Why you have been measuring PR impact wrong

11.12.19 / 8 min read

What is PR impact? How do we measure it? Why is the impact of PR important to track for PR professionals and businesses alike anyway? And why have we been measuring PR impact wrong all these years?

There is a lot to learn about measuring PR impact. From media tracking vanity metrics to proving value and ROI to the wider business. Here we tackle how and why we’ve been doing it wrong. And how effective measurement of PR impact will improve your PR strategy.

Vanity metrics and what PR professionals are doing wrong

It is notoriously difficult to measure PR success. One of the primary challenges being the sheer amount of effort PR professionals expend on measuring vanity metrics.

Vanity, standalone, and single numeric metrics often put arbitrary monetary values against PR efforts. They may sell the success of PR campaigns when reporting to a hypothetical board or c-suite, but they often miss the mark. By focusing on column inches received for example, vanity metrics bypass the meaningful impact a PR campaign may have.

Talking of column inches, the most (in)famous vanity metric is advertising value equivalency (AVE). This is a manually calculated and commodifying metric, used as a PR professionals primary measure of success.

AVE is the practice of manually measuring and converting column inches within a publication into a financial equivalent. Ergo, how much money you would have had to pay for the same amount of advertising space in that specific publication. But it is incredibly outdated, harkening back to the days of printed and cut out scrapbooks known as press clippings books.

Advertising Value Equivalency is (unfortunately) still a well used tool in many a PRs toolkit. However, the advent of media monitoring tools, platforms and services, has impacted its popularity. PR professionals understand, or are beginning to understand, that monetary equivalencies are not the be all and end all. And that they’re often inaccurate in regards to impact.

Knowledge is power and the information now available means PRs can move away from vanity metrics. PR measurement is about adding real value, not just highlighting real or imagined successes.

So instead of drowning in data and manual calculations, you should focus on the metrics that truly matter and cut through the measurement noise.


Social media impact

It is no secret that most social media metrics are essentially vanity metrics in disguise. Tracking new social media followers and engagements are important for social media marketers. But what are their real impact?

An increase in followers or the level of engagement doesn’t necessarily bring value to the rest of the organisation. So it’s narrow-minded to base the success of a PR campaign primarily, or even in part, on social media metrics. That is, unless they are directly linked back to real business objectives.


Let’s take Twitter for example. Tracking followers is a common metric that is considered valuable. However, a huge number of Twitter users follow accounts for random reasons. More often than not, their follow is not in line with your business objectives. (Commonly people simply want to get a follow back.)

Furthermore, even after building a large follower base, those that will continuously engage are few and far between. And if we’ve learnt anything from the influencer marketing boom: high follower counts and low engagement suggest suspect follower purchasing.

What’s more, of those that do actively engage how many are genuinely interested in your content? And how many even have a slim chance of converting to leads?


As an example of this, think back to the now defunct social influence app, Klout. Klout used black box social media analytics to rate their users social media influence. Calculated on a scale of 1 to 100, your Klout score was a vanity metric as undefined, unreplicable, and ineffective as they come.

This is not to say that investing time, effort, and budget into a social media strategy is inherently a bad idea. But that an over-reliance upon social media metrics in PR reporting can muddy the waters. Building a mature and strategic social media presence can help you build relationships with influencers, journalists, and potential corporate partners.

But measurement? Let’s leave that to the marketers.


Reach for the stars (climb every mountain high).

We may not be reaching the dizzying heights of S Club 7, but being able to measure the reach of your media coverage is, we believe, the next best thing.

Historically, reach was as straightforward as securing the prime time slot on Saturday night TV. Broadcasting your organisations key messaging to a guaranteed national, or international, audience meant that PR professionals didn’t have to concern themselves with detailed reach analytics.

Oh, but how times have changed with the current mobile-first fragmented digital landscape. This makes it extremely hard to tell whether consumers are actually engaging with your messaging. Or even how many people may possibly be exposed to it in the first place. This information may seem impossible to get a hold of, but with AI-powered media monitoring this impossibility has become a reality.

Screenshot of reach on the Signal AI platform

The Signal AI platform automatically aggregates reach estimates from digital publications. Effortlessly providing all the reach information you need. But for reach to be even more effective it should be coupled with other metrics that provide insight on engagement. To prove whether the content and messaging is actually engaging or not.

