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How to set and measure accurate goals for PR in 2021

by | Feb 22, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

A wise man once said growth is good. Wait… I think he said greed. And he was a movie character who went to jail.

As you plan your PR campaigns for the next year or year after, do you want growth? I’m sure you do.

Unless you plan and measure in a way that matters, growth may not be in the cards. At least not in the way you want it to be. And this has nothing to do with how the pandemic affected media in the last year, as this thinking holds up whether we’re comparing the media landscape from 2012 to 2013 or 2021 and 2025.

A year ago, in an article in Bulldog Reporter, I elaborated on how the media relations industry was measuring incorrectly. Ad value equivalencies, impression counts, and clicks don’t measure awareness. They’re the lazy way of measuring.

If you acknowledge that the biggest audience isn’t the same as the right audience, placement and impression count become less relevant. Ignore this idea, and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Year-over-year results comparisons don’t factor in brand age, strength, or the world at large

How fast could you run in high school? Most of us are slower now. I “found my fitness” at 39 and was in the best shape of my life at 41 based on MY way of measuring at the time. However, my knees and ankles (thank you, skateboarding) don’t match my physique. So, am I a failure?

Measuring my fitness based on how fast I can run a mile will lead to disappointment, and for me, it’s the wrong metric. So will gauging my fitness based on the scale. I’m physically stronger, and arguably, I look a lot better looking than I was in my mid-30’s. Weight and speed, while common ways to measure fitness, aren’t as relevant to my physical brand as strength and body fat percentage are.

I could become faster. It is possible to train in a different way and regain some speed. I could spend less time with my family or invest significant dollars on surgeries and coaches to make some enhancements.

But I won’t. It’s not in my budget financially or time-wise to do so. Instead, set goals and expectations that match where I am and the resources I’m willing to devote. I don’t expect more than what I have to offer.

The Bill Byrne brand ages every year. So does yours. We need to shift expectations.

Shift expectations to match applicable resources

We really can’t expect to have growth year-over-year when measuring our PR campaigns using traditional metrics, especially if we don’t consider the full picture.

Media love the hot and new. If your brand is new to the scene, it won’t be forever. Someone younger, maybe faster, will come around.

Last year you may have had something groundbreaking to announce that directly lines up with what the media is covering. Next year you may not. A competitor may have something better. Someone hotter and scrappier, who is also willing to put more effort, may come along. Media often like to spread the love around editorially. PR is more than just relationships, and above all, journalists want to tell good stories that keeps their audience coming back.

The evolving (and eroding) media landscape

The shift in print opportunities continues, and the rise of podcasting has been well documented. As the landscape changes, you need to evolve your plan and how you measure.

There was a time when my team dominated the print magazines we targeted for a particular client in a specific segment. Two years later, many of those magazines folded, and the shift to digital was strong.

We shifted (I refuse to say pivot) and were able to land the client in verifiable tastemaker digital outlets (you called them blogs back them) just as they were emerging. Impression count, and the number of placements, actually grew.

Today, some of those same blogs are now household names. They also publish less frequently and curate their content more. Opportunities for our partners in certain outlets have diminished. That poorly lit photo we took using a 3-megapixel digital camera while at a trade show is no longer going to cut it on HypeBeast as a preview.

COVID-19 and the decrease in print opportunities are not anomalies, just current trends. If you can’t land five tier-A placements this year because of your competition, maybe shoot for 40 strong tier-B placements and a few bonus ones via the new Clubhouse app. Or whatever is next.

Show me the money! (budget)

Another movie reference you probably recognize. How much are you increasing your budget by? Or are you hoping to do the same and get more from it somehow? If you scored big last year through your PR campaign, your competition’s PR team was put on notice. If they value their jobs, then they’re planning to step up.

Getting back to fitness, it takes a lot more effort to build and maintain muscle in your 40’s than it does in your 20’s.

Are you willing to put more time and resources into your PR efforts to achieve the same results as you did a year ago? Are you willing to devote efforts to explore new avenues?

When we pushed our partners to let us target those tastemaker digital outlets, there was no guarantee we’d see coverage. That’s marketing in general, though, not just PR. There’s no guarantees things will convert.

More takes more

You probably knew where I was going you started reading this. Embargoes, exclusives, ad-influenced editorial, affiliate marketing, beers at the trade show… what worked yesterday may not work next week.

Those who haven’t been in the trenches recently want year-over-year growth from their marketing and public relations efforts but often don’t want to increase the level of effort required. A PR team’s relationships matter, but not as much as outsiders would like to think.

In PR, as well as general marketing, what your competitors are doing can affect your results. Remember, if you blow a competitor out of the water one year, don’t expect them to sit on their hands the next.

Similarly, what your competitors have to offer and spend does matter. One of our partner’s competitors has taken media to places such as Chamonix and exotic areas of Central America to preview new technologies. They’re not “buying coverage,” as some would say, but those trips do help strengthen brand-based relationships in a stronger fashion than beers on the trade show floor do for my team.

While I’m known to be a fun guy to have beers with, a trip to France to see a new technology probably trumps meeting me during a trade show happy hour.

The solution for setting goals

Do you want to measure in a meaningful way? Here’s how.

Educate stakeholders why year-over-year growth in terms of impressions is a garbage metric. It is only relevant for growth in a bubble without competition and a time warp where nothing changes. Why would you think doing the same would generate more in PR when it doesn’t work anywhere else in marketing?

Now, look at your brand in the mirror. What do you see? What do others see? What are you willing to do to create growth and strength? Is it enough? Is your brand showing signs of age? Getting flabby? What can we do about that?

In media relations, you can always make the argument to measure based on impressions, but to get an accurate handle on how you’re doing, you’ll need to spend more time on qualitative measurement. Share of voice compared to your competitors (taking into account the efforts they’re putting forward), tone, frequency, and authority as perceived by your target audience, are good places to start. Factor in what your brand has to offer the media in terms of a story worth covering, and how much effort you put against PR last year too.

Some years you have a product that has widespread massive media appeal, as we did when we (#HumbleBrag) came home with gold in the Bulldog PR Awards for consumer products. Some years you don’t. And if you come up short when measuring against last year’s impressions, remember, that doesn’t make the campaign a failure.

Setting goals for growth in PR is only relevant when you measure the right way. Don’t anticipate growth if you don’t have a reason to see it.

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Bill Byrne
Bill Byrne is co-founder and managing director of Remedy Communications. He leads a team that works with a diverse range of brands, in industries that include consumer tech, healthcare, active-outdoor pursuits, finance, beverage, and youth-driven industries.

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