Monday, July 13, 2009

The magic formula for public relations ROI

Over the course of dozens of e-mail interviews for a forthcoming BNET article, several PR firms and their clients could not articulate any discernible return on investment (ROI) metric for press releases they sent out over BusinessWire, PRNewswire, and PRWeb.

If there was no ROI on the money invested in paid for release syndication services, how was anybody measuring success at all?

Here are four answers I received from public relations firms about ROI on the paid wire services:

  • "I expect there is a way to measure ROI, Drew, but it could involve a monitoring cost, and then what would be be measuring? In fact, I believe my clients and I may differ in how we measure ROI. When I place stories in media that reach my clients' markets, then I believe I've done my job. My clients, on the other hand, might measure ROI in the inquiries and reservations they receive from the stories. Others may measure it in the name recognition they know they're getting from paid wire press release distribution."
  • "No ROI measurement or web site traffic measurement done by my clients in relation to PR."
  • "I haven't seen an ROI measurement model yet that I think is worth a damn, so I don't measure that way."
  • "That's really difficult to measure and our clients don't demand it."

In an economic downturn, ROI definitions can't be this hazy because no company wants to throw money away on PR and not know the benefit of what they are getting. There is no excuse for any client to be on autopilot when it comes to PR and just merely accepting seeing their names somewhere.

The old stand-by "what the equivalent cost in advertising space dollars" metric has been weakened, especially with the tumbling prices the media is charging for ads, and the pull power of social media.

Seeing your name and company in an article or blog is half the battle -- it's what happens afterward that is the heart of any ROI.

For example, one of my clients is a brand research firm which desires press in certain industrial sectors because they have the most financial upside. I have a list of those target sectors, so when I get big stories in those places, the phones really do ring for them. Their sales force uses those stories to pry open doors and make appointments.

Clients should tell publicists what happens after interviews are published or broadcast appearances are made. Do they get phone calls and/or e-mails? Do they get a bump in web traffic and online queries? Are the results distributed to the sales force? (Over the years, some of my clients let me e-mail media placements directly to sales reps around the country).

Former New York City mayor Ed Koch's catchphrase was "How am I doing?" This is something that not only every publicist should ask themselves, but every one of their clients too. And they should be talking about "how they're doing" together frequently because that's the true measure of ROI.

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