How to Measure Public Relations

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Traditionally, public relations has always been difficult to measure. In traditional PR, pros often used “column-inches” to measure reputation management. However, this process did not account for the quality of the coverage or its ability to encourage follow-up. In the online world, however, the bane of measurement has largely subsided. Clients can monitor factors such as “clicks” to evaluate marketing campaigns, and some vendors such as Facebook often help users to measure response rate in a number of ways.

… to pursue due diligence, you must start to measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts

Perhaps, the most important measure for online publicity involves the use of Google Analytics. Since the corporate website represents a focal point for generating  interest, Google has provided this helpful program with a number of measurements to evaluate a search engine optimization campaign and the engagement of prospects once they reach your website.

Online publicity involves a number of techniques such as blog entries, online press distribution, e-newsletters and online news coverage. As corporate clients engage in these techniques, they should use Google Analytics as a neutral monitor of their success. The most effective way to set this up involves creating a spreadsheet to track key parameters each month. Google Analytics provides a comprehensive list of measurements to evaluate any website.

Assuming your I.T. person has enabled Google Analytics (automatically installed with nearly every website), simply sign in to Google and search for Google Analytics to access your account. Under “audience overview,” you will find every statistics you need. The most important item is the number of “users.” This number tells you how many unique visitors have accessed your website in any given time period. If this number does not increase on a monthly basis, your publicity efforts have not been effective.

In addition to SEO, which affects how many visitors are interested in your company website, you can also use Google Analytics to measure “engagement.” How do visitors respond once they get there? Statistics such as the average session duration and page visits per session provide this information. One particularly interesting statistic involves the bounce rate. The bounce rate tells you what percentage of people visit just one page and then leave. A high bounce rate means your engagement is dismal.

You can address the results from Google Analytics in many ways. But to pursue due diligence, you must start to measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. And Google provides the perfect tools to do so.

Public Relations Definition and Results

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Public relations as an industry simply connotes any form of unpaid publicity.

Before you can properly pitch your public relations services, you must make sure your prospect knows what you do. The common definition of public relations has absolutely nothing to do with what the practice is all about. In general, public relations in the everyday parlance of the English language means a slightly dishonest manipulation of public opinion for somewhat dubious ends.

In reality, public relations as an industry simply connotes any form of unpaid publicity. Thus, any form of publicity that does not involve a direct payment, that is advertising, is public relations. In common practice, public relations involves the generation of news articles by pitching reporters or editors of a publication. In the Internet age, public relations has expanded to include other forms of unpaid publicity such as blogs, e-newsletters and the distribution of online press releases.

Most experts suggest that the ideal marketing budget for any company should include about 50 percent advertising and 50 percent public relations. In my opinion, public relations is even more important. For example, what are you more likely to read, a large display ad or a small interesting news article on the same page?

Once you overcome the resistance to public relations, you are faced with another conundrum. The impact of public relations is notoriously hard to measure. While advertising can be measured by the response rate, the impact of a public relations campaign can be much more amorphous. Public relations involves reputation management, and its effects general involve a more long-term impact based on publicity over many months. But clients typically become restless, and many expect immediate results.

This difficulty can be easily solved in the sphere of online public relations. In my post next week, I will discuss the best way to measure the impact of public relations online through Google Analytics, which can be used to quantify both search engine optimization and client engagement.

Content Remains Key

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As the electronic landscape continues to change, one component remains key: the centrality of content in website rankings.

And so, public relations professionals, who are the best choice to create valuable print content, are becoming more and more critical in the online arena as well.

As Google’s ranking algorithm becomes more sophisticated, the various machinations by SEO experts is getting more abstruse and convoluted every day. Yet for those who are following Google’s stated desires — to reward valuable original content — the best way to ensure high ranking’s involves doing it the old-fashioned way: earning it.

If you create content visitors enjoy or find useful, you will naturally create inbound links to your site, and that remains the best way to ascend to the top of the ranking lists. Basically, any link you can’t control will help you. Just like the key to successful public relations, a neutral gatekeeper is the key to increasing value. That’s why, unlike advertising, your best choice remains satisfying your various audiences instead of self-promotion.

And so, public relations professionals, who are the best choice to create valuable print content, are becoming more and more critical in the online arena as well. Of course, inbound marketing and creating viral content involves writing skills, something difficult to teach and the product of years of experience. While it is relatively easy to learn how to use social media, writing is constantly improving, and those who do so every day naturally rise to the top.

