Many factors involved in measuring PR's online impact

With clients increasingly looking for ROI on their PR ventures, the ease with which online activity can be tallied is an asset. The trick is measuring the activity that will accurately gauge the success of a PR campaign.

With clients increasingly looking for ROI on their PR ventures, the ease with which online activity can be tallied is an asset. The trick is measuring the activity that will accurately gauge the success of a PR campaign.

"The challenge with interactive is really getting a good understanding of how consumers are engaging the brand," says Steve Latham, CEO of Spur Digital. "By correlating Web traffic with PR mentions, you can measure the impact of PR on interactive engagement."

When there's a media impression in a far-reaching outlet, sites are likely to receive a spike in activity, which can be both good and bad.

"The information you get cannot always be replicated," says Andy Getsey, Atomic PR cofounder and CEO. "For example, if there is an article in Time resulting in 1,000 click-throughs, that's neat, but can we get another article in Time?"

PR results can also be sabotaged by factors outside of the PR firm's scope, like a Web site that goes down often or isn't user-friendly.

"While PR can help a good experience become better, [it's] important that the entire brand experience is good," says Getsey.

Because consumers use the Web as a research tool, the ROI from PR is motivating consumers enough to prompt a variety of online activity through online and offline media impressions.

Gary Getto, EVP at VMS, has a set of bullet points for measuring the effectiveness of click-throughs.

"What you really want to know is how many clicks does it take to generate a sale or desired outcome," Getto notes. He categorizes many of those clicks as "just lookings."

"When you're going to a site because you're driven by PR, you're likely to find that the [chances] of acting on that are higher," he adds.

Because PR's advantage over advertising is in being able to tell the complete story, PR pros shouldn't forget the basics.

"You can't overstate the fact that if you're not saying something that's useful, people aren't going to respond to it," Getto says.

Key points:

Using the right metrics is critical to accurate online measurement

Factors outside of the PR agency's jurisdiction can negatively affect results

As many consumers use the Internet for research, a lot of online activity consists of comparison shopping and information gathering

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