PR pros need to think and act like marketers

Measurement in PR is more difficult, but worth the effort, says Eileen Sheil, executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic.

November is the month I associate with PR measurement and it’s a good time to renew our attention to its importance. It’s old news that the media world has changed and is now digital. As PR pros we need to determine which metrics really matter in this digital space and decide how they can best be measured. And to do that, we need to start thinking more like our marketing counterparts.

PR measurement should be strategic and align with business objectives. It’s critical to have clear goals that support those objectives and to establish benchmarks. But we must also analyze outcomes to demonstrate the true value of our PR efforts and then adjust our strategies accordingly.

For my organization, for example, news coverage including digital coverage, has been the driving source of national awareness because it provides third-party validation that can’t be bought.

But we are also constantly expanding our interface with other key stakeholder groups, influencers, and the general public directly. Because of this, measurement is vital in determining which strategies work and which need to be adjusted. We simply have to know who our target audiences are, what they want from us, and how best to reach them.

It’s true that because PR is somewhat different from marketing it can be more difficult to measure. For example, we can’t easily add a line like "call this 800-number" to stories we pitch. But we do know that PR works and strongly influences public perception and can build reputation in powerful ways. So despite the challenges, it’s important to focus on whys and hows of what we are doing.

Companies are constantly looking at their own results and using the latest tools, such as Google Analytics 360, to measure performance. Their tools can often supplement our efforts to measure PR. Of course, ideally, we would like to make a direct link between a news story and the indicators they are measuring.

But we can look at shares and engagement on social, quality of coverage over quantity, tone, sentiment and more. Over time, and through annual surveys and awareness studies, we can examine the long-term outcomes to see if they line up with our communication goals and ultimately, the business objectives.

In my August column, I shared a link to a powerful story about a young woman who received a face transplant at the Cleveland Clinic. The story, which made the cover of National Geographic, covered her amazing journey and her path to recovery. We also created a number of media assets and information about the story to share with the public and other outlets.

The National Geographic placement alone delivered 480 million impressions through the magazine and its digital platforms. And the story is still spreading, so our collective measurements efforts have yet to be finalized.

As a profession, we really need to take PR measurement to the next level. We need to always be looking at new tools and collaborating with our marketing colleagues. Our efforts need to align with the business and we need demonstrable outcomes for us to be at our best.

Helpful resources include the International Association of the Evaluation and Measurement of Communications (AMEC) and the Institute of Public Relations (IPR).

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic. She can be reached at sheile@ccf.org. She is also on the IPR Board of Trustees and is a member of AMEC.

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