Proving It: Going from Press Release Performance to Measuring Brand Perceptions

As a good PR agency, you probably play a number of roles for your clients. You might write a pitch one day and manage a crisis the next. Or maybe you’re issuing press releases, developing strategies, or managing client relationships. No matter what task you face, all of your work has a singular objective in common: helping your clients enhance and protect their brand.

Just as the strategies and tactics you use to help your clients improve brand perceptions have evolved over the years, so too have the metrics and reporting that go along with them. For example, distributing high-quality content has emerged as an important strategy for improving brand perceptions, with press releases often just one component of sophisticated, content-driven campaigns that span multiple channels. Thanks to this evolution, along with increased access to analytics, there are now also much better ways to measure and monitor the success of both individual pieces of content and overall campaigns.

When it comes to press releases specifically, these advances mean that more than ever before, you can demonstrate the full impact that they are having on your clients’ brands. To do so successfully, however, you have to take a more holistic look at brand perceptions by using the right combination of tools, client data, and media intelligence. Importantly, you also have to figure out how to communicate that value to your clients in a way that they’ll understand.

Metrics Matter…

When it comes to correlating the performance of a press release with brand perceptions, times have changed. Whereas not all that long ago a press release’s effectiveness was measured solely in terms of earned media coverage and the ad equivalency value of that coverage, the digital era has ushered in an array of other metrics that provide a more complete view of press release performance. These include:

  • Potential reach. This is a measure of the total number of people who could have been exposed to a press release. Importantly, any time that a release has the benefit of being distributed through a wire service with a robust network of affiliate websites, this number can easily reach into the tens of millions. Factor in the additional exposure that social media provides, and the potential audience reach can grow exponentially.

  • Engagement. As impressive as your potential reach can be, what really matters most is whether or not people are actually seeing your clients’ press releases and engaging with them. Indications of engagement include not only reading the press releases, but also clicking on any links they contain and sharing them with others. Today, high-quality social media coverage rivals earned media coverage as a key driver of brand perceptions, while also helping brand managers determine where to focus their efforts.

  • Visits. It’s also important to consider the number of visitors coming to your clients’ websites as a result of your press releases. In addition to calculating how many visitors they’re getting, you can determine the quality of those visitors by looking at factors like bounce rate and time on page. You can also track whether people coming to their sites are new or repeat visitors, and whether or not they took the time to visit any other pages.

  • Conversion rates. This refers to the percentage of people who take a specific, desired action as a result of a press release. Those actions will vary depending on the goals of the release, but might include clicking a link, downloading a piece of promoted content, or transforming from a tentative prospect into a buying customer. More than just signs of engagement, conversions signal that prospects are actively moving through the sales funnel. It is vital that you work with your clients to track conversions back to your efforts.

  • Sentiment and influence. You can also gain insights into the tone of the coverage that a press release has garnered (be it positive, negative, or neutral) and how influential the journalists, media outlets, and social media accounts associated with that coverage are. This information is very useful for discerning the potential impact a release will have on a brand.

Importantly, the above aren’t simply vanity metrics. They’re sources of valuable insights that brand managers can use to better understand, among other things, where to focus their attention, how their brand is performing, and how to tweak their messaging going forward. Plus, they can be used to demonstrate to executives how distributing content over the wire can dramatically increase brand visibility.

…So Does How You Frame Them

The key to reporting on press release performance (or campaign performance for that matter) in a way that not only demonstrates value, but also resonates with your clients, is to make sure you’re speaking their language.

One way to do so is to think about the other types of reports your clients deal with on a regular basis—the kinds they get from their customer relationship management (CRM) tools, their marketing automation platforms, and their web analytics services. All of those tools and platforms use similar KPIs in their reporting to speak a common language. They talk, for example, about customer behavior in terms of activities, engagement levels, and sentiment.

By framing your wire service and media monitoring reports in a similar way, you’ll not only putting your data into a context that they already understand, but also demonstrating just how marketing savvy you are.

Beyond PR Metrics: The Holy Grail of Brand Performance Measurement

When trying to measure the impact of press releases on brand performance, it’s important to look to a variety of reporting tools and services to get a comprehensive view.

That’s because free services like Google Alerts, to cite just one example, only capture a small percentage of a press release’s total reach. This is due to the fact that Google’s complex algorithms are constantly changing and that it’s only looking for coverage that meets very specific criteria. As a result, you should be cautious not to rely solely on services like this to measure a release’s total impact.

Similarly, most web analytics tools also fall a bit short. While they can give you lots of detail about a site and how it’s performing as a result of a press release, they can’t tell you about how that release performed everywhere else online and what impact that had. Often that’s just as, if not a more important, piece of the puzzle.