As SEO experts try to remain relevant, they are resorting more and more to the creation of valuable content instead of trying to guess how Google will change its ranking algorithm on a month-to-month basis. Because if you know Google’s motivation, the promotion of valuable original content, you don’t have to worry about other ranking factors as they become obsolete over time.

So, for companies concerned about their organic website ranking, the best strategy involves hiring an online public relations expert instead of an SEO consultant. Doing so will give you a stream of useful publicity and improve your position on the search engine results pages at the same time.

Finding Corporate News

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Many clients and prospects tell me, “We don’t generate any news,” and they especially express doubts on creating it on a monthly basis, our suggested timing for distribution of press releases.

… you will generally create more press releases overall by following a once-a-month discipline.

I’d like to expand on this topic to allay their fears. First of all, almost every organization undergoes an ongoing flows of employees and adaptations to meet market expectations. One of the most accepted types of releases is called the “new hire” release. You draft a press release about a new staff member and include prominent sections of his or her resume and new responsibilities.

This type of release is generally accepted by local business journals with a headshot of the employee for their “Movers & Shakers” column. Beyond generating press for your organization, this makes the new employee feel wanted and happy.

A change in focus for your organization can be handled in a similar manner. The thoughts of your senior staff can be included in the quotes and the headline of the release can be structured to express the latest “trends.”

Perhaps, the change in market emphasis and new employees coincide. Then, your company can create a new “department” and announce that in your press release to show your organization is on the move.

Does your business sell a product instead of a service? Is the product revised and improved on a regular basis? Well, the availability of the latest version presents news your customers need to know. The new capabilities may be summarized in a product press release.

On rare occasions, your clients may express a desire to put out more than one press release a month. These clients should be restrained. For one thing, you will generally create more press releases overall by following a once-a-month discipline. Moreover, their energies should be directed towards other forms of publicity as well including e-newsletters, blogs and bylined articles. More on these in future entries.

Google and the Changing Face of SEO

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Search engine optimization, or SEO, used to be tailor made for public relations. Getting one of your client’s to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) involved creating a series of documents and publishing them online. Drafting a press release every month, and linking it back to the client’s website, created a significant boost. We used one of the main distribution services, usually PRWeb or PR Newswire, and just made sure to include the client’s URL in the body of the text. Then, every publication picking up the release provided an inbound link to our client’s website — the main indicator Google uses to order the SERPs.

Now, a good rule to follow is this one: only when a third party makes an independent decision to link to your site will Google improve your ranking.

Secondly, we created what was called a “content provision” article. These articles were spread throughout the Internet by a series of sites where people could go to get valuable content. Since there was no exclusivity involved, we could submit the same article to a series of sites for maximum impact. People interested in the article could get it for free provided they agreed to maintain the link back to the client’s website. More inbound links to improve our client’s website ranking!

Finally, we draft a short weekly blog entry to ensure a dynamic website and increase the number of “deep links” (to interior pages) to our client’s site. By hosting the blogging software on our client’s site, we ensured everyone linking to the blog was in fact linking to the interior of the website.

Unfortunately, like many things on the Internet, these options changed. Google improved its ranking algorithm to spot and counteract the top two strategies. The only self-created strategies that remain involves blog entries. Of course, many online public relations firms are unaware of this shift. They continue to waste their clients’ time pursuing ancient strategies.

Now, a good rule to follow is this one: only when a third party makes an independent decision to link to your site will Google improve your ranking. You must provide valuable, original content to make this happen.

The General Impression of “Public Relations”

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Working in the field of public relations is sometimes frustrating due to a lack of understanding among the general population. The term “public relations” and “PR” is interpreted in the general society in a very vague and amorphous manner. So when I tell people I run a public relations agency, their faces cloud over and sometimes they even ask exactly what I do.

The term has taken on a relatively negative meaning in the general public, and public relations is viewed as some kind of attempt to deceive people or put out some form of propaganda. In the parlance of Donald Trump, “Wrong!”

In the corporate and B2B world, the marketing department encompasses both advertising and public relations, and most experts suggest you should pay about the same amount of attention to each.

Public relations simply means unpaid publicity, as opposed to advertising which is paid publicity. PR professionals work to generate positive news stories about their clients by drafting press releases, placing bylined articles in trade publications and business journals and more.

