KPIs for communications shift with the times

A new report shows that securing coverage is no longer the end-all for PR clients as the move towards activity-based KPIs and real-time social data becomes evident.

KPIs for communications shift with the times

An analysis by Releasd shows that PR measurement methods are evolving significantly. The report, which examined over 100,000 PR reports with 400,000 different KPIs between 2015 and 2021, highlights KPI trends and shows how closely modern PR reporting aligns with best practices, specifically those that are laid out in AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework.

Here are five takeaways from the report:

Activity-based KPIs are on the rise

Activities are described in this context as ‘things you do to plan and produce your communication’. In other words, the work that’s done before things go live, such as webinars, blog posts, and award entries. In 2015, only one in five reports included an activity-based KPI, but this rose significantly to almost four in five for reports created in 2021. Naturally, KPIs relating to webinars, virtual events and podcasts have become much more commonplace, accelerated by the pandemic.

Output-based KPIs are being challenged

Outputs is described here as ‘what you put out that is received by target audiences’. In reality, the challenge with output-based KPIs is that they often provide no evidence that a story will have been received at all—let alone by its intended audience. This is because they tend to involve simply counting the number of pieces of coverage that have appeared, or the total potential ‘reach’ of a publication. While it’s now cheaper and easier to obtain output-based metrics, the lack of genuine insight provided by this category of metrics is indicated by the move towards activity-based KPIs. However, the ubiquity of output KPIs remains constant from 2015 to 2021, as clients like raw numbers of this kind.

AVE usage has significantly decreased

Nearly one in five reports created in 2015 featured AVE (advertising value equivalency) metrics, but that number decreased to just 6% in 2021. So it may still be alive—but only just. Interestingly, of the reports that did include AVE, only 34% were created by PR agencies, while the remaining 66% were created in-house. Those in the PR community including many larger agencies and associations have vocally rejected AVEs as an archaic method of measurement.

Outtakes-based KPIs are gaining popularity

Outtakes here is defined as 'what audiences do with and take out of your communication’. Hence, KPIs in this category should provide evidence that content has successfully engaged its audience such as RTs, downloads, comments, and shares. In 2015, 87% of reports included one or more outtake KPIs, but this number rose to 94% in 2021. Tools and methods to evaluate outtakes have also become more sophisticated as real-time social sharing data and sentiment can be speedily gathered.

Outcome- and impact-based KPIs remain difficult to measure

Outcomes are described as ‘effects that your communication has on audiences’; they evaluate how a brand’s social communications have had an impact on the intended audience. These may manifest in the form of metrics such as qualified leads, webinar registrations, footfall, and money raised. While it may be seen as the ‘holy grail’ of PR measurement, it’s also notoriously difficult to gauge.

The main difference between statistics from 2015 compared to 2021 is that SMEs tend to now offer an environment most conducive to the measurement of outcomes and impacts. Compared to large enterprises, they are more likely to provide the relevant parties with access to the right tools and the right people at the right times. Large organisations face challenges such as information sharing, siloed working, internal politics, and speed of decision-making, making outcome-based KPIs difficult to measure.

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