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Top 5 Rising Trends in Measuring ROI
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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It's no secret that measuring return on investment (ROI) in public relations is about as abstract as measuring success in a political debate. We can all point to something but have to get through a skosh of hot air to do it. At least, that is most of our clients' perspective. It's also no secret traditionalists are growing tired of advertising value equivalency (AVE). "It's not accurate," "I hate doing the math," or "It isn't precise measurement" is what they say. However, you have clients who own small businesses who say, "So how much did my investment in your agency really get me? I have a board meeting in five minutes. Love you." 

Tracking ROI is crucial to any PR project or campaign, but finding the middle ground of metrics can be a sticky wicket, depending on whom you ask. That said, most flacks who hold helping the client rather than their own soapbox close to the vest find themselves in a conundrum. I'm one of them. Ergo, try these rising trends on for size with your clients. No sourcing needed, just send a donation to...eh, sorry. I have been informed by my editors that this is frowned upon in this establishment. So just enjoy: 

1. Redefining AVE. This tactic tends to help solve the kerfuffle of "What did I get for what we are paying." Consider this simple canon for PR moving forward: The ubiquitous dollar value based on PR outreach for clips is not based on value...it's only about cost. Think about it. We want to stress value of the outreach, cultivating the relationship, the share of voice in the article, the amount of talking points used and the tonality. None of that has to do with cost (Space in clip X Column inches X Ad Rate X Whatever...), it's all about value to the client and their target audiences. It's true that AVE underestimates true editorial, but flacks have been known to overestimate the editorial by using it in full, when in truth, the writer used a sentence from your poorly etched boiler plate. In summary, if you necessarily have to use AVE, redefine it. Traditionalists hate it, but who cares? They don't have your clients. 

2. Output Versus Outcome. Another aspect of ROI that begs redefining is what specifically we are measuring. Many times, we like to tell the clients the work that went into the sole clip for the month. Sure, it makes us feel good when we are sending the bill...and it resolves that whole guilt complex for getting an editorial in the local Greensheet found only in grocery stores. Output is about what is working. From PR tactics to social media strategies, let the client know what is working and why. This can help you position your efforts in a more tangible way, especially if you are looking at what you will stop using to get more "outcome." This is the fruit of our labor. It could be a deskside briefing, a lunch with a VIP, or even an introductory email. None of these are reaping a harvest, but never underestimate the power of a seed. 

3. How Do You Label PR? Public relations can be used for many things based on the client's needs, including gaining credibility, brand recognition, influencing a debate or conversation, or even leading to sales. Regardless of how the client wants you to work, be certain said client understands your work. Often, we will put "Introduced to Mayor" as a bullet point...and meh?! What does that introduction do? There's the rub measurement. Discuss it. Position it. Bulletizing it just makes your client ignore it. 

4. Is Your Coverage Really Engaging? So, social media is big. Go ahead, write that breaking news down...I'll wait. However, the measurement behind social media can become a mystery if you don't help you client understand its value. That is easy to determine but difficult to turn into "clips" or "coverage." Consider quality of engagement as a measurement. Did you get an answer on a post? Evaluate it. Did you get a retweet? Determine the source and how it led to continued conversation and brand visibility. Did your tweet create a conversation or spark interest? If so, follow the crumbs. When it comes down to it, social media comes down to two Cs: community and conversation. Break out your ruler and begin measuring there. 

5. Break Down Your Placements. It is not good enough to just count the clips; you need to dissect the clips to determine worth and value. I would be proud if my regional press release scored 15 editorials, but how many of those original articles benefits the client? Your client's name is mentioned in a trend piece located on page 72 of Time, but before you break out the bubbly, consider the national trade publication that talks about your client over the span of two pages. You may end up getting more "bang for the client's buck" out of the trade piece versus the national mainstream publication that comes with a magnifying glass to find your client in the article. Do the extra work. Your client will thank you later. 

Flacks, we will always have to measure ROI, but our efforts should not be in vain. Determine what your clients want measured before you break out the tape and get to work. You may be surprised how that ROI number skyrockets later. 

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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