Measuring PR in cold, hard cash

If you haven’t read Mike Grehan’s ClickZ article, “Search and the changing face of public relations,” read it now. Among the many pithy and insightful comments within his article is this one: “I think traditional PR firms may be on their way out.” Go, read it now. This will be on the mid-term exam.

When you’re done reading that, read Sally Falkow’s post in the Search Engine Watch Blog, entitled, “Search not understood and used in PR campaigns.” Do we begin to see a trend yet?

Now, go back and read my article in Search Engine Watch, entitled, “Blogs Are the New Trade Press.” Yep, the experts agree. “The world of public relations has changed dramatically over the past five to 10 years – or, at least it should have.”

But it often seems like the folks over in PR didn’t get the memo.

Well, they’re not the only ones who didn’t notice that the world was changing. On March 27, 2007, The Project for Excellence in Journalism noted in The State of the News Media 2007, “The press is no longer gatekeeper over what the public knows. Journalists have reacted relatively slowly. They are only now beginning to re-imagine their role. Their companies failed to see ‘search’ as a kind of journalism.”

And many (but not all) people failed to see “blogging” as a kind of journalism. Or, at least some percentage of blogging. As the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported on July 19, 2006, in a report entitled, “Bloggers: A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers, “34% of bloggers consider their blog a form of journalism” and “56% of bloggers spend extra time trying to verify facts they want to include in a post.”

Now, that’s a couple of paradigm shifts at the same time. So, don’t blame your public relations people if they didn’t connect the dots.

Who do I blame? Well, it’s the Chief Marketing Officer in some companies or the Vice President of Marketing in others who is responsible for measuring the results of various elements of the marketing mix. And if the CMO or VP of Marketing is still content with a getting a stack of press clippings at the end of each month, can you blame his or her PR people from thinking that they’ve done their job?

Okay, so counting press clips has been a bogus PR metric for more than 20 years. I’ve told the story in “Measuring PR in Cold, Hard Cash” of my first month as Director of Corporate Communications at Lotus Development Corp. — way, way back in 1986.

After my first month on the job, I took a very thick book of about 700 magazine and newspaper clippings that we’d received, walked down the hall to CEO Jim Manzi’s office, and casually dropped it on his desk. Manzi took a quick look and said, “Jarboe, if I could deposit these in a bank, I’d know what they were worth. But, until you can measure the impact of PR in cold, hard cash, don’t waste my time with these so-called reports.”

And, I have to admit, Manzi was right.

So, what are the right PR metrics?

In MarketingSherpa’s Search Marketing Benchmark Guide 2008, you’ll find more than half a dozen, including:
— Press mentions,
— Blog mentions,
— Ranking of a press release in news search engines,
— Click through rate (CTR) from links in a press release,
— Rise in site traffic around launch, and
— Track leads from click through conversion.

That’s the memo that most CMOs and Marketing VPs haven’t received. They can measure public relations in both PR outputs and business outcomes. And they had better get the memo before the CEO does.

And, trust me on this: When the big boss starts asking for “real” measures of success, then the traditional PR people will start learning about SEO, blogs and web analytics.

One last note: There are other PR people who know how to do this. Sally Falkow is one. Lee Odden, the founder of, is another. And Katie Paine, my predecessor at Lotus, is a third. She writes The Measurement Standard Blog.

She and I both started looking for ways to measure PR in cold, hard cash — before search, blogs, and web analytics — but after the big boss started asking for “real” measures of success.

See the trend?

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