When you pay for publicity, it’s easy to see how these efforts benefit your enterprise. You can use tried-and-true return on investment calculations to create a quantitative measure of marketing campaign success. On the other hand, public relations (PR) programs present a challenge in this area.
PR promotes positive awareness and enhances market visibility, so it’s an essential part of building a strong brand. But since you’re not paying for PR placements, it can be difficult to express how earned media value (EMV) truly boosts your business. In this guide, we explore methods of calculating EMV so you can attach numbers to your company’s PR campaigns as a measure of success.
Defining the differences between earned, paid, and owned media
Your marketing efforts will include earned, paid, and owned media. To start on the same page, we’ll provide context about these frequently used but often misunderstood terms.
What is earned media?
Earned media encompasses anything published about your business by someone else, as long as you haven’t paid for the mention. Public relations professionals were previously limited to local news broadcasts and print media coverage. Today, if an Instagram influencer shares unprompted snaps of your cafe’s new fall menu, you’ve experienced earned media. This is the modern-day version of word-of-mouth marketing.
As we increasingly get information from social media posts rather than traditional news outlets, the format of earned media evolves and increases with these preferences. But one fact remains—it’s one of the best ways to create brand awareness for an audience that doesn’t already know about your business.
What is paid media?
Paid media refers to the PR you pay for, from sponsored articles to pay-per-click social media ad campaigns and beyond. Display ads and branded content are also common examples of this channel. Finding ROI for paid advertising simply requires dividing the response to your campaign, whether in sales, website visits, or another metric, by the amount you spent on the campaign.
What is owned media?
Owned media includes only the online content assets your company owns, like your app, website, and blog posts. The greater the scope of your owned media, the larger your online footprint, and the bigger your brand’s reach.
As a result of this effect, owned media represents an important part of your organization’s overall marketing strategy. You can use many of the strategies we’ll describe below to measure the impact of your digital assets.
The importance of accurate PR evaluation
While you and your colleagues can observe the qualitative impact of a successful PR endeavor, it’s also helpful to have hard numbers about earned value in your hand. These are some of the key reasons why it’s so important to evaluate PR campaigns based on validated metrics:
- Gain buy-in for departmental efforts from organizational leadership and external stakeholders (clients and potential funders). For example, you’ll need detailed analytics if you want to ask for an expanded PR budget in the next quarter.
- Plan effective future campaigns based on the insights gained with each successful strategy. When you establish benchmarks for comparison across campaigns, it becomes easy to see what’s working and what isn’t so you can make improvements accordingly.
- Stake your claim on social media. PR that puts your brand in your audience’s feed creates organic engagement that builds a sense of trust. Users are more likely to share this type of content, which expands your reach far beyond what you could achieve with a print publication placement.
- Enhance your organization’s accountability and transparency. These factors have a significant impact on the amount of trust clients place in your business. If you’re an agency, you’ll be able to show real numbers that back up your earned value efforts and support the importance of investing in this area.
It’s important to note that even the most accurate earned media value estimates require some level of guesswork. You’ll get better at projecting the right numbers with practice. Even when you don’t have a precise earned value calculation, an estimate can create a benchmark and provide insight into how you can iterate your approach for future marketing campaigns.
Challenges brands face when evaluating earned media
Your company will contend with these common challenges as you experiment with evaluating your earned media efforts. Earned media value also depends on a range of variables you’ll need to project to arrive at your assessment, including but not limited to the following:
- The lack of editorial control compared to owned and paid media channels
- The prominence, size, and placement of each PR mention
- The reach of each publication in terms of both audience volume and engagement
- The sentiment of the mention, which could be positive, negative, neutral, or anywhere in between
The role of advertising value equivalency
Advertising value equivalency (AVE) was invented in the 1940s as a framework to assess the value of earned media coverage. AVE compares a published article resulting from a PR campaign to the projected cost of running a similar ad by using the formula SIZE x RATE. You can also add a multiplier ranging from 3 to 10 to reflect the publication’s credibility.
Let’s look at how this used to work for PR professionals (and still does for print media placements). Imagine that press releases sent to your media contacts about a new product release resulted in a 5-column story in a mid-tier regional publication. The cost of an ad column in that particular magazine is $100, and you use five as a multiplier that emphasizes the publication’s credibility. The resulting equation, SIZE x RATE x MULTIPLIER, results in a return of $2,500. You can divide that number by the cost of your PR campaign to generate an ROI.
