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Blog / Measuring The Impact of PR: Vanity Vs. Sanity Metrics

Measuring The Impact of PR: Vanity Vs. Sanity Metrics

In this episode of The Undiscovered Metric, we’re joined by Amy Lawrence, Associate Director and Head of PR at Ginger May. 

We sat down to discuss all things PR, PR measurement, and the challenges faced in demonstrating business outcomes. 


Check out the podcast to find out which PR metrics you should focus on.

Hi Amy, could you tell us a bit about yourself? 

I'm Amy Lawrence, Head of PR at Ginger May, a B2B technology communications agency. We are data-driven in everything we do, from measuring client program success, PR programs, and social media, to internal operations such as team progression and hiring. 

The role of PR and comms has evolved beyond just building relationships with journalists and securing coverage. It now involves managing all organic communications, aligning with other marketing and sales efforts, and ensuring brand consistency.

Are there any PR metrics that people should focus on to advance their PR strategies? 

There is no one-size-fits-all metric for advancing PR strategies. It's important to start by identifying what you are trying to achieve before selecting specific PR metrics. PR and social media allow for tracking and measuring everything, but this can also lead to getting lost in the details. 

We always begin with understanding the current state of play and defining objectives as benchmarks for measurement. Objectives can vary depending on the company, from traditional PR goals like raising awareness of spokespeople and product offerings, to driving SEO or attracting investors. It's crucial to always come back to the question of what you're trying to achieve and selecting PR metrics that can measure those objectives.

Do you think KPIs need to come from the top down or do you think they need to be set from the bottom up?

Everyone in the organization has a role to play in setting KPIs. Buy-in from top leadership is essential, and misalignment can render PR metrics meaningless. Vanity versus sanity metrics is a common challenge. 

For example, we had a client who was focused on getting coverage in The Wall Street Journal for ego reasons, but it didn't result in leads or engagement from their target audience. We shifted the strategy to focus on niche trade titles with a smaller readership but a higher likelihood of reaching the target audience and driving leads. 

It's important to prioritize metrics that align with your objectives and deliver meaningful results, rather than chasing vanity metrics like reach without considering the actual impact on business outcomes.

Audience and reach used to be the key metrics in PR, but it's becoming clear that these can be vanity metrics if they don't lead to tangible results. In the past, PR has struggled with this, but the industry is evolving for the better. We need to move away from outdated PR metrics like AVE (advertising value equivalent) and focus on metrics that truly measure the impact of PR efforts on business objectives.

Do you think now PR strategies are more agile than they were traditionally five or ten years ago?

Definitely. But only for those who are using the insights in the right way. You could have the best PR metrics, really in-depth and insightful — but if you're not looking at them and using them to decide what to do next, they become meaningless. 

I've seen some really great examples of different ways to measure the outcome of PR. For example, we worked with a company that had a way to look at each individual piece of coverage. In addition to looking at things like audience reach, job titles of who's reading it, impressions, all of those things, they took it a step further and looked at where in the piece they were mentioned. Were they in the top third, the second third, or near the end? Did the piece of coverage also mention competitors? Were they mentioned first or last? Was it positive or negative? And they used this information to create a score out of 100.

The trouble is, the company was so focused on the numbers – setting a target of 500 every month – that they ended up using a spray-and-pray approach, pushing out as much content as possible, typically press releases about non-newsworthy announcements or minor product updates. This resulted in low to mid-tier coverage that didn't meet the company's objectives. It was a distraction. 

So at some point, you have to remember to ask yourself, “Why are we doing this?”. As with everything in life, it's all about balance. You need to get the right PR metrics, at the right level, and make sure you're using them. That's what it's about. If you're not doing that, it doesn't work.

So, what would you say are those key PR metrics that people should be focusing on? 

One of the key PR metrics we use is share of voice. It's a great one because instantly in a split second, you can look at a graph and know where your company sits against your competitors. It looks great and everyone understands it. However, you do need to have the analysis that goes with it. 

Okay, so you're getting 60% share of voice. That sounds pretty good, but what publications are you in? What are the messages that are going out? But also, really importantly, let's not just look at ourselves, let's look at our competitors. Where are they getting mentions? What kind of coverage are they getting? Is it positive? Is it negative? What are they saying that's different from what you offer as a company and what you can do? It’s a gap analysis as well. Where's the opportunity? Should you be copying what they're doing, maybe to some extent, but what can you do that they're not doing? Share of voice is a brilliant instant indicator of what's happening. Couple that with the insights that go with it, and that's really powerful.

So now you've got your share of voice in place. How can you then demonstrate the business value of that share of voice?

The ideal scenario is to have a single source of truth that gives oversight of all your departments and their activities that could be directly or indirectly attributed to the content being pushed out, whether it's through owned channels, editorial, or marketing campaigns. In an ideal world, everything is joined up. One of the most powerful (and hardest) questions to get an answer to is "Where did you hear about us?" This instantly gives you an idea of what's working and what's not, but it's challenging to capture as it often comes out of a conversation rather than through data capture forms or audience insights. 

