Going Beyond Share of Voice: Measuring Public Relations Efforts

Compared to advertising and marketing, public relations has traditionally been more difficult to measure. While advertising and marketing have been awash in quantifiable measures such as CTR (click through rate), CPC (cost per clicks) and MQLs (marketing qualified leads), public relations can seem a lot vaguer in making the correlation to how media coverage supports the business (and yes, sales) objectives.

While the PR industry has been able to get by for years with even inaccurate measures such as AVE – advertising value equivalent (although it’s still a slow process to extinction), what’s interesting is that even generally acceptable PR measures – like share of voice (how a brand compares in the media against its competitors) and tonality (whether the article is a positive, neutral or negative about the brand) are also not enough.

The challenge with these more established measures is that they can seem isolated to thinking about a program from a PR practitioner’s perspective. Particularly when talking to C-level executives, any metrics need to more specifically underline how PR impacts the business. And when every aspect of a client’s business demands analytics, PR professionals must design their programs with the outcomes in mind.

Here are a few additional measures to consider, which also help craft a more strategic and sophisticated PR program.

QUALITY VS QUANTITY

While how many articles you’ve generated is a good starting point for media coverage, PR needs to go deeper into this and evaluate the quality of those articles. What types of publications was the company featured in, and are these the right calibre of outlets to reach the company’s target audiences? What is the sentiment about the brand? How much was the company featured as part of the article? How was the company positioned, and is this in line with how the company wants to be perceived? Where the company’s competitors also prominently featured in the story?

blog post from PR Newswire includes a list of benchmarks to consider so that brands evaluate how to focus on quality rather than quantity, to provide greater insights into media coverage and its impact.

ENGAGEMENT

Of course, PR is more than media relations. Especially as traditional media outlets look to amplify their content through social media, popular publishing platforms such as Medium and explore other avenues, brands should also be mindful on how to incorporate social/digital initiatives into the PR mix. With social media becoming more popular as a platform for brands, PR professionals need to understand how to define “engagement” and know that reader comments and conversions are more powerful metrics to assess the impact of a brand compared to shares and reach.

Andrew Raso from the Content Marketing Institute provides further insights on how to evaluate engagement. He notes that “We need to measure engagement the right way because we need to understand how people are really responding to our content. It’s not how many times they click “like” on a Facebook post. It’s not how many people are being driven to a page. Engagement is about how involved people are with the content you create and promote to them.”

CONVERSIONS

In a recent blog post, Kelly Byrd, a PR Engineer at AirPR, notes that “many marketers measure results against the KPIs they and their colleagues are used to – such as impressions – and not necessarily against the metrics that truly show performance.” By integrating with Google Analytics, software like AirPR aim to connect how many potential customers came to a company’s website from a press hit, and can also capture actions conducted by visitors (e.g. downloading a whitepaper) by connecting data to provide more context.

SALES ENABLEMENT

PR has been considered a “top of funnel” contributor to the sales funnel, part of the buyer’s journey when evaluating a brand. While AirPR makes the connection between a visit and a lead through its platform, PR professionals can also look at how content that it develops can help further feed the sales team. For example, an integrated marketing communications program can include customer marketing or a customer reference initiative. Whether it’s through customer win announcements, case studies (written or video), or identifying and providing customer references for prospects, there can be a more direct correlation that PR can make tie back to sales. The value of this can also be highlighted through anecdotal evidence of how customer stories and outputs enable the sales team.

Ahead of developing any PR program, brands and PR professionals should always be clear on what the objectives are, and map results back to tactics. Taking a step back to truly delve into the business will not only result in a more strategic and holistic program, but it will help improve how PR is perceived by senior leaders within the organization.

If you want to learn more, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) has named this month Measurement Month. During September, free events will be held around the world to discuss and learn the latest in measurement and evaluation of communication. As the PR industry continues to evolve and adopt newer, more digital technologies, we need to move away from old-school metrics to a more comprehensive way of looking at how PR supports business objectives. The above examples are just some of the ways that PR professionals can think more broadly.

After spending more than a decade in public relations working at large global agencies, boutique firms and in-house – I’ve had the privilege of partnering with clients of all sizes and dynamics – and also being a client myself.

While the PR industry continues to evolve, one constant is that every client relationship should be built on a strong partnership based on trust, strategic counsel, expertise and results. Unfortunately, I’ve seen PR agency/client relationships dissolve when they could have been well avoided.

PR pros: below are the five most common reasons why I’ve seen client relationships fizzle – and how to fix things before it’s too late.

