Why it is tough to bring in standardization in traditional PR metrics?

BF Firos |
In the dynamic world of public relations (PR), measurement has long been a cornerstone for assessing success and guiding strategies. Yet, behind the veil of traditional PR metrics lies a fundamental challenge: the inability to capture the true impact of PR efforts. While metrics like media impressions, social media followers, and website traffic offer numerical snapshots of visibility and reach, they often fall short in revealing the deeper resonance and influence of PR initiatives.

Almost half of all PR professionals, according to Muck Rack’s ‘2022 State of PR’ report, are looking for ways to measure the impact of their work. This desire is strong across the industry, with 49% of agency professionals and 45% of those on the brand side emphasizing the importance of “producing measurable results” to show the value of PR within their organisations.

This focus on measurement isn’t surprising. Traditionally, PR efforts were judged on less tangible factors like brand awareness or media mentions. However, in today’s data-driven world, executives are demanding concrete evidence of PR’s contribution to the bottom line. By showcasing metrics like website traffic increases, lead generation, or positive sentiment analysis, PR professionals can demonstrate a direct return on investment (ROI) and secure a stronger seat at the decision-making table. This shift towards data-driven PR allows for more targeted campaigns, budget optimization, and a clearer understanding of what truly resonates with target audiences.

Indeed, the landscape of media consumption has undergone a profound transformation, rendering traditional metrics that emphasize reach and ad equivalence of coverage increasingly obsolete. In today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving media environment, consumers are no longer passive recipients of information but active participants who consume content on the go and selectively engage with what resonates with them.

Traditional metrics

So, what are the limitations of traditional PR metrics? How do they fail to capture the true impact of PR efforts?

In this three-part series, Adgully embarks on a journey to unravel the limitations of traditional PR metrics, exploring how they obscure rather than illuminate the real value that PR brings to the table. The attempt is to delve into the nuances of measurement in PR, emerging metrics, the role of AI, etc.

There are tangible and intangible elements to every PR campaign, says Tarunjeet Rattan, Managing Partner, Nucleus PR. According to her, a lot of the effort of traditional PR metrics only aims to capture the tangible elements of work done, ignoring all the conversations, effort, and planning put in to arrive at it and completely ignores the other intangible elements.

“While the entire industry worldwide has tried with various degrees of success to measure the tangible impact PR creates and put it in excel sheets, graphs, charts and PPTs, it is like trying to hold on to water. It takes the shape of whichever container it sees and changes shape with the next. Similarly, a matrix that is tweaked to one client will change for the next. There are efforts to bring in standardization in all these methods, but it is a tough job. Something almost always gets left behind. Today, every agency has a different matrix. With the advent of AI, we are hoping to be able to create something more all-encompassing for the tangible results. The intangible ones, however, are a whole different story,” says Rattan.

Public Relations is all about how your brand is represented in various outlets as earned media, and PR measurement is the process of measuring the impact of this earned media coverage on your brand, notes Anup Sharma, Independent PR & Strategic Communications Consultant.

For all organisations, Sharma reckons, it is essential to understand how best to measure the success of their PR campaigns in order to demonstrate a return on investment. However, he adds, measuring the outcomes is hard as attributing them to PR campaigns is not easy.

“While in the digital world with modern tools, keeping track of who mentions you, where, and how is possible, not all PR impact is directly quantifiable. Also, given the converged nature of communications today, earned content also appears on social media and falls into the blurred zone of earned media coverage or shared or both. There is no one, widely agreed method of measuring earned media value, and the trend of PR measurement as a topic has always been discussed and debated. The AMEC framework is the most widely adopted process for measuring and evaluating communications, as this focuses on capturing all outputs and outtakes, with a particular emphasis on organisational impact,” Sharma explains.

Traditional metrics primarily focus on reach and ad equivalence of coverage, says Sumathi Chari, Senior Partner & Director, PRHUB. However, she adds, in today’s evolved and continually changing media landscape, this emphasis is irrelevant. Today, readers consume content on the go and choose the content they want to read or engage with.

“At the same time, the scope of PR in a digital, multi-media environment has broadened, and limiting measurement to brand reach or a few other standalone metrics will dilute the larger impact of PR on businesses and organisations,” she adds.

“My observation is that very few within our industry are genuinely practicing and leveraging effective PR measurement,” opines Siddhartha Mukherjee, Founder of Brand Balance, a measurement and data analytics-led corporate brand reputation and ERP management consultancy.

He states that the definition and visualization of PR measurement are influenced by our perception of PR. Its construct differs depending on how the top management of organisations perceives and leverages it.

“For some, it is merely seen as a news dispatch or management tool, a perspective prevalent among a significant portion of organisations. However, another category of organisations exists where CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, and CHROs view PR as a strategic tool for brand reputation and valuation management. This disparity in the thought process among the end customers of PR forms the foundation for the current state of PR measurement,” says Mukherjee.

The prevailing trend Mukherjee has observed in the measurement templates utilized by both clients and service providers tends to skew towards traditional PR monitoring. According to him, it is imperative for custodians to discern between PR measurement and monitoring. Monitoring, he adds, primarily revolves around conducting daily and monthly assessments to gauge the quantity and quality of media visibility for corporate and product brands, as well as developments within the business ecosystem.

“However, measurement presents a broader and more strategic approach. It focuses on ensuring that every PR effort conceived and executed contributes to enhancing brand and business metrics, ultimately reflecting in Return on Objectives (ROO). This delineates PR measurement as a linear structure encompassing PR INPUT, PR OUTPUT, and PR OUTCOME. Undoubtedly, this framework requires the backing of a meticulously designed framework of ERPs - efforts, resources, and processes - to effectively measure the impact and value of PR initiatives,” adds Mukherjee.

Jyotsna Dash Nanda, AVP, Corporate Communications, DS Group, reckons that traditional PR metrics lack insight into the “why” behind the “what” – they track results but not resonance. Instead, she adds, they often fixate on vanity metrics that fail to provide a comprehensive narrative.

According to her, here’s how they fall short, along with some future-oriented approaches:


Impressions/Reach: These metrics (e.g., number of people who saw a press release) show exposure, but not engagement (Did they read it? Did it resonate?)

Example: A press release gets published in a major newspaper, reaching millions. But if the writing is bland or the placement irrelevant, it might have minimal impact.

Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE): This assigns a dollar value to media coverage, assuming it's the same as paid advertising. This is widely criticized as inaccurate.

Example: A company claims an AVE of $100,000 for a positive article. However, no guarantee paid advertising for that amount would have had the same impact (or any impact at all).

Sentiment Analysis (basic): Traditional methods might simply categorize sentiment as positive, negative, or neutral. This misses nuance.

Example: An article mentions a company but doesn't explicitly recommend it. Basic sentiment analysis might miss the opportunity to understand the context and potential impact.

According to her, it is also important to gauge performance vis-à-vis competition.

(Tomorrow: Part 2 of this report will delve into emerging metrics for a comprehensive understanding of PR’s impact and the role of AI in measurement.)