For example, if your campaign is focused on earned media it is invaluable to analyse the amount of people sharing the content in addition to estimated levels of reach. And if the focus is on building demand; alongside reach estimates, how high is your clickthrough rate?

Website impact: How has SEO changed the game for PR measurement

SEO has changed the game for PR professionals. Well, the ones that know how to implement, and capitalise upon, it at least. Understanding how Search Engines work is key for driving traffic to your website and increasing brand awareness. And it is not just the domain of marketing teams, SEO can be a significant driver of organic traffic via a PR campaign.

SEO can positively effect website traffic and, most importantly, organic and referral traffic.

Therefore, knowing how to use keywords and other SEO techniques, such as link building can have a massive impact. It will help you improve your Google ranking and cement your position on page one.

Correlating sales data to PR activity

PR professionals are under a lot of increasing pressure to justify their budget. There is a constant need to prove ROI and value to the wider-organisation.

But it’s easy to get caught in the trap of vanity metrics! As discussed earlier, vanity metrics such as Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) are an inaccurate and outdated way of attaching a monetary value to PR measurement. Proving value by manually calculating an arbitrary £ or $ amount to a PR campaign, isn’t proving value.

Rather than looking outwards to amount and size of press coverage, it’s important when proving the value of PR to correlate PR activity to sales data. So, instead of simply telling the c-suite in a report that brand awareness is increasing, PR professionals should show how increasing brand awareness has contributed to sourcing leads. If you’re doing your job correctly, this data should be readily available and reveal all.

In addition, you can track how successful your PR efforts are by analysing the origins of leads, prospects and converted clients. Or you can go a step further by surveying new clients to discover how they discovered your brand. (Which can be an interesting exercise in data-led lead origination analysis and anecdotal personal stories.)

CTA Download for PR & Media Intelligence Glossary

Sentiment of coverage

Sentiment is yet another aspect of media monitoring and PR measurement that has a history of intense manual graft. Picture this: a junior PR hunched over a press clippings book reading every word of every article to determine whether it’s positive, negative or neutral towards their company.

Now imagine doing that for the hundreds and hundreds of press coverage that can result from a PR campaign.

Analysing sentiment is exactly the kind of task organisations would outsource to PR agencies. But with belts being tightened and PR & Comms functionalities being brought in-house, businesses are turning to the next evolution of media monitoring and sentiment analysis. AI-trained and automated sentiment analysis facilitated by a media monitoring platform.

Understanding the sentiment of your coverage can help you identify the perception of your business, its key messages and any PR campaigns launched. Allowing you to analyse the success of campaigns during and after their launch. And ultimately proving not only the level of coverage, but also the quality in terms of the coverage acting as an advocate for your business.

In addition to effective reporting and campaign measurement, from a client and prospect angle positive sentiment in media coverage impact their perception of a product. As such, improving sentiment over time is key for overcoming perception obstacles in the sales funnel.

How can brand awareness impact your business

The final measurement we will touch upon, is brand awareness.

Brand awareness is the first touchpoint a potential customer – both B2B and B2C customers alike – will have with an organisation. It takes five to seven impressions for people to remember a brand. And this initial awareness phase is more important than ever, as every industry is plagued with over saturation and rapidly growing competition.

Ultimately, consumers are more likely to buy a new product or service from a brand name they recognise. Fifty nine per cent of consumers to be exact.

By building brand awareness, businesses can increase their market share. This raises the bar for any other potential market entrants. Brand awareness affects perception and drives repeat purchases.

Brand awareness is linked to brand profitability.

PR measurement software

So, why have we been measuring PR impact wrong? And what can the PR industry do to improve how and what is measured?

Firstly, we have to fully bid a final farewell to vanity metrics. Long gone are the days of Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) and vain social media metrics that have little impact. Now is the time for value-add metrics and measurement that prove PR impact, ROI, and value.

Saying that the PR industry needs to overhaul its measurement of PR impact is one thing. Getting a global and deeply entrenched industry to actually do it, is another. But it is becoming easier than ever to measure PR impact with new and emerging technology.

Particularly, with AI-powered media monitoring and intelligence platforms. Get a demo of the Signal AI platform to find out how you could be measuring PR impact for your business.