One of the biggest challenges I have had in my career is measuring our work. Just last week, I was on Zoom with a client and he asked me if we’ll ever be able to measure brand awareness and its effectiveness.

I said, “Bane of my existence.”

There are actually lots of ways to understand if it’s working (or not), but the challenge lies in the fact that most executives just don’t care. They don’t care if their branded searches have increased or if the direct traffic has increased or if more reporters, podcasters, and bloggers are searching you out versus the other way around. 

They care about whether or not your work contributes to revenue. And that’s really, really hard to demonstrate, let alone prove a return on investment. 

Sure, we have first- and last- and multi-touch attribution. And most of the work we do can be attributed to at least first touch. But even that has its issues. Regression models and attribution models begin to show how brand awareness creates a long-tail effect on a company’s top and bottom financial lines. But, again, most execs just don’t care. 

So what is one to do? We can’t continue down this path of not measuring the work we do toward the things that the people who sign our checks care about. Is there an answer? Are there metrics that will work?

Do We All Have to Have MBAs?

A recent Forbes article talked about how communicators may need to get their MBAs to understand how to demonstrate that our work leads to revenue. 

The article reads, “Simply stated, short of being proficient at media relations or event planning, business grads bring the kind of talent that resonates with the C-suite. They are analytical and strategic, have great written and verbal communications skills, understand business dynamics and market forces, are highly productive and organized, and know and can explain numbers.

“What’s more, they are comfortable responding to tough questions about profitability and can do so with fancy charts.”

Yes, and…having an MBA helps you understand the numbers side of the equation, and it certainly does help you have the hard conversations with executives who are analytical and want to understand how their investment in you is paying off. But it doesn’t suddenly create an opportunity for you to be able to measure brand awareness to sales. 

That’s not to say we shouldn’t PR measurement shouldn’t be done while continuing to educate executives on the value of the long-term investment in brand. We need to be transparent about this, too. Too often we either pretend we can measure the work or we completely ignore or avoid the conversation.

We can’t continue to do that. We have to be open and honest about what PR measurement truly is and how long it takes to see results from our work.

The PESO Model™ Is Measurable

Part of the reason I love the PESO Model™ is that some of it is measurable. It allows us to sit at the big kid’s table and have a real conversation about results. Much of the work can be measured in a multi-touch attribution model. It can be tracked to organic and direct website traffic. Search visibility and first page results increase—and so does website authority. Branded search traffic increases—and so does the email database.

But unless the executives understand the value of those things and the importance of being seen (both online and off), it’s still going to be a challenging conversation every month or quarter when you report your results. 

We recently put together a results report for a client that showcased the work we did in the first half of the year—complete with results. 

The report focused on all of the great work, including how many qualified leads we generated and how many of them converted to customers. It showed a return of five to one. Not shabby!

There was an increase to direct website traffic—the people who type in the organization’s URL—which is important because that means those visitors know of the company and want to either learn more or visit again. This is an indication that brand awareness is working.

Organic traffic to the website also increased and so did search visibility. When compared to the competition, particularly to where they were at the start of the year, the increases are significant. And there was an increase in links to the website, indicating that higher domain websites, such as news outlets and trade publications, see value in the content on their site.

Social media engagement, re-shares, and saved Reels exploded—and so did referral traffic.

We also know how many leads started from the work that we do (first touch attribution), and how many converted after reading, watching, or listening to something we created (last touch attribution). Seventy-two percent of new customers were influenced by our work.

There were lots and lots of tactics that went into this work, but it was accomplished through a PESO Model program, particularly earned, owned, and shared media (paid media has its own reporting structure and team). 

And still, we’ve had trouble getting buy-in from the top. They still want to know how many interviews we’ve had, how much content we’ve created, how many social media followers we’ve added, and how many video views there have been.

All important metrics to understand if something is working or not, but they’re the start, not the end. And they certainly don’t tell whether or not our work is helping to increase revenue. And yet…

Using the OKR Model

One of the things I learned from a former client, who is one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with, is the OKR model: objectives and key results. He was very specific about how to use the model and worked hard to teach it to us.

If you don’t know it, I recommend you look it up and study it. The gist of it is that you have an objective and three to five measurable things you’re going to do to reach it. You can have KPIs that tell you whether or not something is working, but they don’t drive your decisions.

For instance, an objective might be, “scale and expand top-of-the-funnel content to drive more qualified leads.” 

Underneath there, your key results can include things such as:

  • How many website visitors turn into leads
  • How many leads turn into qualified leads
  • How many qualified leads turn into sales qualified leads
  • How many SQLs turn into customers
  • How much revenue you’ve influenced
  • Search engine results for a certain number of keywords (and list them out)
  • An increase in search visibility
  • An increase in branded search trends
  • An increase in your permission-based marketing database
  • A number of content downloads, webinar attendees, or blog subscribers
  • An increase in backlinks to the website, particularly from media outlets, blogs, and podcasts
  • An increase in referral traffic—direct, organic, and social
  • Email stats, such as referral traffic and clickthrough rates

All of this depends, of course, on the strategy and what type of work you’re going to do. And this list isn’t exhaustive but it gives you a great place to start.

PR Measurement Every Time

If you can work this model and show your clients or bosses that the KPIs are the tip of the iceberg, not the bottom, you’ll have success. It won’t come without its challenges. You may have to spend several months (or even a year) educating them on how the KPIs drive to the end result, but they aren’t the focus—and it will be frustrating at times–but stay the course.

This is the work we should be doing for PR measurement success. Every time.

This is not easy work. Even though I’m passionate about it and have become quite good at it, I still bang my head against the wall with some of our clients. It’s an evolving process that requires you to be open to learning and adjusting.

Join Us In the Spin Sucks Community

If you need help with it all and you’re not already part of the Spin Sucks Community, come hang out with us!

It’s a community full of crazy smart professionals. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s smart…and you might just learn a thing or two from your peers. 

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich