public relations should be measured with the person that you want to reach, not only with scientific operations and figures.
    If PR could be precisely measured, it wouldn’t be public relations anymore influenced by human relations and its unpredictable perceptive factors, different from one individual to another. I think the approach has to be taken as a global impression after analyzing in details the impact in order to take a decision on (how ) pursuing or not of the PR campaign.

  13. I’m glad that I’ve joined this debate in its later stages so that I can read the diversity of opinion. I’d like to add to the mix:

    – Most professions — legal and medical come immediately to mind — have standards but their body of knowledge is constantly evolving. The standards for medicine change through research, trial, error and refinement. Public relations is no different.

    – PR people wrongly assume that other forms of marketing and communication have acheived superiority in demonstrating and generating a positive return on investment. Nothing could be further than the truth. While TV advertising may use Nielsen as a standard, advertising’s ability to draw conclusive connections with sales, for example, are no better than PR’s and in many cases, worse. We in PR may believe we have a hard time proving value, but imagine having to show a positive return on a level of investment 100 times greater than your own wiht no better tools. I’d rather be in PR.

    – Measurement and evaluation are different even though people use the terms interchangeably: measurement is counting…evaluation brings context.

    – “Value” and “ROI” are different even though people use the terms interchangeably::

    A) “Value” is subjective while “ROI” is quantitative. “Value” changes from organization to organization or even from person to person within the same organization. That’s what makes it so problematic. If PR people took a systematic approach to defining the values within their own organzation, and focused on either deolivering on the organization’s priorities (or educating leaddership on what would constitute more reasonable or more meaningful priorities), the risk of being “undervalued” would be greatly minimized.

    B) ROI is a financial measure denoting financial resources which are either attracted to or retained by the organization. The best measurement approach is called marketing mix modeling– used now by almost every major marketing company/brand in the USA. These models reveal the relative contribution of every element within the marketing mix…even when they are occuring simultaneously. In study after study (I’ve been involved in about 40, including P&G, Miller Beer and ATT), PR delivers the best ROI of everything tested. Roughly four times more productive than trade marketing, roughly 40 times better than mass-market advertising and an incalculable amount better than price promotions (which usually LOSE $.25 on the dollar…the worst of all marketing agents). So, to Katie’s point, there may be no difference in terms of advertising of PR effectiveness in terms o f awareness and recall, PR’s much lower cost allows it to deliver the best ROI.

    – The PRSA is devoting itself to making “The Business Case for Public Relations.” Working in conjunction with the Institute for Public Relations Meassurement Commission, Katie, Pauline Draper, David Rockland, Don Wright and I, as former and current IPR measurement chairpeople, have produced a paper which will be delivered via the PRSA. Generally speaking, we may not have arrived at a “standard” per se but we have developed guidelines for measuring and evaluating PR in light of meaningful business outcomes.

    Thanks for allowing met to share. Great conversation!


    • It’s me that should be thanking you for sharing. I couldn’t be more excited to see the gurus on this topic chiming in on our blog. Thanks for your perspective.

  14. i wanted to know, how can we measure PR on twitter and facebook.
    like how can we evaluate the value of PR thats on these social networking sites.they have become extremly important in this era however, i am cluless what and how would it add value for my clients brands.
    sana zahid

  15. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that
    over again. Anyways, just wanted to say superb blog!

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