Limitations like these have important implications. For example, if your goal is to achieve a greater share of voice than competitors on a key topic, but your monitoring service only covers a fraction of the media outlets and none of the important trade publications, it will be impossible to know how you’re really doing. That’s why it’s important to turn to a variety of sources to build as comprehensive of a picture as you can of the KPIs and other metrics that matter to your brand.

To achieve a true sense of brand performance, you also have to go a step further and factor your client’s internal data into the equation.

In addition to looking at media analytics, consider other variables like sales revenues, customer service calls, and social media engagement. In doing so, look for correlations between your press releases and corresponding campaigns and actual customer activity. Armed with that information, you will have much more definitive data to report back to your clients about how your work is shaping brand perceptions and ultimately contributing to ROI.

Timing Is Everything

The timing and frequency of your brand performance reporting is another key consideration. While it’s important to alert clients when potential issues emerge, providing too much data and analysis too often can impede progress rather than facilitate it.

While there is no universal right answer, a smart approach is to tailor the frequency of your reports to campaign goals and timelines. A three-month, dynamic campaign, for example, might require more frequent reporting than a year-long campaign that’s steady and predictable. When in doubt, give your clients options and be prepared to recalibrate along the way based on their needs and feedback.

The Tools to Assess Brand Performance

As you move from press release reporting to measuring brand performance, it may also be your opportunity to evaluate whether you have the right mix of data and tools to provide an insightful assessment of brand performance for your clients.

Reporting data from your press release service will give you a great start with metrics on reach, visibility and engagement of specific messages and campaigns. For context from the broader media landscape, a media monitoring service can add insights from more media types—print, online, social, and broadcast. You can also use these services to track additional topics, like coverage of client competitors, critical industry trends and emerging issues, giving you a look at brand messages in the total media environment. These services can also have metrics, tools and filters that will offer intelligence on brand performance and reputation.

Your clients may also have proprietary data that would be relevant to measuring brand performance. Sales revenue, calls to customer service, satisfaction surveys, industry benchmarks—are there data points from your clients that should be combined with what you’re measuring and monitoring? By asking these questions and sourcing the relevant data, you’ll be better positioned to provide actionable intelligence for your clients’ brand strategies and achieving their KPIs.

Going All the Way

Thanks to new tools, data, and intelligence, there are now better ways than ever before to measure the impact of your communications campaigns—and the role of press releases within them—on brand perceptions. Yet to develop a true understanding of how they are correlated, you need to develop the kind of holistic view that’s only possible when you consider multiple sources.

With the right tools and data you can give your clients a much clearer view of how their press releases are driving perceptions of their brand within the marketplace. The key to doing so, however, is communicating that information in a context that will resonate with them.

Informing Brand Strategy

A high-profile consumer brand asks its agency to report on website visitors per day. The brand uses this statistic to evaluate the potential reach of its messages, which ultimately plays into its brand management strategy.

 

Driving Traffic to Content

The editorial director at a travel and lifestyle company has refocused content marketing efforts to drive traffic to the company’s online brands. The company promotes content in press releases, and tracks traffic sources and clickthroughs to optimize the editorial calendars for each brand.

 

Boosting Industry Visibility

A technology company’s agency is working on a communications program to boost the firm’s visibility in its industry. Part of the program is a report for the company’s C-Suite demonstrating how distributing content amplifies potential reach to the brand’s audiences.

 

Uncovering Influencers

A public relations executive at a brand management company uses media measurement and monitoring tools to go beyond tracking clips. She gathers intelligence on the media and organization views of her company’s content to plan targeted outreach and engage in influential conversations around her client’s brands.

ABOUT THE EXPERT: MELISSA WALSH

Melissa Walsh is an Account Director with PR Newswire, consulting with clients to help them develop customized communication and marketing plans for their intended audiences. She started with PR Newswire’s customer service team, moving to business development to focus on agency relations and firms from a variety of industries, including entertainment, fashion, technology, healthcare, and finance. She also identifies new business opportunities in the public and private sector.

PR NEWSWIRE SOLUTIONS

PR Newswire’s portfolio of services and solutions helps communicators of all stripes achieve their communications goals—from building awareness with new audiences and gaining media pickup, to managing reputation and inspiring investor confidence—by sharing, targeting, tracking and enhancing your unique content to make the most of your content investment. Our offerings include:

• Visibility Reports— Demonstrate success with detailed reporting on the reach of your content—by media type, region, and by individual asset.

• Media Targeting & Monitoring— Reach influential journalists with our list-building tools and multichannel distribution network, and monitor conversations about your brand across global media, with metrics to uncover actionable media intelligence.