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How to build a lean, mean PR measurement machine.
This guide is going to show you how to measure your B2B PR results and evaluate their contribution to business objectives.
It’s the result of years of experience transitioning clients from traditional, media-coverage focussed B2B PR to modern, inbound B2B PR.
- We’ll start with some background on why there have never been so many exciting opportunities in B2B PR measurement.
- After that, we’ll look at how to choose the right objectives.
- We’ll finish with the best data to collect, where to collect it and how to benchmark your performance (via some mildly diverting Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter references along the way).
“Lots of what follows is common sense, but we’re betting there’s a few things you’ve not tried.”
Measurement can be super-simple, and measurement can be really complex.
The important thing is measuring something; otherwise, how are you going to know whether you’ve done a great job or not!
Lots of what follows is common sense, but we’re betting there are a few things you’ve not tried.
Hopefully, armed with your newfound measurement knowledge your colleagues will treat you with the respect you deserve. Possibly.
WHY IS B2B PR MEASUREMENT A BIG DEAL?
B2B PR measurement is a battle for your very existence. And, if you’re not measuring the effectiveness of your public relations in a way that links it back to wider business objectives, then you’re clinging on by your fingertips.
Why? Because PR’s reputation as being a bit fluffy or, worse, unaccountable is not something you can afford to perpetuate in a world where data drives nearly everything and insight is in vogue.
How long can your company – or maybe your clients – expect to put money, time and effort into something you can’t even be sure is working?
But fear not, help is on the way.
This guide will show you how the fragmented array of modern communications channels – digital, social, blogs, traditional media and influencers – are actually everything you need to build a lean, mean B2B PR measurement machine.
The likes of which your PR ancestors could only have dreamed.
So, you know what we say here at Big Games Machine?
We say, “What a time to be alive for B2B PR measurement”. And when you’re through here, you’ll feel the same too. Promise.
Because huge changes are afoot, and you have a fighting chance to be right at the forefront.
We say fighting because some of the data you need is going to live in siloed digital systems that are, moreover often outside the traditional remit of PR pros.
But fight you must, because you’re short of alternatives.
Maybe, elsewhere in your search for ways of measuring B2B PR, you’ve already come across advertising value equivalents (or AVEs).
We’ll cover them – briefly – later in this guide, too. But only to warn you about how thoroughly debunked they are as a way of measuring public relations effectiveness.
And not a moment too soon.
Today, in the new era of inbound B2B PR, AVEs are worth even less because they assume that coverage is an end in itself.
It is not.
It’s still important (check out our guide, How to Create a Modern B2B PR Strategy That Sings, for more on this), but using the PESO model – Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned (see diagram) – there are more ways to get your message out there than ever before.
This is the Peso Model – find out more about it at spinsucks.com
So there are more and better, things to measure.
As ever, it’s a story of technology to the rescue.
Now, by setting off with the right goal in mind and capturing the right data along the way, calculating B2B PR value is more possible than ever.
Notice we didn’t say ‘easier’, because it’s not. AVEs were easy, and look where they got us.
So, are you ready to do this thing right?
OK, let’s go.
CHOOSING OBJECTIVES FOR YOUR INBOUND B2B PR STRATEGY
No matter what industry or sector you’re in, your inbound B2B PR strategy needs to deliver outcomes – leads generated, sales influenced – not just outputs like the volume of coverage.
So, your objectives must cover both in order to prove your campaigns’ value.
Get it right, and you can also set better budgets, track more relevant KPIs and optimise campaigns on the fly.
Most importantly, effective measurement allows you to direct resources to what’s working and ditch what isn’t.
So, to best set yourself up for evaluating your B2B PR efforts, you first need to define the outcomes you’re looking to achieve.
There’s a fair few layers to consider as we work towards setting your outcomes-focussed objectives.
The first one to look at is the Barcelona Principles.
Back in 2010 various PR industry bodies met in Barcelona to discuss how to destroy AVEs for good and better define what effective PR measurement should look like; think the Council of Elrond in the Fellowship of the Ring, but with fewer Elves and more suits.
