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    1. Why It’s Hard to Measure PR in the First Place

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      Our in-house data scientist, Fletcher Stump Smith, spends his days building machine learning models that identify news articles relevant to AirPR customers and predict the business impact of those articles. In layman’s terms, Fletcher’s work allows us to solve a pretty itchy problem: the problem of proper PR measurement.

      Recently, Fletcher gave a presentation about what data science looks like at AirPR so our team could get a greater window into how his expertise makes our PR analytics software possible.

      Why share it with you? Great question. Gaining a stronger understanding of the data science behind PRTech can show you how PR data is harnessed to help you achieve your public relations and communications goals. And when you have a grasp on the science behind the tech, you can better explain issues tied to PR measurement to your C-suite leaders.

      Let’s break it down.

      Articles in their raw form aren’t measurable. That said, we rely on technology to identify, categorize, and analyze entities found in a given document (or piece of content). Let’s look at a slice of an article from our blog to illustrate what a computer sees:


      After entities within an article are recognized, our technology identifies constituent parts of each sentence and determines how the words relate to one another. Those entities are then categorized and labeled.

      If a piece of content on the web includes the sentence “AirPR is a PRTech company that provides analytics, insights, and measurement solutions to the evolving PR industry,” our tech will capture relationships between words (indicated by arrows) and identify parts of speech (signified by colored abbreviations).


      From this analysis, we can see that AirPR is a proper noun and a nominal subject, both of which can be indicative of salience. In other words, we can identify which entities are most prominent or relevant to a piece of content. You could liken it to how “Sir Mix-a-Lot” in the sentence “Sir Mix-a-Lot likes sunny days” is more important than “sunny days” in terms of relevancy. Other features that can be identified within an article include word count and paragraph location.

      Cool beans. What does that mean for PR?

      Say you’re an in-house PR manager for a big technology company like Apple that’s mentioned nearly every day in the news. If you manually read through Google Alerts every time your company is mentioned, you’d be swimming in email alerts for decades. A lot of these mentions would be incidental and not necessarily worth tracking from a PR perspective.

      What you really want to know is when and where notable articles about product launches and other company news publish. Being able to distinguish between irrelevant mentions and relevant news is invaluable — and it starts with PRTech.

      Thanks, Fletcher, for the window into your work!

      Live in San Francisco? Be our guest at tonight’s Salesforce panel: “PR Upgraded.”

      Sign up here

    2. PR Data Insights: How to Benchmark Engagement

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      PR’s access to data has grown exponentially in the past few years, however one of the most frustrating aspects about measuring PR is the lack of industry benchmarks available.

      It’s challenging to set measurement goals without an understanding of how others in your field are faring. In fact, PR may be the last business function to have clarity around how to gauge its performance from an industry-wide perspective.

      This year, AirPR aims to change that by providing clear industry benchmarks for important metrics, like InteractionsThe whole goal of PR is to reach and activate your target audiences, so keeping tabs on changing interaction rates specifically is a must.

      To find PR’s Target Interaction Rate, which is 1.8%, we plotted the distribution of nearly 400 event and goal interaction percentages across our entire customer base, including AirPR’s own site data.

      What are events and goals, anyways?

      Events and goals are designated engagement points your website tracks by way of your analytics provider (typically Adobe Analytics or Google Analytics). Examples include demo requests, content or asset downloads, or video plays.

      This target rate of 1.8% is meant to help you better understand if the aggregate performance of your PR-driven interactions is falling above, below, or on par with the rest of your industry cohorts.

      But that’s just one way to gauge success. Another valuable way to understand performance is to zero in on the specific types of interactions that matter to your brand. While specific interactions differ from business to business, there are general categories we can delve into.

      These include events and goals tied to:

      1. Product Exploration

      Knowing which offerings potential customers are exploring can help you understand what’s of most interest or which value propositions are resonating. AirPR customers have a myriad of ways to track general product exploration.

      Two examples of events and goals that fall into the product-exploration interaction bucket are navigating from a homepage directly to a product page, or a product pricing page view. When we isolated all the events and goals tied to any type of product exploration, the average interaction rate was 2.3%.

      2. Increasing Time on Site

      Getting a potential customer to your website is only half the battle. Keeping them there long enough to explore, understand, and consider your product or service is the other half. There are many ways to increase the amount of time a visitor spends on your website.