REASON #1: YOU DO THE BAIT AND SWITCH

This typically happens during the new business stage. A client asks several PR agencies to come in and pitch for their business, and one agency (or more) brings in their senior execs – their seasoned “closers” – to the table. The client is impressed with the caliber of the proposed PR team and hands them the business. Shortly after, the senior executives are nowhere to be seen and the client is left with overwhelmed junior staff. Unsurprisingly, the client, frustrated by the lack of strategic counsel and transparency, terminates the relationship.

SOLUTION:

As PR pros, we always recommend that brands be authentic and honest – so why wouldn’t we in our client relationships? Sure, bringing in the most seasoned and articulate people could increase the chances of success (i.e. gaining the prospect’s revenue), however, it’s a strategy steeped in short-termism. You’re also denying your more junior staff – who also are brimming with ideas and enthusiasm – with invaluable experience. And who wants to develop the reputation as “the one that did the bait and switch” by an embittered client?

REASON #2: YOU DON’T TRULY UNDERSTAND THEIR BUSINESS

In an era where PR professionals should think beyond traditional media relations, the sky is the limit to uncovering new approaches to telling a client’s story. Even B2B communicators, who have historically lagged in adopting applications such as Snapchat, Instagram and Periscope, are coming up with ways to embrace these technologies to reach their audiences.

Still suggesting hackneyed press releases and surveys as tactics? You need to think more broadly than that.

SOLUTION:

Become well-versed in new PR approaches. Check out interesting campaigns from your peers and learn from them by signing up to workshops, training sessions and connecting one-on-one. Dedicate a portion of your time to learning about newer technologies so that you can incorporate these initiatives with confidence.

REASON #4: YOU CAN’T MEASURE SUCCESS

The PR industry has unfortunately lagged behind its marketing counterparts when it comes to measurement. While AVE (average measurement equivalent) has been decried as an inaccurate metric, it (sadly) hasn’t died completely.

However, other accepted measures – including volume of articles, tonality/favorability, depth of article and impressions – are increasingly not enough for clients and their stakeholders. Particularly when talking to the C-suite or to the PR uninitiated, some of these metrics seems vague in terms of how it then impacts the business.

SOLUTION:

Chat to your client and other key stakeholders about their business objectives and what they want to achieve from PR before jumping in with stock standard metrics. This will not only define your metrics but also certainly justify your PR strategy and activities.

Think also about demonstrating the value of PR beyond measures that the marketing team will understand. For example, if a client needs greater sales enablement, customer stories in industry publications are a piece of collateral that can support its sales force. It’s a case of thinking holistically about what metrics to incorporate.

REASON #5: YOU DON’T PROVIDE ADDITIONAL INSIGHTS AND VALUE

While a PR agency is accountable to whatever metrics it sets for itself, a true partnership with a client is one where you are constantly coming up with valuable insights that a client wouldn’t have thought of themselves. Your clients expect you to have a strong pulse on their key influencers, PR trends and breaking news.

SOLUTION:

Read constantly and share interesting articles relevant to your client that also include a brief summary of why the article is important, how it relates to them, and what they can do about it. Identify new outlets and influencers. Push yourself to think outside of the box, and use ice-breakers to brainstorm ideas. While you may not be able to execute all your ideas, delivering a spate of thoughtful suggestions clearly shows your team’s worth.

2016 was a slow year for companies going public. Stock market volatility, political uncertainty and disconnects in private-public valuations have resulted in a lukewarm initial public offering (IPO) market, down 16 percent year-on-year.

This atmosphere could change this Thursday, with the much-awaited IPO of Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat. Its shares are scheduled to price on Wednesday, with the company to begin trading the following day on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol SNAP. Depending on how Snap Inc. fares, it could open up the floodgates for many other companies to make the transition from private to public entity.

An IPO is a type of public offering where shares of stock are sold to the general public. Companies that go public can raise expansion capital by tapping into a broader pool of investors, monetize the investments of its early private investors, attract better management through liquid equity, and (hopefully) increase the valuation of the company. Undoubtedly, it’s also a prime opportunity for PR pros to increase the profile of the organization during one of the most monumental milestones in a company’s history.

Having had the privilege of advising and working with a number of companies on their IPOs in the last few years, here’s a few things for PR pros to know ahead of taking an organization public.

1. GET WELL AHEAD OF THE IPO

As much as possible, the marketing communications team should get a heads up on the company’s intent to go public. Particularly when a company has raised a significant amount of venture funding, there are typically two routes that it will take to pay back its investors – either an acquisition or an IPO.