Instead of volunteering to cast AVEs into the fires of Mount Doom, the group produced what is known as the Barcelona Principles.
Less exciting, but still awesome.
The first principle spells it out: goal setting and measurement are fundamental.
The next two recommend measuring outcomes versus outputs, with those outcomes ideally related to organisational performance.
The expanded principles offer more detail on what our objectives should look like, at a high level.
**The source for these is AMEC, the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication. Edited here for space and relevance.
|The Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles (2015 update)|
|Principle #1||Goal setting and measurement are fundamental in communication and public relations.|
|Principle #2||Measuring communications outcomes is recommended versus only measuring outputs.|
|Principle #3||The effect on organisational performance can and should be measured where possible.|
|Principle #4||Measurement and evaluation require both qualitative and quantitative methods.|
|Principle #5||AVEs are not the value of communications.|
|Principle #6||Social media can and should be measured consistently with other media channels.|
|Principle #7||Measurement and evaluation should be transparent, consistent and valid.|
Principle #1: Importance of goal setting and measurement
Goals should be as quantitative as possible and address who, what, when and how much the PR program is intended to affect.
Measurement should take a holistic approach, including representative traditional and social media; changes in awareness among key stakeholders, comprehension, attitude, and behaviour as applicable; and effect on business results.
Principle #2: Measuring the effect on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs
Outcomes include shifts in awareness, comprehension, attitude and behaviour related to purchase, donations, brand equity, corporate reputation, employee engagement, public policy, investment decisions, and other shifts in stakeholders regarding a company, NGO, government or entity, as well as the stakeholder’s own beliefs and behaviours. (phew, take a deep breath!)
Principle #3: The effect on business results can and should be measured where possible
To measure business results from consumer or brand marketing, models that determine the effects of the quantity and quality of PR outputs on sales or other business metrics, while accounting for other variables, are the preferred choice.
Principle #4: Media measurement requires quantity and quality
The total number of clippings and impressions are usually meaningless.
Instead, media measurement should account for the quality of the media coverage and any impressions which specifically relate to the stakeholders or audiences.
Principle #5: Aves are not the value of public relations
Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) do not measure the value of public relations and do not inform future activity; they measure the cost of media space and are rejected as a concept to value public relations. Where a comparison has to be made between the cost of space from earned versus paid media, validated metrics should be used.
Principle #6: Social media can and should be measured
Social media measurement is a discipline, not a tool; but there is no “single metric”; organisations need clearly defined goals and outcomes for social media.
Media content analysis should be supplemented by web and search analytics, sales and CRM data, survey data and other methods.
Principle #7: Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement
PR measurement should be done in a manner that is transparent and replicable for all steps in the process.
This includes both the metrics about the coverage and how it was collected; for surveys and research, this should include the methodology, questions and how the data was collected and collated.
“Effective measurement allows you to direct resources to what’s working and ditch what isn’t.”
That final principle could in fact go further, as modern inbound PR methodologies now make use of marketing automation platforms that can algorithmically measure lead quality.
The use of automation means that transparent measurement is much, much easier to achieve, and can be based on factors such as interaction with the brand across multiple ‘touchpoints’ across content, webinars and newsletters, for example. (Algorithm, lead quality and touchpoint – that’s halfway to a full house in buzzword bingo.)
The ability of marketing automation software to transform the measurability of PR can’t be overstated.
However, as we write this, there has been very little evidence of PR agencies adopting such an approach; we appear to be one of only a handful. We hope that this changes in the future.
These platforms are covered in the KPIs section.
Two types of PR outcomes: intermediary and organisational
At a slightly less high level than the Barcelona Principles, PR blogger and agency MD Steve Waddington groups outcomes into two sets: intermediary and organisational.
Examples of intermediary outcomes outlined by Steve include:
- Media coverage
- Event attendance
- Branded searches
- Content downloads
- Social media followers
- Site referral traffic
These are all surface-level signals that what you’re doing is resonating with your audience. They also look a lot like outputs, until we combine them with organisational outcomes.
