Review: Proving effective PR with big data

Rachael Hesno's picture
by Rachael Hesno
Metricomm webinar Marianne Morgan and Karen Williams

Prolific North, in partnership with PR-focused data company Metricomm, hosted a webinar on Thursday July 2nd, to discuss the methods used in the PR sector to measure success and plan for campaigns.

The panellists discussed key issues in proving the true effectiveness of PR and how shifting from focusing on volume to using precise data can have more of a positive impact.

Karen Williams (pictured right) also explored analysis of car brands conducted by Metricomm by diving into the data and illustrating how it can be utilised to address whether PR is having an impact.


  • Marianne Morgan, Director of Research and Analytics at Citypress 
  • Karen Williams, Director at Metricomm

Impact over volume  

Historically, the process of measuring coverage used to be to “literally take out a ruler” and measure the size of newspaper coverage, said Marianne Morgan of Manchester agency Citypress (pictured left).

“It was deeply flawed,” she added, but said the PR industry now has more of a clear process in place and is heading towards being more data-driven.

Drawing on her experience as a board director of AMEC, the international association for the measurement and evaluation of communication, Morgan said  in an ideal world PRs should be measuring three core elements - output, outtakes, and outcomes.

These elements cover how much coverage an organisation received, the audience reaction, and measuring the outcomes and evaluating any behaviour changes as a result of the communication, she explained. 

The industry is struggling with a reliance on “vanity metrics” often focusing on the volume of coverage and counting factors such as impressions or reach on social media rather than the impact, added Karen Williams, Director at Metricomm

She explained the PR industry also needs to focus on the impact it has on commercial outcomes as “fundamentally the reason why organisations need awareness and need reputation is so that they can make sales.”

One of the reasons communications organisations focus on vanity metrics is because they're viewed as more attainable measures, explained Morgan. 

On reporting the results of a campaign when it ends, it is important to assess the results to inform future programmes but this isn’t being done, she added.  

Both panellists discussed their experiences with media lists and said it is “evolving” and no longer segregated into ‘tiers’ of media focused purely on circulation.

“You need to drill down into the data” in order to explore why coverage in a certain publication may achieve greater results, explained Williams, and look at factors such as whether it is driven by a local interest in the story or an influencer.

“That's why it makes it really, really important to be able to access that data quickly and run the analysis and feed it into the team who are managing the activation so that they can draw conclusions from it,” she added.

She said defaulting to volume can give “misleading results” and even if it is in the brief, PRs need to find what engaged the audience as “that is really important and we need to start demanding that of our PR teams.”

Who interprets the data?

According to Morgan, there is a heavy reliance in the PR industry on external media monitoring companies to analyse data.

She said the “real magic” happens when the data gathered from media monitoring companies is combined with other data such as internal reports, as assessing it takes time and understanding as “you need to get to know your data to be able to do it well.”

Many organisations are “still trying to interpret the wrong data,” explained Williams, which comes from a tendency to look at all of the clippings and coverage, which she said is irrelevant if it is not engaging or has no impact on the audience. 

Williams explained it has been demonstrated with client data at Metricomm that 80% of the results come from just 20% of media coverage obtained - and this is what is having an impact or changing audience behaviour. 

“I think that is the biggest problem with interpretation, we have to start with the right data,” said Williams.

“My advice for anyone leading a PR team would be to be brave and get hold of some data that actually gives a different perspective on the outcomes and the impact of the PR campaign,” she added.

Effectiveness of PR

PR is not very “linear” and there is no “silver bullet,” said Morgan, who explained it is different for each campaign and is dependent on what the objectives are and “where the brand is at on its journey and what it is trying to achieve.”

There are tools that can be utilised to prove PR is making a contribution to business results if you look at the data, added Williams. 

On proving the effectiveness of PR, she argued that “it is constantly evolving and I think we have to keep educating the industry about the ways in which it is possible.”

Not having a sufficient measurement function can be a “deal-breaker” for potential clients and it is a core requirement in every pitch as “it's all about creativity and execution but they need to know you can deliver that,” said Morgan.

For Williams, the industry needs to find something that is more “meaningful” in terms of impact on the audience and it needs to start demanding its PR teams steer away from focusing solely on volume of coverage. 

It is about looking at the impact PR has on the engaged audience instead of counting the output or wrong metrics about impressions and reach, she added. 

Both panellists discussed the use of econometric analysis for clients but “econometric modelling” can be viewed as a barrier with costs and budgets taken into consideration, explained Morgan.

“People will buy in quite quickly,” once you start on a journey towards better measurement that is aligned with your objectives, she added.

Metricomm data analysis

At Metricomm, Williams explained the company has developed a method - by applying an algorithm based on academic research - to calculate the probability the audience will engage and be prompted to take action as a result of coverage they have seen or read. 

She emphasised that it is not just about “counting things” but about working out what it means in terms of behavioural impact. 

Introducing Metricomm’s data approach and analysis, Williams explained a report which aimed to use big data analysis to demonstrate similar results for the car market. 

There is a “very strong statistical relationship” between the size of the engaged audience created by online media coverage and search for the car brands, she said.

She explained with lower priced car brands, a larger audience is expected, whereas higher priced brands may generate a lot of search from online media coverage but with fewer resulting purchases.  

Williams pointed to Metricomm’s conclusions from this analysis, arguing that there must be a clear relationship between the engaged audience from online media coverage and advertising, which it hopes to explore in more detail. 

She added that it suggests day-to-day PR coverage for brands is also “amplifying the effect of advertising.”

She explained the connection between the size of the engaged audience from online media coverage and search as it “allows us to show us that media coverage is actually having a demonstrable effect on the top of the sales funnel.”

She demonstrated there is a measurable link “between the engaged audience, the people who read PR generated content, and the sales that are achieved for any given brand.”

There were a few key points PRs could note from the research, she said. Despite pointing to one of the car brands experiencing negative PR, it did not appear to impact on sales for the brand or have a long-term impact, she explained.

Discussing observations about the car brands, she said one brand achieved very similar levels of sales from a similar amount of media coverage in comparison to rival brands from a lower level of media coverage.

She said this provokes a number of interesting questions, such as the effectiveness of the brand advertising or “long-term residual reputation” accumulated from its PR activity. 

To summarise, she said the firm’s analysis illustrates the impact of online media is “increasingly short-term” whereas in print and broadcast it is potentially a different story.

Metricomm plan to put out a paper within the next few months around the issue. Its online report is available in full here

Proving effective PR with big data

'Proving effective PR with big data' webinar video.

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