How do you measure the success of a PR campaign? This is one of the first questions that come up when working with new clients – which is normally couched in the killer question: “what does PR success look like to you?”

And that’s where the measures of success can vary wildly. For some, it’s more closely linked to enquiry levels and sales performance. For others, it’s about expanding brand awareness, improving social media reach, developing customer relationships, enhancing reputations, boosting employee morale or communicating a specific message. And then there’s activity to rebuild reputations after negative publicity.

Before we dive straight into measuring success, there’s a key planning stage before that, where the most important building blocks are covered. This can be handily distilled into the acronym ABCDE.

Planning the success of your PR campaign is as easy as ABCDE

The key components to consider in any PR campaign are:

  • Audiences – who are your target audiences? They could be prospective customers, existing customers, employees, contractors, suppliers, the wider public, etc. Audiences can be further divided by demographics, such as age, gender and location
  • Behaviours – what behaviours would you like to see from your target audiences? For example, you might want to encourage sales, clicks, likes or enquiries
  • Content – what strategy will you follow to promote the desired behaviours?
  • Delivery – how will the strategy be implemented? Factors to consider include the medium, frequency, duration and timing of the campaign
  • Evaluation – how will you measure the effectiveness of the campaign?

The last point is where the choice of metric comes into play, and it should be based on all the other aspects. Before you can select a metric, it’s important to know what your options are.

5 measurements of PR success

There are a plethora of PR and digital success metrics out there, but it is important that the right metric is selected for the right client and the right activity at the right time.

In my experience, the five most common ones are:

  1. Advertising value equivalent (AVE) – one of the basic metrics for measuring PR campaigns’ success, the AVE involves calculating how much the editorial space would have cost to buy as ad space. This is still very much based on print, but it also applies to digital. Some PR professionals debate the usefulness of the AVE as a measure of success, but quantifying the results achieved in this way can really help clients to understand the value of good PR
  2. General profile raising – this can be measured by metrics such as website traffic but can also manifest in accolades such as winning awards
  3. Lead generation – this can include open rates for direct mail, traffic to specific website landing pages or even the use of virtual phone numbers. For example, a franchise network might use separate virtual phone numbers for different touchpoints (e.g. websites, leaflets, Google My Business listings, social media platforms, magazine adverts, printed postcards, etc.) to track where enquires come from
  4. Engagement – engagement is a great way to analyse the impact and intake of a particular message. In social media campaigns, this involves analysing factors such as the number of likes, retweets, shares and followers, whilst with websites, it can entail reviewing the time spent on specific pages, the total number of pages visited, click-throughs to social platforms, etc.
  5. Anecdotal – this is my favourite. Good and consistent client coverage sparks a reaction because clients see themselves in a new light – and see themselves as the newsworthy experts that others see them as, and this lifts a business. As a lot of my clients are in competitive industries, the grapevine soon goes haywire with rival companies talking about the coverage. This forces some competitors to raise their PR game and others to sulk, as they have neither the inclination nor know-how to raise awareness of their businesses

In truth, most businesses use all, or most, of the above in PR success measurement, especially the SMEs that I tend to work with because they want an overall picture of how their business is benefiting from PR and the return on investment that it is delivering.