PR Measurement for Startups

We all know that even the smallest startup needs PR. (And we hope they know it, too!) But what many may be overlooking is the need to measure their PR efforts, no matter how small.

Agencies and larger corporations are already measuring the effectiveness of their PR campaigns and programs, and while these measurements may not be realistic for startups (too much time or money), they can still offer some lessons and best practices.

I know the list below is not exhaustive by any means, but the measures below are the most important for startups to adapt when analyzing PR. Some of the measures I have suggested are not scientific and by no means as accurate as what we may like. But keep in mind that the point of measuring is to reduce error and uncertainty, not completely eliminate it. Any reduction is valuable, no matter how small.

Opportunities to see. Before you bite my head off for suggesting something as basic as impressions, let me explain. This should never be the only measure put in place to measure PR (or anything for that matter). Impressions by themselves are worthless, but using them along with other measures can be informative. For example, if you’re impressions increase along with positive sentiment, you may be able to make a connection between your outreach and actual consumer opinion.

While the average startup will not be able to subscribe to the same media services as agencies, there are numerous free tools at their disposal that can help. Many newspapers and publications list their circulation on their website, and if an article is online, your job is even easier. Compete.com and others can tell you the estimated monthly visitors to websites. These numbers will not necessarily be as accurate, but remember, this measure should never be used in a vacuum anyway.

Key message pick-up. Getting your name in the New York Times is almost always a boost, but it matters even more when your key messages come through. Measuring whether or not your messages are included is as simple as reading and keeping a record of this information.

For startups strapped for time, reading and analyzing every article or mention may not be possible. The best method to solve this problem would be statistical sampling, but again, this may still be too much time. The best method for busy startups may be to select 10 – 50 articles at random each month to read and analyze. While this will not be as accurate, this will still give a good sense of how clearly and how often messages are coming through.

Consumer opinion and attitudes. Often the goal of a campaign or program is to change consumer opinion or attitudes toward a brand, issue or company. Agencies and companies with large budgets can often use survey methods, focus groups and in-depth interviews to evaluate whether their campaign was effective in moving the needle.

Startups probably do not have the money to fund these types of measurements, but they have access to tools that can help them to identify changes in public opinion easily. It can be as simple as qualitatively tracking the tone of conversations on Twitter and Facebook. While I don’t mean to suggest that conversations and reactions on Twitter are completely representative of the population at large, it’s likely that an effective campaign would move the needle both on and offline. Reviewing opinions before and after a campaign will be the best way to truly gauge any change you may have caused.

Consumer behavior. In an ideal world, we would love to be able to track which article or which message drove a consumer to buy a product, change their opinion or even vote a certain way. Unfortunately we’re still unable to measure to this degree, but we know that we have other options. We can correlate sales numbers, for example, to communications to try to make connections. And again, survey and other research methods can be employed to understand why a behavior may have changed.

My suggestion for startups may still not be feasible (depending on the product or service), but there is a simple method to tracking behavior. If a startup has a storefront, for example, a sales clerk could track the number of people who come into the store for one hour each week. Varying this hour and taking the average can give a pretty good figure for foot traffic. There are many simple ways to measure behaviors without using elaborate methods.

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