      Two examples of events and goals that fall into the increase time-on-site bucket are when a video is played to completion or a live chat function is activated. When we isolated all the events and goals tied to increasing a visitor’s time on site, the average interaction rate was 4.7%.

      3. Product Purchase or Sign Up

      Converting a site visitor to a customer (or trial customer) is the ultimate end goal. And while not all businesses provide the explicit ability for product purchase or sign up, here are two examples of events and goals that fall into this interaction bucket: a trial download/sign up, or an order confirmation. When we isolated all the events and goals tied to product purchase or sign up, the average interaction rate was 0.8%.

      What’s most intriguing, IMHO, is to see how these average rates differ. Product exploration and increasing time on site have much higher average rates than actions that require a deeper commitment, like purchase or sign up.

      It’s also important to note that these average interaction rates are going to look different than in marketing or advertising where conversion paths are far more linear.

      PR-driven visitors might trigger different engagement points based on the content that drove them to your site in the first place. The actions taken by visitors reading a blog post could look very different than the actions taken by visitors driven by earned media.

      In the end, we hope visibility to these categories assists you in setting attainable, realistic targets for incremental growth and provides you a better understanding of the power of PR.

      Got questions about your overall interaction rate? Want to tap into this data point? Reach out to usAnd be sure to stay tuned, because we’ve got more PR benchmarks and data points to share.


    3. Rick Liebling On The Power of 3: PR + Social + Tech

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      It’s been said that three is a magic number and when you stop to think about it, some of the best things in life really do come in 3’s.

      Three-piece suits…three little pigs…three sheets to the wind…ok, maybe not that last one, but you get my drift.

      In an effort to channel the power of three, we’re taking you on video exploration of the convergence of PR, social media, and technology.

      To lead our triumvirate travels, we enlisted Unmetric’s Head of Global Marketing, Rick Liebling. A veteran marketer with more than 15 years of agency experience, Rick currently heads Unmetric’s marketing initiatives across the brand, product, and content communication strategies.

      The long-time former PR practitioner turned global marketer is rocking at the center of social, PR, and tech, which make him uniquely qualified to speak on the shifts driving the landscape.

      Rick operates under the firm belief that the vast amounts of PR and social media data available can be used to not only optimize all current efforts, but should also inform future decision-making across marketing. HEAR HEAR!

      We sat down for a candid (and enlightening) conversation with Rick where he graciously shared his thoughts around how social analytics, PR measurement, and innovative technology can work together to demonstrate bottom line business impact.

      Here are just a few of the tasty tidbits Rick offered up. All the videos are under 3 minutes and chock full insightful takeaways from one of the best in the biz.


      On integrating social media into the greater PR/comms strategy:

      Rick Tip #1: Bring social media into the conversation early and involve them in the entire process from creative brief to ideation.


    4. The PR Measurement Challenge


      Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

      Imagine trying to invent a light bulb with a match.

      Or cure malaria with a rampant mosquito.

      The “problem” with PR has always been, and will always be, understanding how on earth the investments made in it map to quantifiable business outcomes; and ultimately, how PR efforts affect the customer, who in turn are the ones supporting the business.

      In other words: Measurement.

      Today, companies are largely data-driven, and this requires us to look at solving the PR measurement problem in a different way than we did five or ten years ago. If we attempt to measure PR at the level where it was created, in the messaging and communication tactics themselves, we will fail miserably because we are missing a huge piece of the pie.

      We cannot measure PR success by headline impressions, or story placements, or (God forbid) advertising value equivalencies. These outcomes do not get us any closer to solving the real problem, which is answering the question of “how does this translate to business value, and what is the customer getting out it?” Instead, this current way of thinking pulls us back to the source of the PR activity itself, which isn’t a metric. It’s an output from a specified task.

      PR Measurement Inquiry

      In order to understand the “what shall we measure?” behind PR measurement, we must first begin by asking the most accurate questions which will get us closer to solving the problem.

      The question isn’t:

      What publication will give me the most headline impressions?

      Rather, it is:

      What publication has the highest probability of reaching my target audience and getting them to take some sort of action?


      What publication will tell my story in a compelling way so that customers understand my value proposition?

      Once the appropriate questions have been posed, PR measurement outcomes should be quantified using metrics like:

      #1 – Do customers understand what value we offer through the stories we are telling? >> Are they sharing stories, engaging with content, or commenting on the posts?