What’s important to note is that any company that plans to go public needs to file a prospectus (known as an S-1) detailing its intent. While the JOBS Act (Jumpstart Our Small Business Startups) enacted in 2012 makes it easier for companies to file – and do so confidentially – once this process is completed the organization is in “Quiet Period” – which limits the communications activities to what is “in the ordinary course” of activity. This means that a company must only stick to established, prior practices of communications in its timing, content, form and distribution.

For example, if the company has had an active social media in the past, then it can continue to do so. But if you haven’t even set up a Twitter account, you can forget about establishing this during this timeframe. All PR and communications activities are up for scrutiny by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. By getting ahead of the IPO, you can develop and execute a more aggressive communications approach well ahead of the S-1 filing so that your activities aren’t entirely dormant.

2. REVIEW THE S-1 POSITIONING

The S-1 filing is a tome that puts the company under the microscope – here, would-be investors and the public can read everything about the organization – overview, financial growth, customers, risks of investing, rewards of stock, etc. (Snap Inc.’s prospectus can be viewed here).

This document also serves as the positioning of a company – and even before finalizing the prospectus, the language here should be used to describe the organization before and during the IPO. It should also serve as the basis for how a company’s executives talk to media, investors, and other stakeholders.

3. BE CAUTIOUS DURING QUIET PERIOD

Once a company files its intent to go public, the timing for when the IPO takes place depends on the stock market and whether timing is right. During this time, PR teams will be focused on executing what’s deemed “in the ordinary course” of activity.

Whether these are press releases, blog posts, social media posts, or other initiatives, all communications should not contain any forward looking statements, future plans, or predictions about the company’s value or performance (even if this has been past practice). Certainly, no mention of the IPO can be made, and communications are limited to non-financial, course of business topics. While this seems straightforward, the grey line can be if a business reporter interviews the company’s CEO to then include some of this financial information in coverage – essentially, you can’t be seen to be boosting the value of the stock pre-IPO.

For this reason – and since SEC guidelines are inherently vague – companies are typically cautious during Quiet Period and have all communications reviewed by its general counsel ahead of progressing.

4. PLAN AROUND THE IPO MILESTONES

If a company has filed confidentially, there won’t be a lot of coverage during Quiet Period, but once the IPO timing becomes clearer, you’ll see articles spike about your company. This includes:

  • When the SEC has no more questions about the S-1 and the offering is declared “effective”
  • When the CEO/CFO commence the roadshow – traveling around the country to give presentations to analysts, fund managers and potential investors
  • When the stock price has been set the day prior to the IPO

During this time, despite being in Quiet Period, it’s important to keep track of the articles that appear and who covers them, and ensure that the details (particularly financial information in line with the S-1) are reported accurately.

It’s also critical to define the media approach on IPO day. Some companies are more conservative than others and may not want to conduct a slew of interviews on the day of the IPO – while others will want to have as many interviews as possible. Given how the market performs is out of PR’s control (you could raise less funds than anticipated), it’ll be important to prepare the responses and approach for best-case and worst-case scenarios. You’ll also be working closely with the stock exchange communications team well in advance, who will have a clear timeline on IPO day.

5. PLAN POST QUIET PERIOD

Once a company goes public, it returns to Quiet Period and the rules that dictated its communications initiatives pre IPO. This is an ideal timeframe to start to transition the company’s PR to be in line with a public entity, and how this impacts senior management.

For instance, as a private company, the CEO didn’t have to worry about providing any information on the financial health of the company. But as a public entity, there will be quarterly earnings that can also provide competitors with insights or other disclosures that weren’t required previously. The company is under more pressure and privy to more scrutiny to more stakeholders.

This week, expect to see much fanfare around Snap’s IPO. However the market fares, one thing is for sure – the transition to a public entity can present a learning curve to a company and its executives, but it’s also a prime opportunity for PR to provide strategic counsel throughout the process.

Last week, thousands of people clamored into San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium to hear the latest updates from Apple.

Over the years, Apple has built up its allure as a company that has been able to generate its own news cycle weeks ahead of its event. While there are few companies that have the same amount of resources to pull off such a grandiose event, there are a few takeaways that brands can capture from last week.

Here are our four key insights that every business should be incorporating into their launch schedule:

1. GET AHEAD OF YOUR EVENT

Apple has done an enviable job of building buzz ahead of its event – from staff writers announcing that invitations had been sent for the event to speculating on the news during the two-hour presentation.

But even before the event was announced, the news of the headphone jack being removed from the iPhone 7 made headlines back in January. Media also eagerly anticipate other anticipate leaks throughout the year – with analyst forecasts sparking further news stories.

PR professionals should always think about the best PR strategy for its announcements, and who to approach with the news. For example, does it make sense to conduct advance briefings with reporters or a special early review process for a number of influencers to have a hands-on experience with the product? What exclusive access can you provide?

2. KNOW WHAT’S NEWSWORTHY

Journalists today are more and more time-pressed, and will only scrutinize the first paragraph of any press release or media pitch. Today, you have no more than eight seconds to get their attention.

That’s why it’s so important to not only identify the news angle but also keep your pitch clear and concise. According to Cameron Craig, who handled PR for Apple over a decade across Australia, Singapore and the U.S., “if you ran any Apple press release through a readability level test it would most likely score a level easily understood by an average 4th grade student or lower.” While Apple is certainly one of the most well-known brands in the world today, its stories and the impact/benefits of its technology are easy to understand by virtually every reporter and influencer.

The more technical the company and its product, the more likely jargon, clichés and other nonsensical terms will make it into your content. For PR professionals, make sure you take a step back to scrutinize your news and put it through a readability test – free tools such as Readability Score and CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer can help.

3. CONSIDER THIRD PARTIES

From the start, Apple brought on cameo appearances and keynotes from a litany of celebrities and executives from other big name brands. This included Tim Cook kicking off the event with “Carpool Karaoke” alongside James Corden and Pharrell, with further onstage presentations by executives from companies including Instagram, Nike, Nintendo and Pokemon Go.

In the last few years, Apple has made a noticeable shift in giving other companies airplay to mark their partnerships with the tech company. Bringing in third parties to speak on behalf of your brand – whether it’s a partner, customer or industry pundit can help support your brand’s core messages, provide a strong testimonial, and also drive their own news stories – for example, Nike uploaded its own blog post announcing the partnership.

Think about whether you have third parties that can add an extra element to your story, and collaborate with them ahead of time.

4. BE BOLD

Apple has been able to build its strong reputation as a company willing to take risks and make bold assertions. According to Harry McCracken, technology editor at Fast Company, “Apple has a long history of being willing to eradicate old technologies in the interest of pushing its devices into the future, or just making them thinner or lighter.” Time will tell if the controversial removal of the headphone jack will be a success for Apple, but few would argue in how divisive this news has been for media and consumers.

Brands should always develop a clear perspective and vision on their company and the industry. While every opinion need not be highly controversial, it’s important to have a strong voice that rises above the noise. Spend the time in advance to think about how to position your brand, how it can stand out from others in your space, and what supporting proof points can validate your positioning.

Are there any other key takeaways that you had from last week’s event? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

My first job after graduating from university was at a boutique public relations agency called Bird & Hill that had a number of business-to-business (B2B) technology clients in Australia. Based in North Sydney, the two principals, Wendy and Jeff, had a strong reputation for being no-nonsense professionals who just got s**t done.

On my first day, Wendy asked me to call a client’s customer, an IT manager, to interview him and write a press release about the customer implementation – something about Voice over IP (remember when that was the hottest technology of the day?). Armed with a questionnaire, a tape recorder and a bunch of nerves, I stuttered and squeaked through the phone call, thinking “I am doing a terrible job.”

Overwhelmed by the intricacies and acronyms of enterprise technology, and faced with a steep learning curve, I didn’t know what was more intimidating – pitching stories to I’m-only-giving-you-5-seconds-then-I’m-hanging-up-on-you journalists, or devouring everything I could about my clients and their industry to impress my no-bulls**t bosses. In the end the hard work paid off – after Wendy and Jeff decide to part ways two of their clients came with me to the next agency I landed at, and Wendy was my client after she started an in-house gig and I started at Howorth (part of Ogilvy).

The hours were long and the clients could be demanding, but looking back, it was hugely rewarding to work with brands like Intel, Citrix, Telstra and Hitachi Data Systems, nab a few awards along the way, and most importantly, make lifelong friendships (one of my co-workers not only was my bridesmaid at my wedding, but she inadvertently invited me to a party where I met my now husband).

Fast forward to August 2011 and I’m in San Francisco after Ogilvy relocated me to the Bay Area. And I’m still working with enterprise technology clients. Arriving in San Francisco was a huge shock for me – not only because I’d never set foot in the city before moving here, or because I had mistakenly packed for a SoCal summer (every rookie’s mistake). But I’m also in the global heart of tech innovation. This is the land of Facebook and Google. Where company valuations are worth an entire nation’s GDP. Where brands can be unicorns and media darlings one year and at rock bottom the next. And where “fail fast, fail often” is the Valley’s most striking mantra.

It doesn’t take long to be swept up in the hype and the pace of tech here. And just like when I first started working, I initially was overwhelmed. They say the Valley is a bubble and it really is – and the TV show of the same name is more realistic than you may realize. While I wasn’t fazed anymore by reporters or my bosses, the world of venture capital, M&As, IPOs, and startups was a newer world to me. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with brands as they’ve gone through the next step in their corporate evolution – from the IPOs of Proofpoint and Rocket Fuel, to Yammer’s $1.2 billion acquisition by Microsoft, to launching startups and supporting challenger brands nip at the heels of established multinationals. Having worked solely with global brands previously, my stint at Atomic PR (before it was acquired) working along with co-founder Andy Getsey has been a career highlight. It really exposed me to the tech scene, and I personally learned so much during my time working there.

After a decade of working in PR agencies, last year I decided to give in-house corporate comms a go. While the differences between in-house vs. agency life are well documented, and many PR pros aspire for that elusive in-house role to evade the “churn and burn” environment that PR agencies have a reputation for, eventually I realized that in-house was not the right place for me long term. Don’t get me wrong – kicking off brand/PR in-house is awesome, and it can be very rewarding to collaborate across virtually every department of the business and see the fruits of your success with more granularity. Going in-house gave me a lot of breadth as I only focused on one company – whether it’s positioning, branding, content creation/marketing, media relations, analyst relations, social media, customer marketing, thought leadership…. It was great to set up the foundation and see each program grow.

But after being in the Bay Area for the last few years, I’ve learned that if you have an insatiable appetite to build and grow, see a market opportunity that you can capitalize on, and have a strong network of people to guide and support you, then the leap is possible. In the last few months, I’ve mentioned my idea to start my own PR agency to former clients, colleagues and friends – all to be met with positive remarks such as “Go for it!”, “That’s so exciting!”, and more specific pearls of wisdom.

And hence, Gravitate PR was born – a public relations agency focusing on B2B tech companies at all stages. It’s been exciting so far to develop the brand, clarify our points of difference, tap into a team of freelancers to support our clients – and also secure clients already.

I’m not under any pretense that starting up my own business won’t be intimidating in itself. If you’d asked me even a couple of years ago, I would not have believed that I would start Gravitate PR. But being in the Bay Area has helped me take this step forward. I’m looking forward to that feeling of being overwhelmed all over again, and using it to my advantage.

Gravitate PR is a public relations agency that partners with tech business-to-business (B2B) companies to help them achieve their goals. Whether the company is an exciting new startup, a mid-sized firm looking at an M&A/IPO, or well-established global multinational corporation, we’re able to deliver on their communications needs.

There are three things to know about Gravitate PR.

"We have experience in virtually every aspect of B2B"

If it’s B2B technology, we’ve most likely worked with a company in this space. Our experience includes cloud/SaaS, big data, mobile, storage, semiconductors, security, human capital management (HCM), ad tech, clean tech and much more.

"Our breadth of experience means that we can understand and support your unique needs"

We have worked in a variety of agency and in-house roles, in companies of all sizes, and in multiple markets.

While we are tapped into the innovations coming out of Silicon Valley, we’ve worked on local, regional and global PR campaigns across APAC, EMEA and North America. We’ve launched startups, partnered with challenger brands, handled M&As/IPOs, and managed global multinational accounts. And we’ve worked in boutique and global agencies, and in brand/PR roles at in-house corporate environments.

"We are digitally savvy and deliver high-impact results"

We know that to be successful, we need to move at the pace of our client’s business, their industry and the PR industry. We apply modern and creative approaches to our PR campaigns – and look critically at ways to best advance our clients’ brand reputation. And we have a hands-on approach to all aspects of PR – from positioning, strategy to execution.

Want to know more? We’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line or fill out the form on our contact page.

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Post Author

Lisette Paras
Lisette is the founder and president of Gravitate PR. She started her career leading regional PR strategy and campaigns for some of the world’s biggest technology brands, and in recent years has honed her craft in partnering with startups primed for their next stage of growth. An award-winning PR professional, she has worked on dozens of M&As/IPOs in her career.

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