Q&A with Public Relations Analytics Expert Russ Somers of TrendKite

By Jesse Ciccone

Jesse Ciccone, VP at Matter and resident measurement enthusiast, recently sat down with Russ Somers, VP Marketing at TrendKite, a PR Analytics software platform to discuss data and measurement in public relations. Russ has spent his career in the marketing analytics and technology industry with companies like Hoover’s, Invodo (where he was a Matter client for several years!), SonarDesign, and Dell, and is a frequent speaker at industry events.

  1. Jesse Ciccone (JC): Thanks for talking with us today, Russ. As you know, CMOs and PR professionals are always struggling with how to measure ROI of PR. You’ve seen firsthand how the industry has changed to make use of the data on hand so we’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts. For starters, let’s start with the basics, what types of data might a PR professional come across?

Russ Somers (RS): In the dark old days of print dominance (which Jesse is old enough to remember, but I’m not), clipping services helped us measure our self-worth and accomplishments by counting things – counting clips, counting placements, counting column inches, counting the audience for a publication, etc. Broadcast monitoring was similar.

As news began breaking first and having its biggest impact online, the measurement philosophy didn’t change. Counting mentions, headline mentions, etc is still a common way of thinking. And synthetic metrics like Ad Value Equivalency (AVE) just take those counts and multiply them by a (highly questionable) dollar value.

But PR pros who ‘cross the aisle’ and work with digital marketing tools have access to so much data now. Want to know what people care about to drive your content and pitching strategy? Look at data in Google Search Console or SEO/SEM tools. Want to know if the placements you get are meaningful to your audience? Look at social amplification to understand how the content is resonating with your audience, or look at broader article impact metrics. Want to know if your coverage is driving action? You’ve got Web analytics data from Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, etc, or more sophisticated PR attribution solutions that help you identify even the traffic that didn’t come from click-throughs.

  1. JC: Just because you can’t remember doesn’t mean you aren’t old enough, Russ. Moving on…You mention the high quantities of data we have access to nowadays but how does this data bring credibility to the PR industry?

RS: PR often plays on the same stage as the rest of marketing, but because it’s been a bit slower to adopt a data-centric approach, sometimes it’s at a “data disadvantage.” That’s changing, though. Earned media is the most powerful type of media in influencing public opinion about brands, with 47% of consumers naming it their most-trusted channel according to the Holmes Report. Using data and analytics lets us assert that power, show how PR is the most important element in the marketing mix for most brands, and command the CMO’s and CEO’s attention. That credibility drives respect, but more than that – it drives investment in the PR function, as well.

  1. JC: Before we dive any deeper, I’m curious, what are your thoughts on impressions as a way of measuring success? 

RS: We all want to rock the mic to as big an audience as possible, so impressions do serve as a proxy for audience reached. However, just because someone was in the audience doesn’t mean they paid attention, knew the songs, or are going to buy the merch. So you have to pay attention to response and results metrics to see if that reach made any difference or had an impact. The Barcelona Principles still apply, along with the idea of outputs, outtakes, and outcomes. Impressions by themselves don’t have much to do with measuring outtakes or outcomes, so you need to go further than that.

  1. JC: Completely agree! So if it’s not impressions, what data is the most important to measure?

RS: The downside of having so much available data is ‘analysis paralysis’ – you can measure so many things that it can be hard to know the impact. So I like to break things into a framework we call ‘the Communicator’s Funnel.’ At the top you’re trying to assess Brand Impact (awareness, mindshare, and reputation). So key metrics become headline and feature mentions. share of voice, sentiment, and key message pull-through. In the middle of the funnel you’re focused on Digital Impact – are you driving people to your digital properties? Referral traffic becomes important, as does SEO impact and social amplification. At the bottom of the funnel, of course, you’re focused on bottom-line impact, contribution to the business. That could be sales for an ecommerce business, donations for a nonprofit, visitors for a destination marketing organization, or enrollment for a university. Understanding conversions from your Web analytics can help, as can tracking pipeline if your client is using a marketing automation system or CRM.

  1. JC: You just touched on the digital channels available to marketers, something that PR professionals often put to the wayside. In what ways does public relations data inform and integrate with other marketing initiatives (i.e. search marketing, lead generation, content), creating a more holistic approach?

PR’s newfound fluency with data enables the right conversation and facilitates the team working as a whole to get the message out and drive results. Once you understand the contribution PR is making to lead generation goals, or in amplifying content marketing, it becomes easier to team with those functions to drive better results. Imagine, for example, a contributed article that drives traffic to the site, resulting in downloads of content, resulting in leads for sales. By using data to understand PR’s place in that value chain, you suddenly get credit for – and can contribute more to – the overall team’s success.

  1. JC: So you’ve gathered a bunch of data. Now what? How do you apply these findings to your strategy and program?

RS: Great question – because data and measurement is only the first step. Once you have the information, you can map the results to the initiatives you launched. Did they deliver the results expected? Great, do more stuff like it. Did a story theme not get as much coverage as other campaigns, or not resonate or drive positive sentiment and sharing from your audience? That’s great too – now you know what NOT to do. It’s best to share the data and findings with the full team, because it helps them understand the ‘why’ behind what’s working and focus on doing the right things.

  1. JC: I’m glad you mentioned the data informing what to do and what not to do. Often times, an initiative may not be successful and we dismiss the data. Instead, we should discover why it was not successful. That said, what advice do you have for determining what is “good” data and “bad” data?

RS: I’m an optimist, so I believe that all data is inherently good. It can be misused, though. The simplest determinant is “is the data being used relevant to the question being asked.” Data for data’s sake isn’t helpful. So frame the questions you want to answer, identify the data that is the best possible answer or proxy for that answer, and go from there. If your question is “Is my news coverage driving brand affinity”, measures like sentiment and social amplification are helpful. If the question is “Is my news coverage driving visitors to my site”, Web traffic data provides the answer.

  1. JC: When reporting to a CMO, CEO, or even just your team, what would you say is the most effective way to present results and showcase KPIs?

RS: Remember that you’re a storyteller, and data can be an effective way to tell the story of the work you’ve been doing. Unlike an Aesop’s Fable that puts the moral at the end, though, you might want to lead with the punch line. Early in my career the idea of “answer first” was drilled into me, so I always like to lead with the impact – what did this do for the business, in the simplest terms possible? Of course, once you’ve presented the results, you always get a bunch more questions. So I have a strong preference for interactive reports that let me drill down to the details of any particular article on demand. Starting with the answer based in metrics that matter to them, and having the confidence to drill down to the detail as needed, commands respect from any C-level executive.

  1. JC: I assume you must appreciate measurement platforms for their ability to develop an interactive report but what other values do measurement platforms provide?

We talked earlier about the evolution of measurement from mere counting to analytics that help you understand impact – in my mind, that’s the core value. I saw that in marketing and video analytics platforms earlier in my career, and I see it in PR analytics platforms now. In addition to that, a good measurement platform should help pull all that information into one place and present it to your stakeholders in easy-to-understand reports and newsletters. A platform can do more, too – you can use the analytics to strategically shape your approach by seeing which influencers are driving the coverage that your audience responds to, and then you can target those influencers with your pitches. So a platform doesn’t just help you measure results – it can help you get results, too.