Examples of organisational outcomes include:
- Conversions, typically sales
- Financial performance, such as contributing to share price valuation
- Behavioural change, such as reductions in antisocial behaviour
- Awareness or attitudinal change
If your measurements show positive intermediary outcomes combined with hitting your organisational goals, then your strategy is on point.
One without the other would show a disconnect.
For example, if you were getting good media coverage and event attendance without any noticeable organisational improvements, well, sooner or later someone will ask you what the hell you’re playing at.
(But that won’t happen, because you’ve read this guide.)
The final step? Combining these objectives into a framework
The final layer is bringing together the thinking from the Barcelona principles and Steve’s intermediary/organisational outcomes into an objectives framework, which you can plan around and measure against.
We wish we could be prescriptive here, but we can’t.
As Steve Waddington writes: “The objectives of a public relations campaign should be tied as closely as possible to organisational objectives.
Just as no two organisations are the same, no two objectives can be the same, and no measurement frameworks for a campaign will be the same.”
In other words, you kind of need to figure this bit out yourself.
It was made by some very clever folks but it’s pretty hard work, to be frank, and not suitable for everyone’s needs and resource levels.
(By all means, scroll to the bottom of their homepage for an overview of the framework, and there’s also a 13-minute video tutorial here.)
A simpler objectives framework that might be more suitable for most companies, with some editing and tweaking, might look like this:
|Example of a simplified objectives framework|
|Intermediary goals||Organisational goal(s)|
|An uplift in the volume of quality media coverage, e.g. your AAA+ tier media and sites that Google recognises as high authority (measured by Domain Authority).|| |
An uplift in a measurable outcome, aligned with business or product objectives, e.g. number of qualified leads generated.
|An uplift in media coverage with backlinks to your site.|
|An uplift in inbound leads generated by coverage.|
|Overall increase in high quality backlinks to your site from all sources, beyond coverage.|
|Increase in form fills for gated content promoted by your PR campaigns.|
|Increased share of voice on social media and in key media, versus the competition.|
|An uplift in brand or product sentiment (short term and/or long term).|
|An uplift in website traffic or engagement, captured and optimised using Google Analytics.|
|Increased volume of branded searches.|
We will explore how to measure these, and much more, in the next section but again, the idea is that these objectives are combined rather than pursued in isolation.
B2B PR KPIs AND TOOLS FOR MEASURING THEM
Only with your objectives in place can you turn to your measurement strategy.
In this section we’ll cover some of the B2B PR KPIs you should and could be measuring, as well as the tools you’ll need.
However, as with objectives, we can’t be prescriptive. How you prioritise what you measure will be subjective.
“How you prioritise what you measure will be down to your own preferences”
If your main goal is to build and maintain a pipeline of new leads and contacts, or increase positive sentiment, or drive event attendance, then what you measure will reflect this. (As would the whole of your B2B PR strategy.)
But where you publish and promote your content or stories defines the data it’s possible to collect.
Equally, you need to have access to the data in order to collect and measure it. This is often the biggest roadblock to effective PR measurement, as the PR teams are too often disconnected from the wider marketing mix – all of which benefit from the awareness and interest generated by successful PR campaigns.
Remember the excellent PESO model for distributing your content, created by Gini Dietrich?
Well, your metrics and KPIs can also be grouped in line with the PESO model, like this example:
Whatever approach you are using to set your objectives – AMEC or your own methodology – using the four sections that make up the PESO model is an ideal way to approach measurement.
Let’s look at each of the four in more detail, and what KPIs can be mapped to them.
Metrics and tools for measuring paid media
Paid media in the PESO model typically means social advertising or sponsored content placed with media outlets.
Either way, what you’re trying to understand with paid media metrics, is whether your content is resonating with your audience and whether you’re targeting the right audience groups through the right channels.
- Clicks – the number of people or proportion of your audience that clicked your sponsored content, or the links embedded in your sponsored byline. (This is why it’s so important to have some ‘owned’ content to link back to.)
