Master Class: How can media coverage be best correlated to actual business outcomes?

This month's panel discusses how media and PR results can be correlated to business outcomes.

Don Bartholomew
Principal, Acumentics Research

Angela Jeffrey
VP of editorial research, VMS

David Michaelson, Ph.D.
President, Echo Research

David Rockland
Partner and MD of global research, Ketchum

Mark Weiner
CEO of PRIME Research North America

Don Bartholomew, principal, Acumentics Research
Developing a statistical model that correlates media coverage to business outcomes is a recurring topic of conversation in PR measurement circles. While there is debate on the validity and efficacy of these sorts of models, it really depends most on the specific business outcome being measured. For a b-to-b professional services firm, the desired business outcome might be increased lead generation. Devising a simple model that correlates media coverage about a company to volume of in-coming leads is entirely feasible. Lead source identification and sales cycle lag effects should be addressed in developing the model.

However, when most clients/companies ask about statistical models, the business outcome they focus on is sales. We have all heard something like, “Show me how all this great coverage is helping me sell more product!” The statistical model seems like an easy way to answer that and prove the ROI of media relations. How we set up the model is crucial.

While aligning PR objectives with business objectives/outcomes is essential to good measurement, alignment does not mean the PR objective becomes the business objective. PR outputs (media coverage) should ideally be measured by metrics representing PR outcomes, not business outcomes.

A better approach is to build a model that attempts to correlate PR outputs (coverage) with PR outcomes (e.g. awareness, purchase consideration, likelihood to tell a friend) and then correlating PR outcomes with business outcomes (sales). We attempt to show how media coverage correlates to awareness and purchase consideration levels, and then how purchase consideration correlates to sales. This approach is more complex and requires primary research data on awareness and purchase consideration, but should result in more meaningful correlations and a better model.

Angela Jeffrey, VP of editorial research, VMS
Using a four-step process, it is relatively easy to correlate media coverage to business out-comes. First, in developing your campaign, identify a clear set of outcome results you hope to achieve. Determine how you will benchmark and collect this data over the life of the campaign. Often, outcomes data already exists such as Web site hits, survey scores, qualified leads, or sales figures, and just needs to be accessed from a different department.

Second, monitor your media coverage and score it both quantitatively and qualitatively. For best correlations, calculate media value for each article, or use audience impressions, though they're less accurate. Score each clip for tone and other qualitative factors. Calculate a “net positive” score by adding positive plus neutral media values or impressions, and subtract the negative. For better results, measure competitive coverage the same way and use your firm's “share of discussion” percentage as your media score. Third, graph your net positive media value, impressions, or share of discussion scores and business outcomes using the graphing function in Excel. See if they trend similarly. Outcomes almost always lag communications activities, so don't expect the graphs to look exactly the same.

Finally, if you've used Excel to generate your graphs, use the built-in Pierson formula to calculate a correlation coefficient. On a blank Excel worksheet, enter your time intervals across the columns on Row 1, your net positive media values or impressions on Row 2, and your outcome scores on Row 3. Then, in an empty cell, use the formula below to compare the cell numbers of the starting and ending values in Rows 2 and 3. For example, “=Correl(B2:G2, B3:G3)” would compare the values in (Column B Row 2) and (Column G Row 2) with the same cells one row down. Simply hit “enter” and you've got your correlation. A perfect correlation is r=1.0, which means two independent variables are moving together perfectly. In PR, correlations of .6 and above bode well for a media campaign.
David Michaelson, Ph.D., president, Echo Research
Correlating media coverage to actual business outcomes is one of the great challenges in PR measurement. However, what must be addressed prior to conducting a correlation analysis is assuring that the key messages most likely to have an impact on business outcomes are included in the media that is reaching key stakeholders. It is only after this preliminary analysis is conducted and the results implemented that coverage can be accurately correlated to business outcomes.

The most effective way to correlate media coverage to business outcomes is to conduct an initial analysis that considers three factors:

First, determining if specific key messages that can positively affect business outcomes are present in the coverage. Second, identifying if false, misleading, or inaccurate information is conveyed in a story. Third, noting which key messages that should have been included in a given article were omitted or did not appear.

