The Best and Worst of PR Measurement - Round 3: Goals-Based

In this third edition of my look at common types of public relations measurement, and their pros and cons, we’ll look at arguably the most realistic way of measuring PR success – goals-based measurement.

What it is:

Goals-based measurement is exactly what it seems, setting goals at the beginning of a campaign or time period and measuring success based on whether or not those goals are achieved. Goals should be set based on clear and measurable objectives that advance corporate goals. Without results-focused objectives that match corporate goals, PR measurement produces only data that essentially proves nothing.

Example: Being able to say that a placement received 2 million views is fantastic – but if all of those views were from an audience that does not move your companies end sales goals, those views really mean nothing and are not worth measuring.

To start the goal-setting process, it may be helpful to list the company’s top three objectives for the year and determine how PR can help meet these pre-defined goals. Then, measure PR initiatives against those objectives – for instance, how does a media relations campaign meet the overall corporate objectives? In many cases, the end goal is to create an audience that then turns into leads, which in turn the sales team converts into customers and revenue.


Goals are completely unique and tailored to each specific company. Chances are, no two companies will have the same PR goals. For some, one placement in a publication like the New York Times is a win for the whole year. Another company, a series of bylined articles in Government Computer News would much better reach their target audience and increase business leads.

Today, PR must measure more than reach, opportunities, or impressions. Measurement requires a qualitative assessment of each media placement that includes sentiment, messages, quality of publication, spokespeople mentioned and other key factors that affect how the story resonates with readers — all of which can be measured by specific goals as opposed to a more numbers based measurement option.

Another benefit to goals-based measurement is also that goals can be flexible and stretch way beyond measuring just media placements. As of late, there has been less of an emphasis on traditional news media for many companies. While placements are obviously an important aspect, social media can be just as important. Many businesses and consumers make purchases based largely on word of mouth and recommendations of friends and colleagues obtained through social media. Goals can be set in place that not only includes an increase in followers, but also more interaction with these followers.

The same can be said about other aspects of PR such as securing a key speaking slot at a conference. If that is what would move the needle for your company, goals-based measurement is flexible enough to include that as and objective.


One of the major weaknesses with goals-based measurement is that most PR goals are innately hard to measure. It is difficult to establish values for what a success is. While many types of measurement have tried to set a standard across the board, consensus of what to measure or how to best measure has not yet been established.

Goals-based measurement can also be a bit wishy-washy. If you are working with a CEO (or whomever handles the PR budget) who greatly prefers hard numbers – goals-based measurement could be a hard sell. While one article in a top pub might seem like a win for the month, if they are used to seeing 10 articles in that same time period, it may be harder to justify the goal.

Another weakness is that goals will vary immensely by organization (which can also be a benefit). However, since each organization will likely have a different definition of what they consider a success, some time will have to be spent determining what would truly move the needle for a given company. Chances are, it will probably involve a pretty thorough look at your organization and past successes/failures to understand which goals make sense and what potential placements/social media goals/speaking opportunities would draw in the most leads.

Along these same lines, with goals-based measurement when starting with a new client it is hard to determine where goals should lie. It is much harder to gauge what is achievable or what might drive results if there has not been a formal PR program in place before. While you might think a goal of getting a placement in The Washington Post is worth going after, six months down the road you may realize a byline in a focused vertical drives in many more leads and is more worth pursuing as a goal.

Overall assessment:

Goals-based measurement may be the best option when it comes to PR measurement as a whole. While it still has some flaws and cannot be measured against other companies since the goals are specific to each individual program, it does likely provide the most realistic picture of PR success.

The key is the flexibility. PR comes in so many different forms and methods that defunct types of measurement like AVE’s in no way make sense anymore. With goal-based measurement companies have the opportunity to make their own rules and it provides them with a reason to really take a look at what past programs have led to business results and will continue to do so in the future.

Let’s talk.