How many people are seeing your PR messages? This is likely one of the first and most important metrics you check once a story you've pitched reaches the masses. While this is a good start, however, it's premature to call a campaign a success until you've determined whether the right people got the message. Unless the quality of coverage is good - with a trusted news source bringing a message to people who could potentially become your customers - the amount doesn't matter.
By the same token, a quest to achieve high-quality messaging doesn't have to be conducted at the expense of wide outreach. In the end, it's a combination of qualitative and quantitative metrics that will determine whether your ideas are getting through. The value of a campaign is based on this calculus.
The importance of combining quality and quantity of coverage and attention is written into the Association for the Measurement and Evaluation and Communication's Barcelona Principles, in addition to their more recent framework models. This foundational document is a good place to start when considering the different elements that lead to measurable and solid return on your PR investment.
The principles urge PR departments to make measurements that balance both the amount of impressions a story brings in and whether the viewers are within the brand's target audience. Formulas to explain the value of PR should also give precedence to media sources that are considered credible and have a tone that fits with the kind of message the brand hopes to deliver.
An honest appraisal of a PR campaign will determine whether the quality of media has been a help or a hindrance to spreading a brand's messaging. Both outcomes are possible, and leaders should make sure they are on the right track. Of course, positive quality metrics shouldn't be a surprise. As long as brands consider the importance of credible and relevant media outlets very early in a campaign, they can focus hard on these particular channels.
There are many smaller trends that determine the relevance and overall quality of earned media and public relations today. In today's media landscape, there isn't just a choice between one legacy outlet and another. Campaigns can also turn to influential individuals or alternative channels. Media assessment tools will have to be able to tell the relative usefulness of each of these new categories.
Business 2 Community contributor Wendy Marx pointed out a few facts that are changing the value of the different routes to clients' eyes. For example, influencer relationships are on the rise, with PR professionals acting as the go-between in many of these cases instead of the marketing department.
Finding their own value under fire in the era of fake news, legacy media channels are putting a greater focus than ever on accuracy and reporting factual statements. This may burnish these outlets' relevance but, according to Marx, PR teams have to meet journalists halfway and provide them with plenty of verifiable facts.
In the view of another Business 2 Community contributor, Sally Falkow, value of mass media coverage is at its lowest when confidence in the news sinks. In the current era of malicious stories and intentionally seeded distrust, this is especially low. Such an adjustment should probably be part of a brand's calculus in determining whether a story placement has had an impact.
The relationship between quality and quantity of media placement remains close, and unraveling the relative value of each is one of the keys to determining PR ROI. PR teams that are content with having many eyes on a story but don't check the source's relevance may be disappointed in the campaign's eventual results. The same goes for departments that land high-quality coverage that no one reads.