Measuring PR success

Made to measure

29/03/2017 11:58:30
At the start of March, we ravelled to London for the 2017 PR Moment PR Analytics event. Featuring presentations from the MET Office director of communications and Paddy Power’s head of PR, among others, the seminar was full to bursting with accounts of memorable PR campaigns, from the topical to the controversial.

More importantly, up for discussion were the various ways of measuring the outcomes of PR, from evaluating social media to understanding the impact of communications on a company's objectives.

Whatever the weather

For the MET Office, evaluating the effectiveness of communications can be as tricky as evaluating the coming weather. And far from being a fair-weather friend, the MET Office mainly sees traffic to its website, mobile site and apps increase during period of severe weather, sometimes by as much as 200%.

Dee Cotgrove is one of the brains behind a relatively new trend in UK weather reporting; that of giving storms names. First used in the UK in November 2015, when storm Abigail hit northern Scotland, the communications device was initially seen as a fairly big risk for the Met Office prior to its launch. As Dee explained: “A lot of the early feedback we got from the public included things like ‘puerile’ or ‘too American’. But we felt that it would be a good way to get people talking and, more importantly, listening to what was happening with the weather.”

Flash forward to the week before PR Analytics conference was due to take place and we find Doris, the 15th storm to be named by the MET office since the naming system was introduced, spawning a trending hashtag on twitter with almost a quarter of a million tweets. At the same time, over 2,000 new followers are attracted to the MET Office’s twitter page (@metoffice) and over 5,000 to its Facebook page.

More important, however, was the fact that in 2015/16 storm naming was credited with a rise in awareness of local weather forecasts, with more people claiming they warned friends and family members, followed further advice from local authorities and prepared for longer journey times, or cancelled journeys altogether. The Met Office regularly commissions independent surveys to measure public trust. Its ‘Met Office tracker’ survey takes place three or four times a year and, since July 2012, around 80% of people asked say that they trust the Met Office a little or a lot.

As Dee concluded: “In the end, trust is not only about doing what you say you’ll do and doing it well. It’s also about being a good listener and responding to what you hear.”

Bet on it

Next up, Feilim Mac An Iomaire, head of PR at Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, stepped up for a presentation entitled ‘Why PR Works For Paddy Power’. The short answer being, in Feilim’s own words: “PR is an answer to a business problem and therefore the business loves it. Given the nature of our business we would be idiots not to leverage that.”

Often, a lot of Paddy Power’s PR stunts aren’t tied to a betting option, such as a recent Cheltenham stunt that saw topless Putin and Trump lookalikes riding bareback through London. But what does link them all together is their consistent ability to get the brand into the pages of newspapers and onto news websites time and time again.

A favourite example would be when the bookmaker shared an image that appeared to show the world "C’mon England – PP" carved out of the Amazon rainforest during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The stunt went viral and attracted a lot of hate for the brand. Fast forward a day and the brand revealed that the picture was a meticulous fake 'designed to raise awareness of deforestation'. Soon, both Paddy Power and #SaveTheRainforest started trending on Twitter as vitriol turned to laughter and even a little praise. More importantly, over 160k people visited the company’s blog in 24 hours.

As for when the time comes to try and measure the impact a campaign has on the success of the business, that’s where it can be tricky. As estimates show that the sign ups on the company’s website tend to peak at around +3% for its bigger stunts, the business looks for other ways to gauge public opinion. After all, beneath the surface, Paddy Power is a numbers-driven company that works in an industry underpinned by risk and probability and therefore uses a wide range of numerical methods every day to plan its marketing spend and assess performance to try and beat the competition. As such, Paddy Power’s Customer Intelligence Team (CIT) plays a key role in providing analytical expertise across the online division. Within this centralised team, the business analyses web traffic, promotional spend, betting patterns, online marketing and customer sentiment, which includes tracking the use of positive words and emoji in relation to the brand on social media. 
In an age of bots and automation, many agree that numbers are beginning to mean less and less in the world of PR Analytics. More than ever, the real worth of PR is measured by its usefulness to those it reached, a statistic much harder to quantify, but much more satisfying when proven to be positive:
“We should measure success not on old mass media metrics of thousands of eyeballs, but by answering did we help you meet your goals, improve your life and improve your community.”
Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine editor