How to measure your return on investment

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

One of the challenges during these COVID times is that no one can actually show a product or come together for a press briefing. As a solution, platforms like Talkwalker monitor the web to see what consumers are saying about a particular launch or event to help companies understand the efforts of their communication strategies. It tracks not only the way news spreads, but also the sentiment around it, because public relations isn’t just about getting noticed. It’s about getting noticed for the right reasons and in the right places. 

There is the story of Gerald Ratner and the Ratner jewellery store, which he inherited as a family business. At a press conference at the Institute of Directors at the Royal Albert Hall on the 23rd of April 1991, he said, “We also do sell cut glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks all for £4.95.” People said, “Gerald, how can you sell this for such a low price?” He said, “Because it’s total crap.” He compounded this by going on to remark that one of the sets of earrings was cheaper than Marks & Spencer’s prawn sandwich, but probably wouldn’t last as long. Funny as that might have seemed at the time as a party piece, he was just entering the period when news was getting out quickly and, of course, the media had a field day. After the speech, very quickly, the group value plummeted by over £500 million which was a lot of money back then and even today. This became a case study on what happens when public relations goes wrong and how a carelessly worded statement can ruin a brand’s reputation. This holds true even more so now in this digital age, where influential people such as those in government have said socially unacceptable things even just on social media that have forced them to resign.

Why you should use EASTWEST PR’s Active Communications Index

As Francis Bacon, the philosopher, once said, “Knowledge is power,” and these measurement is knowledge, which is why public relations activities should be quantified and measured. However, it’s no longer enough to track the amount of coverage or attention around a particular event. The nature and the tone of what’s being said is also paramount. Now that people can share and reshare posts on social media, engagement becomes another metric to track. To measure all this, EASTWEST PR has developed a simple formula called the Active Communications Index which is a figure of the amount of content multiplied by the number of channels it will go out to multiplied by the frequency at which this content will be sent out, or simply put, [content] x [frequency] x [channels]. The result of this will serve as an indicator of how much coverage the company is likely to get which is needed, because clients often worry about the scale of the coverage on the other side of the activity. 

The Active Communications Index serves to give companies and entrepreneurs a guideline so that they can create consistent, well-distributed media content across multiple platforms. Plainly, PR is an $11 billion industry that people are investing in, and in the old days, clients used to ask for AVEs or Advertising Value Equivalents. This required measuring clippings, getting rate cards from publicatoins, then multiplying the advertising value by 3.5, which was said to be the credibility ratio of a paid ad versus earned editorial.

Setting goals and tracking sentiment

In 2010, a group of PR experts met in Barcelona and they came up with what they call the Barcelona Principles, and in 2015, they came out with an updated version of this. These PR experts identified a number of principles of which the number one is about goal-setting, of which measurement is a byproduct, because companies often want to measure something, but they haven’t set any goals at to determine what would be a positive or negative metric. So, the first step would be setting goals which could be, for instance, web traffic, inquiries, attendance at a showroom launch, etc. Without these goals in mind, the measurement is bound to be flawed, but with them, it will be easier to plan how to achieve it and get it done. 

One move beyond that is to look at the sentiment, because it’s not enough to be spoken about. It’s also important whether the company is spoken about in a positive or negative manner. Luckily, Talkwalker has a free social media monitoring tool, which tracks sentiment using AI by looking for which words and which keywords the coverage is displaying. If it’s your own press release, it’s going to be positive, but if it is being picked up and retweeted or or reposted on social media channels, it may or may not be positive all the time. And so, tracking both the frequency and the range of coverage is important, but so is the sentiment around it. 

Dedicated measurement platforms for entrepreneurs

CoverageBook is a measurement and evaluation platform where you input a URL link and their software will then search the web and aggregate a combined total readership. It also has what they call a domain authority score. A higher and lower doman authority score produces a rating, and it’s one thing to have a website with massive traffic but a low quality readership or rating. An ideal website would be one with a high domain authority and high traffic. So, CoverageBook is very good for consolidating both the numbers and making a wonderful presentation of all of the clippings if there is a need to export it to PDF or another file format.

Carma is a global organisation dedicated to measurement, and they have a global media intelligence product or platform with over 1,200 clients. They monitor over 100 languages, and have staff in five continents, so if you’re managing a global launch and you really want to track both the amount of coverage and the sentiment, Carma would be a great platform to use. Another option is the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication or AMEC which has dedicated itself to the measurement and the practice of measurement in the public relations industry. They have a number of tools, one of which is called the Integrated Evaluation Framework that is free and available online for entrepreneurs, agencies, and organisations to use to measure their ongoing PR around things like reach, sentiment, engagement, and so on. They also have a Measurement Maturity Mapper which analyses the progess over time, because sentiment and analysis aren’t static. The more work done in a market, the more detailed it becomes. The more interviews or press briefings done, the more depth and synthetic will be the analysis. Measurement is important, but it does start with planning. Aside from AMEC, Carma has a global standard, but there are some lightweight ones like Talkwalker and CoverageBook that will help you get there. 

Tracking website analytics are helpful, and so is the use of an online chat, which businesses really should maximise using, especially since there are platforms like Zoho and Zendesk that enable customers to talk directly to customer support or technical support. You can even use chat bots if you can’t be available all the time, or you can use manned ones. Services like Zendesk actually provide the staff who can respond to scripted responses that you have as a company for them. So, public relations fulfills many functions, but a large one is to get people to come to your website to find out more about the business. It’s then essential to use some of these tools that make the website interactive, because public relations is only part of a digital customer journey. The industry has always had a desire to understand the impact that it’s making on the well-being of the organisation, and this brings to light the importance of measurement. Not only could one start to measure the advertising value equivalent by using rulers, chopping up pieces of paper, scanning themm and sending hard copies to clients, but borne was a digital age wherein everything can be measured and everything can be planned.

Put the Active Communications Index to use by identifying how much content you are going to send through how many channels and at what frequency, because without the input, you won’t have the output. The input can be measured and planned, and with it, you can start to measure the output. That will give you a ratio of how effective you’re being, how much investment you’re making, and how much reward you’re getting. If you’re doing great PR, then the reward will be more people coming to your website and you receiving them gratefully and generously as they listen to the story of your brand. May this shed some light on what you can do with your company when it comes to measurement for yourself or any agencies that you work with. Remove the fear and the anxiety about public relations or what it does for you, start with a plan, identify the objectives, and put in consistent effort, and you will get great public relations.


This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

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