By Betsy McCloskey / Guest Column

Measuring success has long been the Achilles’ heel of public relations. While it is true that it’s hard to correlate PR efforts directly to sales results, that doesn’t mean you can’t measure success.

Why is it important to measure PR? Measure­ment provides a clear picture of performance and allows you to show the results of PR campaigns to your boss and/or clients. In addition, having a clear understanding of PR efforts provides a better road map for future planning and budgeting.

Before you can measure results, it is important to know what success looks like and to take the time to outline your goals. Identifying the target audience is also a key part of the of upfront work. All the great PR in the world doesn’t mean any­thing if your target audience doesn’t see it.

AVE vs. Barcelona Principles

In the past, the Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) has been the standard for measuring the success of a PR campaign. If you received media in a publication, you would compare that space to the cost of a paid ad and that would give the AVE to quantify success.

Things have changed: PR and advertising are very different and the industry has come to real­ize it is hard to make an apples-to-apples compar­ison. Many in the industry feel that the Barcelona Principles — a set of seven voluntary guidelines established by the PR industry — provide a core framework for a universal standard of measure­ment. One of the Barcelona Principles is, “AVEs are not the value of communications.”

Overall, the Barcelona Principles focus on set­ting goals, looking at outcomes versus outputs, using both quantitative and qualitative measure­ments, incorporating social media and taking a holistic approach to evaluation.

Monitoring your success

When taking a holistic approach to evaluation, there are multiple aspects to look at to determine if your PR efforts have been successful.

Media mentions: Monitoring your media cov­erage is a vital part of tracking your PR results. To track media mentions, create Google Alerts or alerts on a tool like TalkWalker for the brand name, company name and key executives. Both tools are free and can be set up quickly. In addi­tion, do a weekly Google search to find any men­tions those tools didn’t catch.

The type of media coverage is as important as the amount of media. Tracking the sentiment of the mentions will provide insight into whether a brand is being portrayed positively or negatively.

Create a media tracking document to help show the big picture. This can be a simple spread­sheet that includes columns for the following: media outlet, date, journalist/influencer, title/fo­cus of content, link to the article, audience, media impressions (if available), backlinks to website and sentiment (positive/negative).

Website traffic: Website activity is another way to measure effectiveness. Creating a dashboard in Google Analytics can help identify trends around PR coverage and learn where your traffic is com­ing from. Ideally, media mentions will have a ref­erence back to the website to help drive traffic.

Social media mentions: Social media plays a big role in PR. Having an Instagram influencer with a large audience share your content can significantly increase awareness and grow social communities. Hootsuite is a great social listening tool to help monitor mentions of your brand, products or rel­evant keywords across multiple social networks.

Search engine optimization (SEO): The in­creased site traffic, backlinks from articles and social media mentions are all going to impact your search engine optimization (SEO). Better SEO rankings increase the likelihood of your au­dience finding you.

Using tools like SEM Rush and Moz will mon­itor what keywords you are ranking for and how the positioning has changed over the course of a campaign or time period.

While these are the key success indicators to monitor, there are many tools that can help show how your PR efforts are making an impact. This article covers just a few. Do some research and find out what tools are best for you.

Betsy McCloskey is a partner at Plaid Swan Inc. with offices in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. Plaid Swan is a female-owned and operated marketing communications firm.