When we receive feedback from clients about how their customers heard about them, it's like gold dust. For example, we had a client who received press coverage in a marketing trade publication, and on the day it was published, they received two inquiries from big, well-known brands who wanted to talk to them. This could potentially convert into hundreds of thousands of revenue for the company. However, we are reliant on the person who contacted them to relay this information back to us, the PR agency that placed the piece in the publication. So there is a void there. 

The ideal scenario would be to have access to all that information and have enough resources, time, and budget to capture and analyze the data. However, it's important to strike a balance because we could spend all our time looking at numbers and PR metrics, but then we won't have any time left to do actual PR. So it's about making a judgment call. 

Ideally, when you start working with a client, you could conduct a perception awareness study to find out what people know and think about the company, and revisit it every 3 to 6 months. However, in reality, there may not be enough time and budget to conduct such activities, so it's about finding the right balance and having enough data to understand the rigor and success of your PR efforts without sacrificing your original objectives.

How can you marry up those metrics to highlight that PR is still a key part of your marketing function?

It's all about connecting the dots, communication, transparency, and building trust. Often, we talk about working in silos, but the most successful programs are when we work in partnership with our clients, not just with the marketing teams, but also with the C-suite, sales teams, and field marketing. It's about having insight into everything and making sure that PR is integrated into all aspects of the business.

For someone starting their PR journey with a new PR agency, what are the three immediate things they can do to highlight the value of PR?

Firstly, getting buy-in from the top is crucial to create a data-driven culture. It's important to establish trust and build relationships with the company and internal stakeholders, especially if they've had a negative experience with PR in the past. Building that trust is a top priority for us at Ginger May.

Secondly, it's about showcasing the why behind what you're doing. How does the PR program directly link to the company's commercial objectives? How will it impact the bottom line? It's essential to ensure that PR aligns with other marketing efforts, such as SEO and content marketing, to create a cohesive strategy that works together towards common goals. For example, incorporating SEO keywords in content and linking it back to the website can help drive traffic and improve visibility.

Thirdly, transparency is key. Once objectives are set, it's important to be transparent about the progress, even if things don't go as planned. Being flexible and open to revisiting strategies, angles, and thought leaders can help refine the approach and achieve better results. At Ginger May, we believe in data-driven PR, basing our recommendations on insights and experience, whether it's from years of industry knowledge or recent conversations we've had with journalists.

How can people identify what they want to measure in share of voice, and how can they set up that metric to really get the best out of it? 

It's important to understand your competitor set and identify who you are competing with on a daily basis. While some clients may want to monitor larger companies, it's crucial to be specific about why you are measuring against a particular company. For example, measuring against Google may not be the best approach as it can be challenging to track and may not provide meaningful insights. 

Instead, it's better to focus on companies that are similar in size and are targeting the same clients as you. Identify who you will be competing with in a pitch and really hone in on that. It's essential to ensure that the metrics you choose are meaningful and can help you achieve your goals, rather than just being numbers that can demotivate your team. Also, consider market trends and have conversations with journalists to stay updated on the latest developments.

What are the three things that you expect are going to catch fire over the next sort of 12 to 18 months? 

The word of the year last year was permacrisis. That’s how it feels. There's constantly something going on, we’re constantly switching. Given the dynamic nature of the industry with recovering from COVID and facing unforeseen economic situations, being nimble and agile is crucial. 

Another significant topic of conversation is AI, including ChatGPT, and how it will impact the PR industry. The balance between data and automation versus human input, particularly human curation of insights, is an important discussion. Additionally, there is a growing trend towards minimalism in metrics, focusing on what's most effective and resonates the most, while also being prepared to review and adapt as things change. It's important to constantly evaluate and align your metrics with your business objectives, which may evolve over time.

And do you think there are lessons that PR can still learn from organic marketing on how to look at metrics to inform what we're doing?

Yes. Paid content is really important. PR is changing, and there are a lot more pay-to-play opportunities than earned now. It's really important to have that integrated comms approach. We talk about PESO - paid, earned, social, and owned media, and you do need to look at it as a whole. You can't just separate those things. They overlap massively. 

It can be frustrating when publications or service providers can’t provide basic data on reach or performance, so having access to data and measuring PR metrics on a regular basis is essential. Integrated communication across different departments and teams, and having champions of PR across the business, is critical for success.

What advice would you want to give someone starting in the industry? 

Something I always tell my team is to ask for feedback. It may seem scary, especially when you're starting out, as you don't want anyone to criticize your work. However, it is the most valuable thing you can do. 

Don't just ask for feedback once a year during an appraisal, but ask for it every single day after completing a task. Ask questions like "How did I do?" or "What could I have done better?" This way, you are constantly gathering data about your performance and can make improvements sooner. 

I encourage my team to ask for feedback but also to reciprocate by giving feedback to others. Despite the fear around giving feedback, people actually appreciate it. Even if it is constructive or negative, it is still valuable. In fact, constructive feedback is more valuable than just receiving praise like "Well done, you did a great job." It's constructive feedback that helps you progress in your career, no matter what industry you are working in, or whom you are working with. So always ask for feedback. 


If you enjoyed the Undiscovered Metric, you can check out the previous episode here.

Cam Benoit, Team Leader of Solutions Consulting at Adverity discusses how agencies can scale their data strategies to make the most out of their marketing data.

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