Attribution Isn’t Just for Marketing. Optimizing PR Matters, Too
By Rajagopal Sathyamurthi | 5.22.17
Most marketers are obsessed with attribution—and with good reason: Not only are they being held accountable for campaign performance, but they’re also on a mission to continually optimize that performance. More and more, that applies to PR, as well.
PR is playing an increasingly integral role in the marketing mix. As a result, about three quarters of marketers are planning to increase their PR budgets over the next five years, according to research from the Association of National Advertisers. Those marketers are going to want to know it’s money well spent.
If you’re one of those marketers, consider PR attribution as insurance for the money you’re investing in PR.
Without PR attribution, you only know the top of the funnel; i.e., which publications wrote about your brand. But with PR attribution, you can see how your efforts affect goals and metrics aligned with the lower part of the funnel, such as whether those articles prompt downloads, convert leads into customers, and so forth.
Marketers need to deepen their knowledge of PR attribution so their organizations can benefit from the money they’re investing in PR.
PR is not just impressions
Search for the definition of “PR attribution” and you’re unlikely to find much, because quantifying PR through data and analytics is a fairly new practice.
If I were to define it, I’d say it’s “understanding the performance of earned, owned, or newswire media through its impact on bottom-line metrics that are specific to your business.”
The traditional way of measuring PR is through impressions, a metric that was originally created by and for the advertising industry. In advertising, impressions refers to the number of eyes an ad receives. In other words, the total viewership count of an ad. In PR, however, the impression metric corresponds to the viewership of an entire publication.
It doesn’t take a scientist’s mind to understand that impressions of a publication has zero correlation with the number of people who actually end up reading a particular article, let alone the number of people who visit a company’s website after reading that article. Beyond site visits comes what those visitors do once they’re on that company’s website. That’s what marketers and their PR colleagues need to track.
Having captured and analyzed millions of online articles’ performance data at AirPR, we’ve seen that a blog post that goes viral can generate an order of magnitude more site visits and conversions than an earned piece in a top-tier publication. We’ve also seen instances when an owned media article outperformed earned media because it was promoted the right way. Sometimes trade publications have greater returns, too, due to their highly targeted audiences.
How many site visits did a piece of owned content drive and how many of those site visits convert or perform an action on that company’s website? The impression metric fundamentally fails to capture this behavior. Herein lies the power of PR attribution.
If you can master it, you’ll get other senior leaders thinking of PR as a serious driver of business outcomes.
4 benefits of PR attribution
Intrigued? Perhaps cautiously optimistic? Start seeing a return on your PR investments by using PR attribution in these four areas:
1. See which publications drive more of the behaviors you’re after.
Understanding the site impact of content in different publications can provide insight into which direction or PR strategy you should use. For instance, if you find that articles from publication X consistently drive more website conversions than publication Y, test increasing your pitches to publication X and decreasing what you do with publication Y.
Cutting the clutter in terms of the content you pitch and publish is a quick way to work more efficiently and prove to the C-suite that you’re focusing on what works and doing less of what doesn’t.
2. Use topic segmentation to determine which topics to align your brand with.
Topic segmentation allows you to figure out if articles that mention a specific topic—in tandem with mentions of your brand or company—perform better than when your brand is mentioned in articles focused on different topics. If you’re seeing consistently better results when your company is mentioned along with a certain topic, focus more of your pitching efforts there.
SaaS business Sailthru, for example, used key messaging tracking to identify “data science” as a story trend that drives amplification and traffic to its website. This intel was immediately integrated into the company’s owned content strategy to raise distinct queries and search visibility.
3. Gain an understanding of which is performing better: your earned or owned media.
It’s important to know how your own blog content fares in comparison to earned or newswire content. Once you track this, you’ll have a better understanding of how to move forward in a strategic way.
Consider: One of the biggest takeaways Experian discovered since embracing PR attribution is the potency of its various blog properties. Over the course of just one fiscal year, the company realized a 500 percent increase in content consumption and traffic to other parts of its website as a result of its owned media efforts.
4. Identify trends and anomalies that can drive better decision making.
Recent advancements in PRTech have enabled us to provide insight into the “why” and “how” of PR in addition to the “what.” PR analytics tools today provide data visualization features that can graphically show you where important business outcome metrics spike, so you can correlate those with other business events. This will help you gather insight on why those spikes happened and what you need to do to generate the next spike.
PR and marketing need a level change in measurement. Embracing PR attribution is a driving factor in getting there.
About the Author
Rajagopal Sathyamurthi is CTO and co-founder of AirPR, a PRTech company focused on enabling businesses to make data-driven marketing and PR decisions. He spent time as a software engineer for Zynga and a technical director for DreamWorks Amination before co-founding AirPR with Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer. Find him on LinkedIn and on AirPR’s blog.