There's no universal metric for public relations but there is a framework you can apply to build a robust measurement approach for any campaign.
There's a lot of bullshit in public relations that passes for accepted wisdom. Measurement and planning are the sharp end of this issue.
In a bid to prove the value of work, the industry has invented a variety of dodgy metrics and mangled some old ones to make them its own. Here are five examples.
Followers: biggest ain't best
Everyone has a sphere of influence. It isn't a numbers game. There are numerous strategies to build a large follower count. Reciprocal follow back or paid networks are the most common ways to game a large following.
Sentiment analysis: bad is bad, that's it
Modern tools calculate sentiment to a percentage point as if 60% negative is better that 70% negative. If I'm pissed off, I'm pissed off, there are no shades of grumpiness.
Impressions: hope over common sense
This is ad land's favourite metric, borrowed by social networks. An impression is typically the opportunity for someone to see a piece of content. Chances are they won't have actually seen it, even less engaged.
Influencer scores: gaming and manipulation
Influence scores assign a metric or two to an individual's reach and resonance in a network. These aren't without value in niche networks around an issue or topic but they are easily gamed. Proceed with caution.
Advertising equivalent value: yes really
The Achilles Heel of modern public relations whereby the advertising value of media is ascribed to the value of a campaign. Applied in a modern incarnation to the web.
There's an obsession in modern public relations practice with counting stuff for the sake of it, rather than tying work back to objectives and measuring outcomes. It's nonsense.
Outcomes not outputs
There is no easy answer and there's certainly no single answer for planning and measurement. Every campaign requires thought and a bespoke approach.
The start point of an objective should be universal. Crucially, it should relate to an organisational or business objective. Every campaign will have a different objective, and outcome, and consequently a different way to measure success or failure.
You should be able to write a measurement framework for a campaign in five boxes on a single side of A4. Here's the approach I use based on the Barcelona Principles.
What behaviour change or shift in opinion do you want to achieve through engagement with your public, or audience, to use marketing speak?
#2 Activity and timescale
What activities are you planning as part of your campaign. How do they relate to achieving you objective, and in what timescale?
Here lies the obsession with counting stuff. Campaigns are often measured on the basis of outputs such as number of newsletters, press releases, or tweets. It's a vanity metric and only has value in ensuring that activity is tracking your plan, or if you have a direct correlation between outputs and outcomes.
What is the impact of your work in meeting your objective? This should relate directly to your objective.
Metrics should correlate as tightly as possible with evidence of behaviour or opinion change.
#5 Success or failure
Have you changed the behaviour or opinion of your public?
Build a framework to measure work based on outcomes (step 4) not outputs (step 3).
Modern tools mean that's it's possible to build analytics to monitor realtime performance between steps 3 and 5, and modify activity accordingly.
Building a measurement framework for a public relations campaign is hard. Please don't take the easy answer and use bullshit metrics.