The publicity vehicles created by the online revolution transformed public relations. Because if we remember the core definition of PR, unpaid publicity, well, you do not have to pay any money to publish your blog or send out your email newsletter, for example. Google Adwords, on the other hand, or online banners cost money, and they properly belong in the field of advertising.

Public relations is estimated to be about 10 times more effective than advertising per column inch. Ask yourself what you pay more attention to, a large advertisement or a small interesting news story on the same page.

In the corporate and B2B world, the marketing department encompasses both advertising and public relations, and most experts suggest  you should pay about the same amount of attention to each. In reality, most CEOs lean far more heavily on advertising, and they need to be educated about both the definition and the power of public relations.

Public relations professionals need to sound a clarion call against the general impression of their field.

A Press Release by any other Name

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Despite the online revolution and some minor modifications, a press release is still a press release. Whether it is distribution by calling up reporters to pitch them, or by using an online distribution service, there are still certain structural and writing formats, and they must be followed.

. . . the order of the content must follow a “reverse pyramid” structure, with the most newsworthy material up front.

The rules start with the headline. It is generally a good idea to include your client’s name and, if applicable, the name of the product right up front. You can use a subhead to include other pertinent details.

The nature and order of the content differentiates the press release from other short publicity documents. The press release itself must contain only facts, leaving opinions or other superlatives for the quote (generally from the CEO in the third paragraph).

Moreover, the order of the content must follow a “reverse pyramid” structure,  with the most newsworthy material up front. The details can be filled in towards the middle and end sections of the release.

To write a good press release, you must think like a reporter. What developments will be of interest to the readers? What is the actual news in the press release? Or is it just a promotional document? Following the structural tips above will help you to focus on the news and increase the likelihood of publication.

Finally, one of the most neglected areas in press release submission involves graphic support. Press releases with a relevant graphic will improve the likelihood of publication as well as achieving a more prominent location.

The Role of Gatekeepers in Public Relations

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Public relations is up to 10 times more effective than advertising due to the role of gatekeepers. Gatekeepers provide an independent voice about the merit of your company and whether or not your press release/ bylined article is newsworthy.

. . . the neutral opinion of editors serves as a screening mechanism to determine whether your press release gets covered, on what page, and in what manner.

Advertising access is based almost solely on the role of money. Meet a few rules about common decency, and you can achieve almost any size ad you want, in any publication, and in any format. People are jaded with promotional schemes and almost entirely turn off from your message unless you find some innovative way to approach them. And just about every approach has already been tried.

On the other hand, the neutral opinion of editors serves as a screening mechanism to determine whether your press release gets covered, on what page, and in what manner. Publication of bylined articles are also monitored by similar gatekeepers who must determine whether your article provides useful information to the general public, or in the case of trade magazines, the general readership.

The concept of gatekeepers has proven so beneficial to public relations, it is being applied by Google as well for search engine optimization. SEO uses inbound links to determine the merit of your website, but SEO professionals have tried to foster these links in a manipulative manner. Now, however, the Google ranking algorithm is being adjusted to only count those links granted by someone else. In this manner, they can determine whether people are linking to valuable, original content in an unforced manner.

Traditional Public Relations as a Foundation for Online PR

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Online public relations has become like a shiny object attracting PR practitioners and companies alike, yet it must be built on a solid foundation. That’s why it’s preferable to seek out public relations professionals with a background in traditional PR before the online revolution began.

You can tell a prospect to visit your website until you’re blue in the face, but you’re never sure if they really will.

A background in traditional PR provides the skills required to fully take advantage of online opportunities. Some formats such as online press releases and content provision articles rely on knowledge and background in their traditional cousins. Moreover,  a company needs a solid base in traditional marketing before expanding into online opportunities.

For example, a focus on website development without background written marketing materials is a poor strategy for promotional efforts. You can tell a prospect to visit your website until you’re blue in the face, but you’re never sure if they really will. However, if you hand them a leave-behind such as a tri-fold brochure at a sit-down meeting, well, they’ll probably at least glance at it on its way to the trash.

Other major components of foundational public relations rely on items such as media list. Media research provides a long-term deliverable for your client, including contact information and the best beat reporters to contact for your target market.

Only after creating a tri-fold brochure and a media list should you proceed to the next step, creating an optimized website to create an entirely independent flow of revenue.