- Impressions – social media platforms will typically tell you the number of people that saw your sponsored content or ad.
- Conversions – the number of people or proportion of your audience that responded to your call to action. The exact definition of conversion will depend on your campaign. For example, if your sponsored content or ad is designed to get people to click through to a landing page, then that click is a conversion. If the landing page’s job is to get them to fill out a content-download form, or buy a product, then those are other types of conversion. Some social platforms, like LinkedIn and Facebook, offer lead generation ads with embedded forms to cut out this extra step.
- Cost per lead (CPL) or conversion – the cost of each lead or conversion.
- Engagement, e.g. shares, likes or views – the number of people who enjoyed your content so much that they passed it on, or watched a video past a certain point.
Outside of whatever individual media outlets might provide with content sponsorships, the key tools for measuring paid media performance are:
- Platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook will provide this data via their own analytics interfaces, in real-time.
- Your CRM or marketing automation platform for capturing referrals to your site from paid media, and any engagement or conversions as a result of those referrals.
- Hootsuite is a centralised dashboard for scheduling, managing and reporting across all major social media platforms.
Resources for benchmarking your paid media performance:
Paid social advertising is relatively cheap, so you should experiment as much as you can in search of the right formula of content, design, platform and targeting.
How to measure earned media, and the tools you’ll need
Earned media is at the heart of most B2B PR campaigns, so it provides the most vital set of metrics for you to collect.
A combination of the metrics in this section will tell you whether your media relations work is reaching the right people and prompting them to act – outcomes, not outputs, remember.
Ideally, your goal is to get readers of that coverage onto your owned content so you can link that coverage to a successful outcome, like a conversion.
However, not all B2B PR is linked to content like this, such as establishing awareness and thought leadership through newsjacking.
- Volume and quality of media coverage – volume speaks for itself, but quality speaks volumes. How often are you getting covered in your AAA+ tier media sites with high Domain Authority (DA)?
- Share of voice – how often are you getting covered relative to the competition?
- Positive versus negative sentiment – if you’re ‘earning’ negative coverage, then you have some serious problems. Nevertheless, tracking positive versus negative sentiment in coverage is important.
- Key message mentions – a qualitative metric and a little bit manual, but how many of your messages are coming through in your coverage?
- Backlink volumes – you need these (especially from high DA sites) in order to climb the Google rankings and to bring readers back to your site. For more, check out Brian Dean’s definitive guide.
- Click-throughs and/or referred site visits – Google Analytics will tell you the domains that are referring the most traffic to your site, so you can see which coverage is generating the most clicks. You could also provide trackable URLs with your guest posts.
- Increase in branded searches – by monitoring branded searches over time, you can map the peaks to your B2B PR activity as an indirect indicator of its impact on interest in your company.
- Coverage page views – a bit of an emerging science from Coverage Book (see tools), which attempts to provide ‘article level estimates’ of online coverage. Far better than the alternative of claiming a site’s millions of readers all saw your one article.
Key tools for measuring earned media performance:
Coverage reporting and measurement:
- Check out Coverage Book, for generating beautiful coverage reports with metrics.
- Use Talkwalker Alerts to also track coverage – it’s Google Alerts on Steroids.
- Answer the Client tracks direct traffic from media coverage by linking to your Google Analytics account.
Brand or product sentiment (short term and/or long term):
- Awario and Mention both provide real-time brand mention monitoring from around the web and social media.
Use SEO tools to measure the volume and quality of backlinks from media coverage and guest posts:
Use Bitly or your marketing automation tool (if using one) to generate trackable links.
When it comes to benchmarking earned media, it’s a combination of monitoring your own performance and that of your competitors:
- You can also use the SEO tools noted above to benchmark your backlink performance against competitors.
- Your share of voice and sentiment analysis should also be benchmarking against your competition.
Metrics and tools for measuring shared media
Shared media, also known as social, is going to be a prime channel for amplifying your owned content and building relationships with influencers. It is also a barometer for overall brand engagement and interest.
