Measuring the impact of your media relations efforts

Yep, still talking about the marketing conference I attended a few weeks ago; it was full of such great information! A vice president of marketing and community relations presented on the importance of measuring the impact of your media relations program. She started off the session by providing the audience with five ideas to think about in relation to this task:

  • The measurement of results doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful.
  • How else will you know your efforts are working?
  • You’ll gain credibility by being transparent.
  • By measuring results to prove methods work, you’ll put yourself in a stronger position to ask for resources.
  • That which gets measured does improve.

There are four steps to public relations: research, planning, execution and evaluation. Often, she says, people forget the first step—research—and the last step—evaluation—which are the two most important steps in order to make planning and execution worth it.

“Look at what you’re trying to accomplish,” she says. Look at the intended end result first, she continues, and go backwards to see how you can get there.

Here are some ways to measure the impact of your efforts. She’s quick to point out that none of these methods are 100% accurate, but having a strong, diverse set of measurements strengthens the validity of results. And I’ll also add that while some of these are higher-education specific, most are not and/or can be easily tweaked to fit your organization.

  • Total clips/stories
  • Audience impressions: magazine, TV, print, online, etc. readership/circulation figures
  • Cost per impression: how much output (energy, money, time) did this cost versus how much it’s worth had we gotten this amount of coverage inches via a paid placement?
  • Tonality: are our media hits negative, positive, or neutral? Based on a year’s worth of measurement, establish goals for next year. Do you want to go from negative to neutral? Neutral to positive? More positive than last year?
  • Stature of media penetration and frequency: what publications are our hits in? Furthermore, what publications do we want to be in and how do we achieve that?
  • Message pull through: What sorts of media hits are your brand obtaining? Are they brand-focused in-depth stories, or are they mostly marriage announcements and obits (and the like)?
  • Share of voice v. competition: the speaker keeps track of her local competitors’ media hits in local outlets, as well as her own, so she can measure what her brand’s share of market saturation is.
  • Spokesperson penetration v. competitors: Just as with media hits, she measures the exposure her experts and spokespeople get in local media against local competitors.
  • Inquiry/application spikes: the office works with admission to measure how much (or little) media and public relations activities actually serve as segues for inquiries and/or applications.

One aspect of this brand’s media relations efforts that the speaker changed was their news release practice. When she began her tenure as head of marketing and communications, the office was a “news release factory,” she says. You must decide between being a news release factory and doing actual brand-building media relations. To do this, she continues, you must virtually eliminate the “news-release factory” mindset and “nurture a culture around earned media,” which involves more one-on-one pitching with individual and highly targeted media outlets. Right on, sister!

“We no longer do news release blankets,” she explains. “Everything is one on one.” In addition to this smart practice, they also initially focused solely on saturating the local area (Charlotte, N.C.). If you’re not known in your own city, she says, then you can’t go wider. (Agreed.) And within the city of Charlotte, her team saturated an even smaller area with a targeted list of key media, which included certain local print publications and the city’s NPR affiliate.

Her team also takes the time to “shake the tree” each week in order to find media-worthy stories on campus. This involves simple things like visiting offices and eating with students. In addition, each person on her staff is asked to have lunch once a week with someone he or she doesn’t know, in order to not only “shake the tree” for news stories, but, more importantly, to improve internal relations with her staff and the rest of the campus.

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