Although it’s often confused with marketing, public relations isn’t the same thing. PR aims to create, maintain and enhance your company’s reputation, position it in the public eye and communicate messages about it through traditional and social media.   When you share the story of your business in a way that makes reporters sit up and take note, that’s public relations, and it does things like build awareness of your brand and raise your profile publicly. Those goals are all very important for a business but they are also hard to measure.  

PR does affect sales, but indirectly. It generates and builds audiences, and then sales and marketing turns those audiences into sales leads. And that means you need metrics outside of sales to measure the return on investment you’re getting from your public relations efforts and a focus on outcomes, as opposed to outputs.

Gauging the overall effectiveness of your PR requires examining how well you’re reaching your target audience and how that’s affecting your customers and prospects. Here are some suggestions for setting PR goals for your business and measuring their success:

Answer the question “Why?”

Before you start a PR campaign or initiative, ask yourself: “Why are we investing the time and money to do this? What do we want to get from it?” Once you know those objectives your PR efforts can support them. Don’t put together a plan without knowing the desired results and don’t confuse results with strategies. Getting articles about your business in the media, for example, isn’t the goal of your PR campaign–it’s the strategy. The goal might be to increase the number of prospect email addresses you collect through your website or to create more positive public sentiment toward the brand.

Define what is valuable.

Because public relations isn’t marketing, you can’t necessarily measure ROI in terms of sales. In fact a study from the Institute for Public Relations said PR often represents just five to seven percent of sales. Try defining what is valuable to your company–the ROI may not necessarily be a bottom line outcome. It may be you’re looking for repeat visits to your website or a change in the perception of your business or behavior of consumers.  And if you do experience a bump in sales that occurs whenever you have a PR campaign running, that becomes another way to quantify the success of your efforts.

Measure your media coverage.

This is a big part of PR—coverage in the media–so take a look at where your company is getting coverage. Are these publications, podcasts, radio shows and other media outlets reaching the specific targets that are important to your business?

Customer retention and satisfaction.

If you’ve got a PR campaign that aims to improve the perception of the brand—whether that’s quality, trust, fashionableness, etc.—you can measure it by surveying customers before the campaign begins and after it ends about their level of satisfaction.

Look at how you and your company are being positioned.

Are you—and the business—being positioned as an expert and a leader in your industry? Are journalists seeking you out for expert advice? What is the public perception of the company?

Use analytics.

Analytics are a key part of discovering how your PR campaigns are impacting the awareness, attitudes and behavior of your audience. Although you want to look at impressions and mentions, you also want to watch where your clicks are coming from, and take note of things like increases in newsletter subscriptions or the number of calls to the business. You can also have customer service reps ask callers how they learned about the company.

Measure SEO performance.

Look at increases or decreases in branded search terms in Google Webmaster Tools and see how many visits to your company’s website result from those searches. Determine if social media followings increase during a PR campaign or after media coverage. You can compare conversion and bounce rates for traffic that comes from publications that have covered your business, to determine which ones will be the best to target in future PR campaigns.

By carefully assessing the outcomes of each public relations campaign, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions about how you spend your future PR dollars, so that you’re getting the most bang for your buck.