These are some of the key metrics you might monitor:
- Audience/follower growth – regularly share relevant and engaging content, and you should expect to see an increase in your reach.
- Engagement – likes, shares, mentions and comments help you measure which content pieces are performing and those which aren’t. Optimise out the dead wood and focus on giving the people what they want.
- Sentiment – the proportion of your social media mentions that are positive versus negative. Identifying spikes in either, and retracing your steps to see what might have caused them, is also highly valuable for optimising all your B2B PR efforts.
- Share of voice – how are your mentions and engagements tracking against that of your competitors? Seeing what’s working for them is also valuable intelligence for defining or optimising your strategy.
- Referred site visits – you want to know which platforms are sending the most traffic back to your site, so you can prioritise accordingly or rethink your strategy for underperforming channels.
Key tools for shared media measurement:
Social listening tools for analysing your activity and that of your competitors (for benchmarking and inspiration):
- BrandMentions – “digs every corner of the internet to find all the relevant mentions about anyone or anything.”
- Buzzsumo – a social listening tool for analysing best performing content, topics and competitors.
- Talkwalker, Awario and Mention have already been covered under earned media; Hootsuite features under paid media.
For further benchmarks, you could also check out swat.io’s Social Media 2019: Figures and Benchmarks for Your Marketing.
Owned media metrics and tools
Owned media is the heart of your content strategy and the foundation of your inbound B2B PR campaigns. In theory, all roads point here so the key metrics to keep on top of include:
- Lead quality score – the mother of all metrics, enabled by marketing automation systems. In simplified terms, by creating a contact record in the database for each site visitor or lead the system can track all of their content interactions. This information helps sort highly-engaged from dormant contacts, and you can target each accordingly for priority treatment or reactivation.
- Search Engine Results Page (SERP) analysis – where and for what are you ranking highest in Google searches. You should be targeting winnable keywords before gearing up to take on the higher competition ones.
- Backlink volume – a key indicator of your authority on a topic, see earned media for the benefits.
- Your domain authority – the higher your DA, the better your search rankings should be. Influenced by factors such as links to your website, links from your website to others with high authority and the age of your domain name/website address.
- Time on site or time on page – the “dwell time” of visitors to your site is a key indicator of your content’s quality and usefulness. If people are leaving quickly (see Bounce rate), they’re either not getting what they want, or they’re getting it but don’t think you have much more to offer.
- Pages per session – works in tandem with the above. The more pages a visitor checks out on your site, the more engaged they are.
- Bounce rate – ‘bounces’ are visits that end after landing on only one page. Too many and you’ll take a battering in the search results. To avoid this, structure your site and content to entice people to keep exploring, by making generous use of internal links to further reading and other high-quality content.
- UVPM (Unique Visitors Per Month) – counts each site visitor once, regardless of the number of times they stop by. This gives your total audience size.
- Conversions – usually form completions such as newsletter sign ups, contact requests or content downloads. Volume is one factor here but quality is important too. Students researching their dissertations are not promising sales leads. Where these conversions are coming from is also important: can you accurately track referring platforms or digital campaigns?
- Email database growth – also often the result of form fills, but could be generated at events and shows. Similar to the above in terms of the pursuit of volume and quality.
- Email performance – click-thru rates (CTR), opens and unsubscribes are all key indicators of your emails’ quality; underwhelming results could point to a content issue or a database issue.
Key tools for owned media measurement:
Google Analytics – the industry standard for website analytics, including UVPM, traffic sources, bounce rates and conversions. Extensive training and certifications are available through the Google Analytics Academy.
Use SEO tools to measure keyword ranking as a result of the content that you have created:
- The free MozBar plug-in also gives you “instant metrics while viewing any page or SERP”.
- Buzzsumo for content performance, and intelligence gathering.
- Inbound links generated by your B2B PR campaigns, using Answer The Client (this one’s free, and promises “Google Analytics data for your PR work”).
- Form submissions captured by your MA or CRM platforms if the content is gated, or digital downloads.