      #2 – Are customers (or potential customers) taking actions that signal they are interested in purchasing our product or service? >> Are they visiting our website, downloading materials, signing up for demos, or making an actual purchase?

      #3 – Are people talking about us positively? If not, what are they saying? >> What is the tone of the reactions to our stories and how do we collect important feedback?

      #4 – How do we compare to innovators or incumbents in our space? >> What is our share of voice and power of voice and are we even on the competitive playing field?

      Ultimately, PR is about listening carefully and telling stories in order to reach a particular audience or customer segment. Gone are the days when it was enough to wave around a story in the New York Times and say: “Look, we did it! Our job is done here.”

      Instead, we are now armed with data that can get us closer to solving the problem of “how PR translates to value for the business.”

      Achieving PR measurement resultsPR Measurement Technology

      PR measurement technology solutions (of which there are many) are merely a conduit to solving the problem. You need them in order to automate activities that pull you (the PR professional) away from critical thinking, relationship building, storytelling, and strategic planning. But you also need to ensure that these technologies ask the correct questions to begin with in order to solve your problem.

      If you have massive amounts of data but no real way to apply it, you are basically swimming up shit creek without a paddle. How do you ensure your PR measurement technology is going to empower you, rather than just create more work for you or arm you with big numbers and fancy pictures?

      Ask yourself these questions:

      1. Am I getting access to information that I can’t find otherwise?
      2. Is this information allowing me to understand the impact of my PR efforts in a clear and concise manner?
      3. Does this technology provide me with insights that can help me make better decisions about future PR efforts?
      4. Do I feel empowered by this technology or am I confused and frustrated?

      As we stand squarely at the center of an industry that is being driven – for better or worse – by new technological advancements, we are required to challenge the status quo, learn new modes and methods for our profession, and ultimately change “business as usual.”

      In other words…we cannot solve the PR measurement problem at the same level where it was created: With PR. We must apply other areas of expertise (data science, analytics, etc.) in order to reach a solution.

    5. Getting inside the brain of Shonali Burke


      There are PR folks who get it; then there are PR folks who get it. Shonali Burke falls into the latter category.

      As the CEO of a PR business, Shonali is:

      #1 – A self-professed measurement + social media geek and constantly champions PR measurement (no wonder we love her).

      #1 – An educator dropping knowledge on future public relations pros at Johns Hopkins University.

      #2 – A PR conversationalist extraordinaire: as such she hosts the monthly Twitter   chat (on which I will be the featured guest tomorrow from 12-1pm ET #shamelessplug).

      After running into Shonali at nearly every PR Measurement related event in 2014, I figured it was high time to transfer the knowledge from her brain onto digital paper and share accordingly.

      So sit back, relax, and enjoy a peek into the wonderfully informed mind of Shonali Burke.


      Photo by Cade Martin Photography

      Rebekah Iliff: You’ve talked for years about “smart measurement” that is outcome focused. Give us a peek into the Burke brain: What’s an example of a recent objective you and your team identified and how did you work backwards from that goal to identify the associated KPI?

      Shonali Burke: We recently wrapped a project with a client in the education space; they were launching a new online offering. Registrations were the ultimate goal, and they were using campaign tracking in Google Analytics very well. What we did was to ensure the creation of tracking links to the relevant page, so that we could attribute visits and conversions from our efforts – our strategy had a mix of earned, owned and paid media – as accurately as possible.

      Based on traffic and conversion trends, we could see what worked (social and paid) and what didn’t so much (focusing on location too narrowly as opposed to niche and interest). That allowed us to pivot our strategy midway through the campaign and put more muscle behind what *was* working as opposed to what wasn’t… and ultimately reach the goal.

      RI: Love the integrated approach. It is so important for PR peeps (and clients for that matter) to think beyond earned media. Given your propensity for metrics, what’s the one thing every PR pro needs to know about PR measurement as 2014 rolls to a close?

      SB: There is no silver bullet.

      RI: True dat. With that in mind, PR pros need to think carefully about how they measure and quantify their efforts. What are 2 of your favorite tools that assist you in providing your clients with smart measurement?

      SB: I actually have three: Microsoft Excel (or Google Spreadsheets), Google Analytics… and the one thing we all have and should use – a brain.

      RI: Ahhhh, yes. The almighty brain. Since you are constantly talking about PR measurement and metrics, what’s one thing you keep hearing yourself say over and over again that you wish the industry would just “get”?