Traditional analysis relies on message tonality. This approach measures overall accuracy of the reporting on factors most likely to impact outcomes. By measuring accuracy rather than tonality, it's possible to use the analysis as a media relations planning tool, instead of a media relations scorecard. In turn, it is then possible to accurately correlate media coverage with business outcomes since the presence of those messages known to positively influence business outcomes can be tracked against actual business performance.

Identifying errors and omissions in reporting, while focusing media relations efforts to correct errors and omissions in reporting, can result in a significant dip in the proportion of inaccurate articles and increase the ability to correlate coverage with business outcomes.
David Rockland, partner and MD of global research, Ketchum
Measuring the relationship between media coverage and business outcomes can be done primarily two ways – both work on traditional and digital media, together and separately.

If sales and media coverage can be tracked together, statistical techniques can isolate PR's effect to determine ROI. Using a marketing-mix model, researchers can demonstrate PR impact on sales relative to other forms of marketing communication, such as ads. The model isolates the individual impact of each type of communication. Media coverage is generally tracked in terms of both the quality and quantity of coverage on a regular basis, along with sales or other behavioral outcomes. Statistical analysis is used to determine how much each element contributed to changes in sales. By examining the variation in sales and in the mix of marketing communications vehicles, the effect of PR can be compared to advertising and marketing. 

Another way to show how PR drives sales is to determine the change in an individual's behavior based on whether or not they were exposed to PR programming and then tie those behaviors to business results. First, a representative sample of the target audience is surveyed to determine levels of awareness and comprehension, current attitudes, and whether they have or intend to engage in the desired behavior. Respondents are also asked if they've had any exposure to the PR program. Survey data is analyzed to determine the change in the probability of the desired behavioral outcome based on exposure to PR. Once the change in behavioral outcome is calculated, an overall change in market share or a sales estimate can be calculated. 

While the question of how to correlate media coverage to business outcomes is a good one, more important is to establish causal relationships. Correlations merely show how things move together or in opposite directions. Causality between PR results and business outcomes is truly needed to show whether a dollar spent on PR makes sense, and to put it on par with other disciplines. 

Mark Weiner, CEO of PRIME Research, North America
I define “business outcomes” as “a result that either generates or retains resources.” The best way to correlate to media coverage must be reasonable, meaningful, and measurable.

Using these parameters, there are three business outcomes which media coverage can effectuate: increased revenue (attracting new and incremental business); avoiding catastrophic cost (averting a crisis); and greater efficiency (doing more with less and for less).

Case studies exist, but the connection of media coverage and sales is hard to validate (unless the coverage is the sole marketing agent). To isolate the impact of simultaneous marketing activities, one is best served through a “marketing mix model” involving sophisticated statistical analyses. This works primarily for b-to-c brands and tends to require a level of investment and cooperation that is often missing. Still, published studies consistently show that media coverage delivers the best ROI within the marketing mix. As such, this example is meaningful and measurable, but not particularly reasonable.

While making the connection to sales is sexy, the highest-impact outcome with which media coverage can be associated is “avoidance of catastrophic cost.” Here, quality counsel – presumably one of PR's higher callings – can prevent loss of reputation and any related loss of market capitalization. Cases abound where mishandled media strategies have cost companies billions. The best approach is to track stock price through a crisis, since it is the primary channel of such bad news. Here, the goal is reasonable, measurable (at least directionally), and undeniably meaningful.

The final connection is “doing more with less and for less.” The most common of all – business efficiency – is often overlooked. Campaigns which deliver a higher rate of key message delivery per dollar spent or which generate a lower cost per target-audience-reach are recapturing resources to be applied elsewhere. As such, business efficiency is reasonable and measurable, but not as meaningful, since the revenues retained are only a fraction of the overall budget, a net sum that is typically the smallest of those identified.

The Takeaway

It's important to determine desired business outcomes at the beginning of a campaign

Marketing mix modeling can offer a real way to correlate coverage to business results, but is an expensive investment

Utilizing information from other departments within a company can help tie media coverage to business outcomes

The PR discipline is elevated when causal relationships, not just correlations, are assessed

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