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. 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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  • Hi Rebecca – thanks for pushing for more and better measurement! (and thanks to @jgombita for alerting me to your post.)

    A few comments:
    Re OTS — I’d offer that reach, particularly in the online world, is tough to get right. I’d rather startups (and old fogies, too) think in terms of the RIGHT stakeholders rather than the MOST stakeholders. The scale question also isn’t as important in the B2B world.

    Key message pickup is a good one — still output-oriented, but very helpful for planning and strategy. More on that in a minute.

    Changes in opinion/attitude: great internal communications item, and not as difficult or expensive to measure as one might think. You can ask customers and note the responses, use free survey tools, use your Facebook and Twitter followers as star chambers and ask them, as you intimate.

    Changes in behavior: Business outcomes. Can we measure the precise contribution of a specific communication? Sure! We need to spend some money to do so, but we certainly can do it.

    Most notably, though, research and measurement help us plan more strategically; facts and data win the day. We’re typically the only department that gets away with saying “trust me” instead of backing up our plans with strong research and accountability means.

    There’s darn good reasons to measure — but it’s the strategic value that outweighs almost everything else.

    Good on ya!

    • Wow, Sean! Thank you for such a wonderful and thoughtful comment!

      You make a good point about the RIGHT stakeholders as opposed to sheer quantity. But then again, reaching more of the right stakeholders is better than reaching fewer. I agree, though, that quality should be a factor here (startup or no).

      As far as changes in opinion, that’s exactly why I recommend it! For the value that it can provide, it isn’t necessarily hard to measure. Just like you said, using free survey tools and organic connections can yield a great deal of information.

      You know I’m right there with you on connecting the dots between communication and business outcomes. If only it were a bit cheaper or less time intensive, then more companies could (and maybe would) seek out this information.

      The only response I have to your last point is: hear hear!!

      • Thanks Rebecca — my beef about reach is that too many of us start and stop there, and there’s such a, um, diversity of opinion about what these numbers actually mean, how they’re calculated and who’s doing the counting. The advertising model says if we generate X impressions we’ll get Y in sales — we know from a fair amount of research that the PR calculus is different owing to the timing and relevance of the message, the quality of the messenger and even the user experience of the product or service. Reach or OTS needs more disciplined context than it typically gets…

        No arguments, though — we surely want to reach more people than fewer people, but the OTS total matters a lot less than the OTS among relevant audiences…

        Check out the “validated metrics” materials from AMEC and Dr. David Michaelson (PRSA webinar from last week) to see the latest and greatest… and

        • I understand that. Reach is useless without additional context. I always need to be sure to remind folks to never use reach or impressions in a vacuum.

          Thanks for sharing that webinar! I will definitely be watching that after work today!

  • An easy way to know when your name is mentioned is to use Google Alerts. Set it for as many keywords as you need (including your own name and your company name) and it will save a lot of time searching for articles.

    Charlie Seymour Jr

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