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  • Writer's pictureJoan Frank

How to Grade PR Campaigns: Determining ROI

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Deciding if a PR campaign is successful sometimes feels like that old story about Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who, during a case to decide what constitutes obscenity, said simply, “I know it when I see it.”

While calculating the return on investment of a public relations campaign may feel as mysterious as the vagaries of artistic naughtiness felt to Justice Stewart, there are in reality a number of ways to measure bang for the PR buck.

"The central goal of any PR campaign is to raise the profile of the individual client or organization."

The central goal of any PR campaign is to raise the profile of the individual client or organization. There are a multitude of ways to measure that increased exposure. In the days when print media dominated, PR firms kept track of column inches given over to coverage of their client and calculated the value based on the price of advertising. That would add up to the total value of earned coverage.

That method still works today, but with the expansion of social media, digital advertising and other media outlets, the tools to measure exposure have grown as well. An interview on a local morning news show can suddenly direct a deluge of digital traffic to a client’s website. Tracking click-through rates, impressions, average page view durations and home page hotspots can show what in the overall PR message is working, what’s sparking interest and what is not perhaps achieving its desired results.

The ROI on PR work can be measured, too, in the amount of activity generated by a story placement or interview. A media release that earns an interview on a drive-time radio show could snowball into a TV spot followed by a podcast interview followed by a feature in a magazine. What started as a one media push can create sustained waves of coverage, like a stone tossed into a pond.

It is important also to measure success against expectations and goals. If the goal of the media campaign is to expand name recognition, the idea of success will be different than if the goal is to sell a product or gain social media followers. Clients should not be shy in sharing their wants and needs at the beginning of a PR campaign. It will help your PR professional pursue the appropriate path and help ensure progress on your specific need.

With so many media outlets available today and so many different ways of collecting and tracking data, it is easier than ever to determine a PR campaign’s return on investment. Take full advantage of all that’s available to you, learn lessons from successes and the occasional failures, and build a robust PR presence that gains attention, customers and profits.

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