While this metric once offered important insights, modern marketers run into a few limitations if they try to use AVE as an earned media measurement:
- It doesn’t account for the falling value of ad revenue. What’s more, the cost of ad space doesn’t necessarily correlate to the number of people who saw and acted on an earned value placement about your business.
- It ignores the exponential impact of social media. You won’t find a formula that puts a price tag on a tweet that goes viral, but that doesn’t make the tweet less valuable than a paid ad spot with quantified ROI.
- It doesn’t consider whether the placement correlates with your target audience. If you’re mentioned on a website that people in your demographic don’t read, the campaign has less value because it doesn’t positively affect your organizational objectives. Reach doesn’t necessarily matter when you aren’t reaching the right people.
Another issue? The multiplier is often an arbitrary number, so it’s not necessarily an accurate view of a PR campaign’s ROI.
Accurately assessing PR impact
These key performance indicators can help you transform vague impressions into hard statistics about the success of your PR programs. When selecting metrics to track for a new campaign, write effective objectives using the SMART framework. In other words, your KPIs should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
A popular method of assessing PR efforts is evaluating media impressions. To calculate this metric, multiply the number of mentions by the audience size of the publication in which it appeared. For example, if The New York Times, which has nine million subscribers, mentioned your company, ,, you earned nine million media impressions.
Even while trying to numerically evaluate the effects of your PR, you should still consider the content of campaign-related publications. Ideally, earned value media consists of actionable content that encourages your audience to take action while building awareness of your brand. Metrics such as backlinks, social media content shares, and headline mentions amongst your target media outlets suggest campaign success.
Keep track of how many actionable items result from each of your PR initiatives. Over time, this measurement should correlate with higher sales numbers. With this strategy, you’ll see a slow shift in website traffic, leads, and profits as the quarters progress rather than a sharp increase.
Barcelona Principles 2.0
This model for PR assessment, published by the Public Relations Society of America, is designed to focus on outcomes rather than outputs. With this framework, you assign each coverage item a visibility ranking and a prominence rating to guide quantitative assessment. The PRSA updated the list of seven Barcelona Principles in 2015 to reflect the profession’s growing emphasis on digital media.
Share of voice
Share of voice (SOV) ranks as one of the most accurate ways to compare your PR efforts to those of close competitors. It also provides a picture of the influence of your campaign on your company’s mission and vision.
To find share of voice, select a metric such as media mentions and divide your total by the average total for your competitors. Benchmark SOV when you start a new endeavor and track it along the way to assess the project impact.
Keep in mind that the scale and size of your business will affect the accuracy of this metric. This means SOV is more meaningful when making close comparisons with similar companies, and less applicable when you’re looking at much larger or much smaller organizations.
Social media engagement and reach
Strive for a splash on social media by tracking these PR campaign metrics:
- Average monthly post reach
- Number of new followers
You can gather data about reach both online and offline by asking new clients how they heard about your business. Market surveys provide another way to assess brand awareness before and after the PR campaign you’re evaluating.
Outcomes and outputs
This category covers metrics that reflect campaign outcomes, including but not limited to:
- Number of content shares on social media
- Number of positive published press placements
- Audience reach
- Estimated views
- Requests for more information, product demonstrations, or other offers
- Backlinks from authoritative sources that target relevant audiences
- Downloads for an app, e-book, or similar product offer
Mentions of your brand
You can also measure the success of a campaign by the number of times your product, the name of your company, or your associated hashtag attract attention online. A boost in mentions of your brand and related keywords correlate with increased awareness of your endeavors, a benchmark of any effective PR campaign. By the same token, you can track positive online comments related to the campaign.
Third-party recommendations are also a good metric to consider in this category. Check out how you’re ranking on relevant industry review sites in relation to your competitors. After a successful marketing campaign, you’ll likely see your ratings rise.
Higher levels of online traffic
Measure your website traffic prior to launching a new PR campaign and at designated milestones. This strategy reflects the efficacy of your efforts, as it takes time and interest for users to visit your website after learning about your brand from an article or post.
If you aren’t already tracking your traffic, most content management systems have this capability so you can keep an eye out for spikes. An increase in new searches during and after a PR campaign indicates that more people are learning about your brand organically and are intrigued enough to track you down online. You can also consider unique visitors to your page, review the source of website traffic, and see how long people stay on your site after arrival.
Powering PR precision with predictive marketing communications
Hahn’s predictive marketing platform combines sales stats and other forms of first-party intelligence with industry databases such as Meltwater to provide a better way to measure PR. Reach out today to explore how we help you analyze the true value of your organization’s PR initiatives and gain insights that will answer all your outstanding questions about earned media value.
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