How To Measure ROI of Online PR? | Outbrain Blog


PR Professionals, How Do You Measure the Impact of Online Press Coverage?

| Will Fleiss


Measure the Impact of Online Press Coverage

One article about a company in a reputable online publication can be a game-changer for business results, and when it happens, that company just knows it. Up and to the right is a pretty easy trend to recognize.

But it’s a very rare occurrence. More often than not, successful online press coverage (or “earned media“), builds brand awareness over time with a consistent drumbeat of brand mentions, in-depth articles, guest blogging, and interviews. While this type of online word-of-mouth from influential publications with large audiences is arguably the most significant driver of purchase intent, it’s extremely difficult to measure.

I asked 2 PR professionals and a growth hacker how they measure the impact of online PR efforts for their clients. Here’s what I found out:

Wilson Cleveland – SVP of Digital Media at Prosek Partners

Wilson Cleveland

What numbers do you use to quantify the success of a PR campaign?

It depends entirely on the campaign goal. We’ll report impressions and shares and whenever possible, referral traffic from the earned placement to the client’s site or owned property.

Is there a difference between the numbers your clients care about, and what you think they should care about in terms of measuring the impact of a PR campaign?

You also have to understand there is no silver bullet for measuring earned media value. If every journalist linked out client mentions to their respective sites, referral data would become a standard part of the measurement process – But they don’t because it compromises their own SEO and opens the door for readers to leave their site.

Is it difficult to convince clients not to care about impressions or “eyeballs,” and if so, why do you think that is?

Impressions and “eyeballs” are important from a brand awareness perspective so we don’t discount that data.

How long after the press coverage happens do you deliver reporting to the client for a specific campaign?

We of course report monthly and quarterly but for time-sensitive coverage, be it proactive or reactive, we try to report any and all available data as frequently as possible. Sometimes hourly, sometimes in real-time.

Alyssa Schneider – Senior Account Executive at Coyne PR

Alyssa Schneider

What numbers do you use to quantify the success of a PR campaign?

Success of a PR campaign is typically quantified by the number of earned impressions we receive. Impressions can come from traditional media sources (online, broadcast, print) as well as social media. That being said, as we begin to develop more integrated approaches to PR, we have also started reporting website traffic, web downloads (coupons, discussion guides), social media engagement (retweets, likes, follows), etc.

For a specific piece of online press coverage, what numbers do your clients pay closest attention to?

Our clients pay most attention to the impressions of an online article.

Is there a difference between the numbers your clients care about, and what you think they should care about in terms of measuring the impact of a PR campaign?

It really depends on the client and what the goal of the campaign is. If the goal is to educate and drive awareness of a specific health initiative, then our measurement goals may include the amount of donations received or participants for a particular call to action, in addition to the impressions received from media coverage. If we’ve created some type of social component, then another goal could be how many new followers we’re able to secure. Regardless of the campaign, however, it can be challenging to get clients to understand the importance of the quality of content rather than the quantity. We always want to ensure we’re targeting the right audiences who will benefit most from the type of campaign we’re developing.

Is it difficult to convince clients not to care about impressions or “eyeballs,” if so, why do you think that is?

It is challenging to convince clients not to care about impressions but the truth of the matter is that PR, in general, can be a difficult thing to quantify. Awareness and engagement aren’t as tangible as sales figures and click thru rates, so it’s crucial that we share results with clients that showcase the value and importance of PR. Impressions give us data that can help clients put campaigns in to perspective. As mentioned before, I think the greater challenge lies within convincing clients that the quality of impressions matters more than the quantity.

How long after the press coverage happens do you deliver reporting to the client for a specific campaign?

Again, it really depends on the client. If we’re waiting for a top-tier piece of coverage to hit, we’ll typically share that with clients as soon as it airs or posts. In terms of comprehensive reporting, I’d say weekly reports are most common for the duration of a campaign, with one final cumulative report following at the end of a program.

Do you have a favorite example of a client or a particular project where you’re particularly proud of how the measurement was executed?

I used to represent a brand for which we created an unpaid ambassador network of mom bloggers. We built the network on the premise that we could have a mutually beneficial relationship with these women by providing them with content opportunities (product reviews, giveaways, attendance to local events, access to company spokespeople, etc.) The network ranged from bloggers who had millions of fans, followers and readers to smaller, local mom blogs. Because of this, we didn’t just measure the amount of impressions they received from online and social media posts, we also tracked the number of times we communicated with them and how often they engaged with the brand. While impressions for each campaign we worked with them on ranged from hundreds of millions to less than a thousand, the engagement with these bloggers was so strong that they started to defend the company in times of crisis, without being provoked or paid.

This is more of a good PR model than a proud measurement moment, but one of my favorites, nonetheless.

What is your most actionable piece of advice for measuring the impact of the earned media?

Message penetration and extension is key to all brands during any campaign. Don’t stop with just the online placement – see if the outlet would also be willing to post to their social channels. Does the campaign spokesperson use social media? Have he/she post it to their social channels as well. Is there an owned property where the content could be republished – post it there too! Use Outbrain 🙂 to extend the reach of your content even further. Getting an earned placement is great… why not expose it as much as possible?! [I promise we did not ask Alyssa to say that]

Dmitry Dragilev – Founder & Growth Hacker at Criminally ProlificDmitry Dragilev

What is your most actionable piece of advice for measuring the impact of earned media?

All I really care about is conversions. Traffic means nothing to me. I obsesses about how well traffic from each article converts into leads. My action item #1 before I start pitching press is to setup conversions on Google Analytics and make sure they work well. A conversion may mean different things for different startups I work with, here is an example where a conversion means they filled out the form.





See the “Filled out contact form” column? That is what I obsess about. I look at the conversion percentage. Articles that are doing best I tend to pay attention to. I might promote these same articles more to get more leads because they convert the best.

You may get 10,000 visits but if none of them convert they mean nothing. I rather get 2000 visits and get 5%-10% of them to convert over to leads.

My advice: Articles which convert well are your friend. Do not look at raw traffic, look at number of leads from each article.


Clearly impressions are important. After all, people have to see the brand or message in order to be aware of it and influenced by it. Wouldn’t it be nice if every brand mention linked to the company’s website? Then, at least, Dmitry’s approach would be more comprehensive. For SEO and site exit reasons, as Wilson pointed out, this will probably never be the case. Even so, the impact of Alyssa’s army of brand advocate bloggers still won’t necessarily be showing up in your Google Analytics report.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to solving the PR measurement problem. One tactic that we’ve been using internally is retargeting people on Facebook and the Google Display Network with tailored advertisements that have visited certain articles about Outbrain. I guess some would argue that this type of advertising tactic doesn’t fall under the realm of the PR world, but I see it as an opportunity for the PR industry for claiming more credit for the value they are delivering.

How do you measure the impact of earned media? What’s your take on retargeting? Let me know what you think in the comments!

You can learn more about how Outbrain supports 3rd party tracking for retargeting.

spark the conversation!

PR Professionals, how do you measure the impact of online press coverage? #measurePR (TWEET THIS)

photo courtesy of miuenski miuenski via Flickr

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Will Fleiss

Will Fleiss

Will leads content marketing at Outbrain. He's been doing online marketing for 10+ years, spending time on the agency-side at... Read more

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