The Best and Worst of PR Measurement - Round 2: Benchmarking

In this second edition of our look at common types of public relations measurement, and their pros and cons, we will discuss benchmarking and how companies can use it to measure the success of a public relations campaign.

What it is:

At its most basic, benchmarking is essentially a measurement technique that involves an organization learning something about its own practices and the practices of selected others, and then compares these practices. This is sometimes referred to as a baseline against which results are compared. Benchmarking is commonly done within public relations, even if not as a formal study.

A few of the most common benchmarks for measuring a PR program’s success include:

  • Number of news releases distributed
  • Time spent pitching news stories to media
  • Number of interviews conducted between your spokesperson and the media
  • Number of inquiries referencing coverage in the media
  • Spikes in traffic on your website in conjunction with coverage
  • Social stats (including growth of followers, likes, engagement, etc.)

Beginning with the first month of a public relations campaign, chart your company’s overall amount of media mentions, news releases, and more, and compare those numbers to those of your major competitors. This creates a foundation to benchmark against which you can measure the progress of your PR effort going forward. Each month numbers should be re-evaluated and compared to the previous month.

Benefits:

Benchmarking provides an ongoing tool to measure the success (or lack thereof) of a campaign. It’s an easy way to determine if a particular strategy is effective. It can help you modify campaigns as necessary; for example, if it is determined coverage versus your competitors is declining, it is a red flag that likely your communications strategy needs revision. Conversely, if coverage is increasing, it provides reassurance that the initiative is working.

Benchmarking is generally spreadsheet-based and offers a way to showcase hard numbers that can be used to prove whether or not a campaign is moving in the right direction. These numbers are an easy way of gauging ROI. Hard numbers are easy to understand, even without context, and can be passed up the chain to justify the initiative and investment.

 

Weaknesses:

Benchmarking compares a company to how it was before the public relations campaign or initiative began. While this is a great way to show forward momentum, the baseline is typically set pretty low. If you are starting at square one, even a placement or two is a step in the right direction, but does not necessarily translate into the end goal: business results.

Another weakness is that some of the metrics could be hard to track if you never had a set PR plan in place before. For example, while it is easy to determine how many news releases were distributed, the time pitching may be impossible to determine if there was never a reason to track that figure.

Additionally, benchmarking can be time consuming. To really look at where you need to place more effort, what you have achieved, and how much effort has been put forth (and then look at your competitors as well) is no simple task. This is especially true if everything is done well, which entails in-depth analysis to determine which of these actions helped create tangible business results.

Overall assessment:

As the saying goes, “you can’t get where you are going unless you know where you’ve been.” Benchmarking definitely provides a baseline for which to compare all future results and is a constant statistic which to compare to, allowing you to compare specific results year over year to prove success. It’s a great place to start when building a new public relations campaign or initiative.

To truly get the best results it is essential to not only look at your company, but your main competitors as well and compare the results. Going from 5 to 15 placements a quarter isn’t as much of a success if a competitor is getting 50 a quarter. This may be a bit time consuming and tedious, but it will provide a realistic look at the landscape and allow you to set realistic and effective goals.

As great as benchmarking is in itself, combining it with a goals-based measurement system is likely going to get the best results. Because as much as the benchmark measurements show the level of PR activities, they do not show actual success in reaching goals – by far the most important aspect of any public relations initiative.