- Click through rates on your emails, social and on your site, and external site referrals captured by Google Analytics – done via a service such as Mailchimp or a marketing automation system if using one.
Heat mapping, like that from Hotjar, allows you to see where users are directing their attention on your webpages, so you can be sure poor layout and UX aren’t scuppering otherwise great content.
They can track engagement with specific content pieces for optimisation or trigger next actions for nurturing prospects, such as email sends or even phone calls from sales.
Most of your owned media benchmarks will be focussed on improving your own performance month on month, but some helpful resources include:
- RocketFuel’s blog on average bounce rates in Google Analytics. They say that anything over 70% is disappointing for everything outside of blogs, news and events.
- MailChimp’s email benchmarks. These cover more than 40 industries: ‘hobbies’ lead the way for open rates with 27.35%, while ‘daily deals/e-coupons’ bring up the tail on 14.92%..
- WordStream’s analysis of the conversion rates of thousands of landing pages. In this cross-industry study, the average landing page conversion rate was 2.35%, but the top 25% were converting at over 5%.
As you can see, it’s relatively easy to collect data these days. In practice, though, just because you can collect it doesn’t always mean you should.
You risk being overwhelmed by analysis paralysis if you collect too much, too soon.
Another reason to prioritise is that data for data’s sake is pointless.
Data is only useful if people understand it, learn from it and do something with it in order to refine campaigns.
Benchmarking is the start of developing that insight: if you’re underperforming, what are you going to do about it?
So focus only on whatever tells you the most about how you’re doing against your objectives, before adding more as you find gaps, become more sophisticated or better resourced.
As Steve Waddington writes: “You need to understand the relationship between intermediary outcomes and organisational outcomes, and track both as part of your campaign.”
You will still need to collect several types, though.
Just as the PESO model takes an integrated view of content distribution, it’s important to combine your chosen metrics to create your overall measurement picture.
On their own, some of these metrics tell very little.
National media coverage might be cause to celebrate until you see that it didn’t result in any additional traffic to your website or an increase in search ranking.
If that’s happening, then you’re unlikely to meet your organisational goals.
ADVERTISING VALUE EQUIVALENCE – THE PR METRIC THAT REFUSES TO DIE
Think of this part of the article as the restricted section of the library at Hogwarts.
It contains some very old, and very dark “magic”. We won’t be teaching you to use it, but it would be foolish to deny it existed.
Advertising value equivalence (AVE) is the ultimate Dark Art of B2B PR measurement. For how they work, and more on what’s wrong with them, read The definitive guide to why AVEs are invalid, from Amec.
But these quotes should tell you everything you need to know about their current standing in the industry.
“AVES measure absolutely nothing other than the vanity of those reporting them.” – PRCA
“Anyone attempting to use them [AVES] today is fooling themselves, fooling their clients, and failing the profession. AVES have no place in modern, professional, PR practice.” – CIPR
In hindsight, you can see why AVEs caught on, even when there was plenty wrong with the AVE formula right from the start. For an industry desperate to prove its value, it felt like data; like cold, hard cash. Like maths.
But it was all crap.
Our message is simple: steer clear.
Now, over to you: are you ready to say it with us?
Measuring B2B PR and PR, in general, has been the source of intense discussion for decades.
And the debate isn’t over yet. The AVE refuses to die, integrating digital channels is tricky and PR has to fight with other marketing disciplines for access to those channels and their data.
But as you can see, although it’s not as neat and simple as when there were only one or two ways B2B PR value could be measured – AVEs or expensive and highly-scientific audience surveys/polls – there is more choice than ever.
This means that whatever your strategy, however big or small your budget, there is no excuse for not being smarter with your measurement.
And if you’re an agency reading this, there’s no excuse for not being more transparent about your results, too.
Because despite the challenges, the collection of metrics and tools covered in this guide is something B2B PR pros of even just 10 years ago would’ve struggled to imagine.
So, do you feel it now? Are you ready to say it with us?
What a time to be alive in B2B PR measurement.