3 Traps to Avoid When Judging PR Success

By Vanessa Boynton

So you’ve decided your business needs PR. That’s fantastic news, as maintaining great momentum in the media has never been more important, and recognizing that you need a better way to relate to your partners, customers or stakeholders puts you firmly ahead of the pack. Unfortunately, even the most forward-thinking brand managers can fall victim to false assumptions about PR and how it should be measured. Confusion over the success or failure of a program can lead to frustration on both sides, and sometimes, it leaves a brand manager feeling like they signed their company up for little more than a dog and pony show.

No matter where you are in the PR process – shopping around, deciding on scope, or putting out your 8th launch this year – there are three rules you should always try to keep in mind:

  1. Advertising metrics and PR metrics are not interchangeable.

How do you actively judge the success of your marketing and advertising? Is it sales spikes? Massive boosts in social followers? Enormous impressions or click-thru rates? All of these metrics are great for deciding how you’re generally doing – in advertising. Yes, in PR we measure impressions and circulation, and yes, we even measure web traffic and click-thru rate. But these figures are largely beside the point. We work to create meaningful relationships with journalists so they can tell their readers about your brand, and hopefully, those readers will then reflect upon your brand in a lasting, positive way. A major hit may produce a lot of impressions in the moment, but those readers’ impressions of you are what matter most in the long term.

  1. “Increase our web traffic” isn’t a goal because it doesn’t mean anything.

It sure sounds like it does, right? Of course you want more people landing on the website. But why? Is it because you want them to learn your name? Read your annual report? Sign up for a newsletter? Is it where you generate leads, or sell product? Your website is the most critical card in your deck, but it needs a purpose. If it doesn’t have one, your web traffic means nothing.

Remember this when you think about “growing social followers”, too.

  1. “Results” does not equate to “Sales”.

Unless you need it to. Even then, we urge you to reconsider. Our work supports the divisions of your business that drive sales – it does not replace them. When we say “results” we’re talking about the incremental positive changes we’re seeing in any number of places, which all depend on what your priorities are. PR is a long game, designed around how you want your audience to think of you now and years from now. We’re thrilled to have access to data that can show you how your public is interacting with your brand – on your website, on your social channels, on your favorite publication – but this data is meant to tell the story of how your brand’s season is beginning to change. Seasons don’t change in a day.

…Unless you’re in New England, of course.