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Archived News, May 30, 2002

Advice on Assessing Your PR Performance


When spending money on public relations, entrepreneurs often go more on faith than proof. They assume their dollars are being spent wisely, but without effective measurements, they may be wasting scarce resources that could be better used.

Whether your campaigns are handled internally or through outside agencies, "public relations is often a black hole for marketing dollars," says Joe Reischel, vice president/public-relations director for Loren/Allan/Odioso in Cincinnati. "Money goes in, some stories get placed and tacked on the wall, but the return-on-investment evaluation never takes place."

Here are five steps to ensure wise use of every dollar you spend on PR:

1. Keep your eye on the prize. PR is about "raising the awareness of specific qualities of a company to a broad audience, including existing and potential customers, investors, employees, potential acquisition targets, potential third-party vendors and partners, among others," says Loretta Mock, vice president of Citigate Dewe Rogerson, an investor-relations firm in New York.

But the bottom-line reason most start-ups want to generate publicity is to attract more business. This was true for Ultimate Security Systems Corp., a three-year-old Irvine, Calif., firm that developed and markets PowerLock, an antitheft device that prevents thieves from hot-wiring and stealing vehicles. To gain visibility and customers, Ultimate issued news releases about its antitheft device that coincided with insurance and other companies' announcements about high-theft car models and cities.

The news releases highlighted the company's Web site and toll-free 800-number. Ultimate determined it received mentions in more than 400 newspaper, television, radio and magazine stories and more than 6,000 qualified sales leads through the toll-free number and Web site.

Dave Yewman, general manager of Weber Shandwick Worldwide in Portland, Ore., says start-ups should ask two questions when considering PR campaigns: Whom do I want to reach and what do I want them to do?

Says Mr. Yewman, "If they did this [first], they'd spend a lot less time lusting after The Wall Street Journal or Business Week and lot more time answering sales leads from potential customers."

2. Define your PR objectives.

List the milestones you want your PR to achieve. Do you want to increase visibility or sales? Do you want to attract venture capitalists or boost visits to your Web site? Once you've determined your objectives, establish time periods for tracking your progress., an Internet-based resource-management company, matches pharmaceutical companies and other sponsors of clinical research with prescreened, qualified independent "monitors" who will oversee clinical trials. These biotechnology experts, nurses and other health-care professionals help ensure the scientific studies comply with U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations and procedures.

But when it was founded in 2001, the Lower Gwynedd, Pa.-based company needed sponsors and monitors. It turned to PR to build brand awareness to help with recruiting and attracting clients for its services. Its campaign included trade-show participation; speeches by company officials at industry seminars and conventions; and news releases.

3. Monitor implementation and performance.

Denise Bauwens, a Media, Pa.-based PR consultant, advises start-ups to closely monitor the implementation and progress of their PR campaign. "[Ask for] monthly reports that detail which journalists have shown interest in a particular subject, what interviews have been conducted, which stories are scheduled to run and which will appear in that given month," she says. As in sales, if there's nothing in the pipeline, the plan isn't working and needs to be re-evaluated.

A strong PR plan will include editorial-calendar tracking, case studies, analyst briefings, competitive-media tracking, speaking opportunities, bylined and op-ed articles and letters to the editor, she says. Entrepreneurs should look "for signs that the PR firm is using the most up-to-date techniques. For example, clients should be wary of any PR program that relies heavily on news releases. Most daily-news outlets brand the release 'old news' the instant it crosses the wire," says Ms. Bauwens.

To measure the effectiveness of its PR campaign, posted a form on its Web site requiring visitors who registered to say how they learned about the service. More than 70% of respondents said PR activities were the reason.

According to company executives, the PR effort helped surpass its goals for its first year. It recruited more than 730 monitors in 21 countries overseeing the research work of more than 100 companies and generated $5 million in revenues.

4. Quantify and qualify results.

How you measure the effectiveness of your PR campaign -- and the cost of measuring them -- depends on the goals of the campaign. For instance, you might need to pay only a few hundred dollars monthly to have a news-monitoring service find and send stories written about your company or product.

If your objective is to increase Web-site visits, hire a Web-monitoring service such as Webtrends to track them for you.

Don't assume that the more press you get, the better. "Unless PR gets the right messages to the right audiences, it's a waste of time and money," says Keith Raffel, chairman and founder of Upshot Corp., a customer-relations-management software firm in Mountain View, Calif. "Counting column inches won't tell you much."

He believes every CEO should want to know:

  • how many leads came in because of PR;
  • how many of those were qualified leads; and
  • how many turned into customers.

"Unless a company can track leads -- and sales -- by source, it won't know which programs make sense and which don't," he says. "Once it has that information, it can focus its attention on the programs with the best sales impact."

Ultimate Security Systems set up a spreadsheet using Filemaker Pro to track calls to its toll-free number and hits to the Web site, and retained media monitoring services to document the news coverage. CEO James Cooper says the company now knows that 80% of its sales leads were generated by the news coverage, that more leads came from the Web site than by phone and that a majority of leads turned into sales.

Upshot tracks the source and progress of all sales leads generated by its PR and marketing efforts. "When they come in, our workflow engine automatically routes leads to the right sales reps, who are notified by e-mail. Thanks to these tools, we no longer have to guess about the effectiveness of a [public-relations] program or campaign," says Mr. Raffel.

Other assessments, such as focus groups with representatives of your target audience, may be more subjective and expensive. If you hire a PR firm, expect to spend between 5% and 10% percent of your PR budget in staff time and expenses to measure the effectiveness of your campaign, says Norman Birnbach of Birnbach Communications Inc. in Marblehead, Mass.

5. Know when to pull the plug.

One of the hardest marketing decisions is when to end a PR campaign. Anthony Mora, president and CEO of Los Angeles-based Anthony Mora Communications Inc., says many start-ups don't pay attention to PR timelines. "In their understandable rush to launch their new business, they often implement a PR campaign for 30 to 45 days, pulling the plug on the campaign if it hasn't achieved the desired objectives in that time frame," he says.

Keep tabs on results so you can decide whether to continue your efforts, he says. "You don't want to keep an ineffective campaign in place, yet what often happens is that a company invests in a campaign, gets nervous in 30 to 60 days and [ends it]. It's akin to getting off the operating table mid-surgery because the procedure is taking longer than expected," he says.

Making hasty decisions isn't wise, but neither is throwing good money after bad. If you're losing sleep over a campaign that's not producing results and you have more pressing needs, you may want to halt your efforts temporarily.

Copyright 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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