The Right Way to Measure PR Effectiveness

Forget clippings and tweets—public relations is all about relationships. What the traditional approach to evaluating it gets wrong

Written by Lyndon Johnson

Measuring the value of public relations (PR) can feel like the hunt for the Holy Grail: there’s no consensus on what it is, there are lots of claims to have uncovered the secret, and both the industry and customers have been searching for it, unsuccessfully, for decades.

The traditional approach to PR—press releases, media pitching, content placement and more recently social media management—focuses on noise instead of on the strength of key relationships. It’s measuring decibels rather than understanding or goodwill.

In order to successfully measure PR, it is important to understand what it is. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) calls PR “a strategic process of building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships.” Mutually beneficial relationships are not something you achieve by making as much noise as possible or broadcasting your point of view to everybody over as many channels as you can. Rather, they’re built over time and involve conversation and discussion with prospective customers, decision influencers, industry peers, investors and partners. You need to create trust and identify the mutual benefit of the relationship. Listening is as important as talking.

There is also no one-size-fits-all approach. So how do you measure the effectiveness of public relations activity?


The first thing you need is a commercial goal. For small businesses and startups, it might be finding initial customers or securing seed investment. Whatever the specific goal, it will be the ultimate measure of the success of your PR activities.

Once you have a clear and specific goal, you need to identify the people who are critical to achieving it. Being specific about the key people you need in order to achieve your outcome allows you to be specific about what it will take to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with them.

Next, you need to benchmark the strength of each of these key relationships. For most startups and small businesses there are six to 10 people on whom successfully achieving a goal depends. How strong are your relationships with each of these people on a scale of 0€“10? Zero means no existing relationship exists, and 10 means that the relationship is strong enough that if you ask that person to do something to help you or your business you can be sure they’ll do it.

Once you’ve benchmarked the strength of each key relationship it’s time to decide on the strength that the relationship needs to be in order for that person to take the action you need them to take to help you achieve your goal. Do you need a particular relationship to be a five or a 10 to get the outcome you want? Asking somebody to invest $100,000 in your business, for example, requires a stronger relationship than asking for an introduction to a colleague or peer.

Once you know the current strength of each of the key relationships—and what you need it to be—you can build a strategic and tactical plan to get it there.

A continuous process

Public relations activities should be continually reviewed. For small businesses and startups, that means checking in at least every 30 days. Measuring the change in strength of each of your key relationships will become a barometer for whether you’re moving closer to your desired outcome, or further away.

The results could be mixed. You may have built trust, understanding, and goodwill in one relationship, but damaged another, which will take time and energy to repair. Measuring regularly is important because relationship strength doesn’t remain the same. Business relationships, like personal ones, change and require maintenance if they are to provide on-going mutual value.

Fine-tuning your strategy

Monitoring progress in real time also means you can fine-tune your strategy and tactics as you go along. It allows you to spot and take advantage of opportunities that you might otherwise miss. Proactively tweaking your strategy can help reduce the time it takes to achieve your desired outcome.

Continuous monitoring also means that any missteps that could stop you from achieving your desired outcome can be identified and addressed quickly, limiting the potential damage. In the 24/7 social media world, where things can get out of control quickly, stopping impending disaster is almost as important as proactively achieving success.

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The ultimate measure of success of an on-going PR program will be whether you have achieved your goal or milestone. Doing so requires people to do things for you, and that will only happen if you’ve built strong, mutually beneficial relationships with them.

There’s a term for people taking action in support of your business to help you achieve your goals: marketing. The chances of marketing success are much higher when you have strong mutually beneficial relationships. Without them, you’re left resorting to making as much noise as possible and trying to measure business impact in decibels.

Who are the six to 10 people that are essential to you successfully achieving your next milestone? Successful PR will depend on finding them.

Lyndon Johnson wants to make public relations affordable, accessible, transparent & measurable. He has spent the last 20 years helping startups & small businesses build and maintain the relationships that are critical to their success. He is the founder of two startups, COMMS.BAR and THINK DIFFERENT [LY].


What’s your approach to measuring PR effectiveness? Let us know by commenting below.

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