Schleich billboard in Times Square Source: Schleich

by CLARK NESSELRODT, executive vice president, Brilliant PR & Marketing

If you ever want to watch a room full of PR people squirm and scurry, just drop in the topic of measuring the results of their work. There is perhaps no topic that resonates more within the industry, which has been a cornerstone of the marketing world since Edward Bernays convinced the American public that bacon was an ideal breakfast food back in 1920. Surely, PR agencies would not be raking in $14 billion annually if the practice didn’t work, and yes, even generate revenue. But how should you be thinking about the value and measurement of public relations?

Let’s start with the historically challenging question: How do we know that generating positive press and influencer coverage leads to more revenue for clients?

Though not the measurement “silver bullet” even Fortune 100 companies are still scrambling to define, it begins with anecdotes gleaned over the past 20 years. We learned from modeling that $1.25 in profit was generated for every marketing dollar spent on building Pop-Tarts World in Times Square for Kellogg’s. We know that one of our clients’ toys sold out at specialty retail across Chicagoland following a single morning news segment. We see Buzzfeed placements often driving upwards of 50 sales within 24 hours. We saw one of our clients exceed its sales goal by five times this past Black Friday after a build-up of PR-led integrated marketing efforts. Another client tells us that its sales doubled from $6 million a month to $13 million a month in the year after adding PR to its marketing mix. But, lovely as these nuggets are, they lack the predictability and acute measurement that c-suites crave.

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Now enter the new players: Instagram swipe-to-buy links, affiliate marketing, and digital advertising.

Though not part of the classic definition of PR, they cross squarely into PR territory since our discipline is responsible for influencer relationships and organic social media growth. These tactics are as measurable as they come and the last decade has proven that there is value in approaching them through the lens of PR given their reliance on and synergy with typical PR vehicles. Most striking, the performance of these tactics correlates positively to the success of traditional PR results. More earned press and influencer coverage leads to more Instagram swipe-ups, more affiliate purchases, and better return on ad spend (ROAS).

But the evolution goes further. Remember SEO? How about Google Analytics? It’s shocking how many brands aren’t taking them seriously. Therein lies an entirely new world of PR measurement many agencies are scrambling to mobilize even as I type. For starters, know this: there are very few things that can increase your brand’s website presence and dominance in search engine results like coverage on and links from third-party websites, such as the news articles and earned media that PR generates. And, if a consumer sees your advertisement on social media, clicks to a new tab to search your brand, and doesn’t see your website or any positive press coverage on the first page of results, the likelihood of purchase decreases. This type of data is enabling us to measure and focus our media outreach efforts more precisely than ever. We are building an algorithm that computes SEO impact alongside referral and sales analytics, not only to quantify the impact of an individual online hit but to prioritize our outreach to digital outlets.

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Very few things in this world are optimized inside of a vacuum. Art and science, yin and yang, and the black and white cookie are all examples of how blending opposites leads to the greatest harmony and effect. It may be tempting to think you can get away with only paying for digital advertising or only engaging influencers with swipe-to-buy links. But how would you react if you walked into your favorite neighborhood toy store, and the sweet person behind the counter held up a box and said “swipe up to buy!”? They call it a marketing mix for a reason, and all of the clicks in the world ultimately won’t add up if your competitors are the ones getting featured all over the press and your website isn’t showing up in the first three Google results.

We all want sales for our clients, and PR absolutely does help generate them. But to see the greatest growth, a holistic approach is key.