ROI of PR: Tracking strategic communications to business success

By Richard Etchison, US

The challenges of proving the value of public relations and media visibility to their bosses is an age-old conundrum for marketing and communications leaders to face, especially to strictly data-oriented business leaders. Sales and marketing leaders speak in terms of MQL, SQL, prospects and conversions, metrics sometimes insufficient to measure the efficacy of a brand’s media and brand awareness, as well as its bottom-line benefits.

The potency of PR and strategic communications campaigns can, in fact, be measured with hard quantifiable evidence. And perhaps more importantly, the measurement of PR should not be thought of as an isolated KPI from a siloed department. In today’s always-on, interconnected, omnichannel media environment the marketing, communications, and PR programs should be perceived as a single, discipline – a holistic function tied to overarching business objectives – activities integrated toward the common goal of building the brand and growing the business. Let’s look at the qualitative and quantitative ways to measure the ROI of PR/comms as well as some of the challenges.

Communications is a brand building propellant

So, how does PR program success connect to marketing and sales outcomes, on a conceptual level? For B2Bs in particular, a well-conceived communications program is key to building credibility and differentiating from the crowded marketplace. And it’s not only about proving you have a superior product offering at a good price. With much higher dollar signs at stake than consumer products, B2Bs must demonstrate they are a company that understands the industry sandbox in which they play; they must prove they provide good customer service and understand the buyer’s needs; and they must show they are competent and trustworthy. B2B buyers have a lot riding on their choices and their buyers’ journey is long, 2-6 months, with numerous touchpoints. DemandGen’s survey report found that in 2023 the top 2 reasons B2B buyers selected a vendor were (67%) demonstrated a stronger knowledge of company needs and (67%) demonstrated a stronger knowledge of the solution area and business landscape.

Power of PR to show instead of tell

PR and communications do something that advertising cannot because successful PR shows excellence instead of telling people about their excellence. Here are just a handful of hypothetical examples:

  • A CNBC TV appearance based on newsjacking pitch, building executive voice-of-authority and conferring brand credibility, perhaps moving a prospect from awareness stage to consideration stage in favor of the company’s solution
  • An executive opinion article by a regulatory tech company leader in popular trade publication Corporate Compliance Insights, that accrues thought leadership credentials leading to positive brand perception
  • A survey research report that yields salient insights about the latest industry trends, resulting in data-driven story pitches that the media love, and can be repurposed to produce owned web content that boosts domain authority and garner leads via downloads
  • Analyst relations: A cybersecurity company being named to Gartner’s annual Magic Quadrant for best Cybersecurity Endpoint Solution, resulting in immediate inbound leads, SEO, and high-quality visibility
  • A CEOs’ conference panel appearance results in-person networking connections, meetings with prospects, video content, and social engagement

As you can tell from the above, there is a close connection between PR and marketing/sales. However, as my colleague Ellie Jackson notes in our recent post “Measuring What Matters: Missteps in Marketing Reporting,” marketing leaders need to guard against throwing too much weight behind easier-to-measure short-term metrics at the expense of long-term brand building. The long game begins with clear brand identity, messaging, and online presence, fed with a steady drumbeat of earned (and paid) media coverage — coverage with a consistent strategic message that aligns with overall business goals. Especially critical for B2Bs, the endgame ROI of PR is reputation, competitive advantage, and ultimately converting leads by staying top of mind for buyers.

Long game of strategic communications

What is the purpose of PR? To get positive press coverage for your company, sure. It’s an art and a science; it’s turning intangibles like brand affinity, reputation, or thought leadership into tangible business wins. For B2B tech providers, the foundational marketing goal is to provide discoverable and valuable information to software buyers no matter where or when they search, aka full funnel marketing. Ideally the type of content that gives them the confidence and trust they need to buy your offering. It’s really about the long game of building credibility, visibility, and awareness of the brand, trumpeting the company’s outstanding strengths and unique sales proposition in a steady news stream of earned media coverage to the target audiences. Highlighting the term “earned media,” the most impactful content is not paid for but earned through informative or educational value, whether it be an executive byline article, a line of reactive commentary to trending news, or milestone coverage.

How do I get hard data to show PR effectiveness?

Before the digital transformation, measuring the impact of PR was difficult – and yet simple in its basic metrics. Now we have more dots to connect. Marketers are now able to link campaigns, content, and coverage to, for example, shifts in the quantity and quality of web traffic and engagement, demonstrating what has and what hasn’t worked. A monthly list of coverage with details on the publication’s reach and overall view on KPI progress is a helpful but limited way to assess whether a media relations strategy is delivering. But this is a short-term metric. Good PR/marketing teams can go deeper to measure brand reputation by studying metrics like a company’s share of voice (SOV), landscape analyses, and/or sentiment analyses to see how a company’s social, web, and traditional media exposure compares to competitors. In today’s cynical environment where Millennials and GenZ cohorts expect a high level of corporate social responsibility, trust and reputation are genuine drivers of business success.

Making intangibles tangible: reputation and trust

Media intelligence provider Signal AI produces a global reputational ranking of 500 companies based on innovation, performance, and purpose – by tracking news articles, social media posts, financial announcements, research reports, podcasts, and broadcasts. Speaking of purpose, telling a B2B company’s story is another powerful communications strategy. When it comes to selling solutions, attracting talent and creating brand loyalty, spreading awareness of a company’s origin, purpose, culture, vision, and ethos can be another way to differentiate from the competition and cut through the media noise with something unique and authentic. In Ipsos-LinkedIn’s 2023 survey, 59% of global B2B marketing leaders say their C-suite has increased the importance of brand building, given economic conditions. B2B branding has become almost as essential as B2C.

Measurement of the effectiveness of PR and communications programs is indeed doable. Connecting PR campaign performance to overall financial performance is more difficult but not impossible. Most importantly, company leaders should understand that how the brand talks to its customers, investors, prospects, and other stakeholders is a critical driver of business outcomes. Of course, different companies at varying stages of growth and in different sectors have unique needs for their strategic communications. An early stage fintech B2B creating a new category will have different communications needs than a challenger brand surging toward IPO. But all companies need some level of public-facing strategy, a digital presence, a coherent brand identity (and messaging), and need people talking about them in positive ways.

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