When I began my tech PR career in 2005, my agency’s account coordinators had the daily responsibility of manually calculating ad value equivalency for each earned media placement. Using a ruler, scissors and an antiquated mathematical formula that surely has Pythagoras rolling over in his grave to this day, my former colleagues would go full on mathematician and assign subjective dollar values to media coverage. These “values” would later be presented to clients as an objective reflection of how much it would cost them to achieve a similar result via paid advertising. For decades, ad value equivalency was one of the primary ways in which PR agencies justified ROI to clients.

In the mid 2000s, in conjunction with the digitalization of newsrooms and explosion of online content, PR shifted its focus from reporting value based on ad value equivalency to measuring success based on digital impressions. Back then, digital impressions, which are really nothing more than a potential online audience size, represented a fresh, yet surefire way to show clients the potential reach of a media placement or press release and look sexy doing it. After all, a PR agency could regularly report to its clients results in excess of one, five or even ten million impressions – and have the data to back it up.

Fast forward to 2019, and believe it or not, despite all of the tools and technology at PR’s disposal, many agencies continue to flaunt ad value equivalency and digital impressions as a measuring stick for ROI.

Unfortunately for them, the vast majority of their CMO and VP of Marketing client contacts, along with the stakeholders that they report to, are now asking for more. In a previous blog post, my colleague explained how marketing professionals are being held more accountable than ever for a sustained influx of marketing qualified leads (MQLs), and how they are relying on their PR agencies to help deliver them – no excuses.

For many agencies, CMO demands to connect traditional PR tactics, especially media relations, with revenue puts them well outside of their comfort zone. But should it? In short, the answer is no.

Websites and sales teams benefit mightily from media relations

Recently, ARPR compiled the tech PR industry’s first set of data that reveals the impact of media relations on the sales cycle. We analyzed over 13 months of proprietary data and surveyed 115 technology sales professionals across the globe. What we found might surprise you. In total:

  • Earned media coverage vastly outperforms paid search in website engagement, with a 45% higher goal completion rate.
  • Press releases generate a 12% higher goal completion rate than any other website traffic source.
  • 93% of sales representatives report regularly using media coverage in communications with prospects.

Said one SaaS sales leader: “Press coverage is a consistent part of all sales processes – from getting in the door to intro conversations to tech validation, business validation and enterprise readiness.”

For some CMOs, such anecdotal evidence may not be enough to convince skeptical superiors about the ROI of media relations. Luckily, technology can help us do just that.

Using technology to connect earned media to sales

Outside of showcasing impressions and ad value equivalency, validating ROI has long been problematic for PR agencies. In fact, according to the 2017 SoDA Report, the inability of PR firms to tangibly prove value beyond the subjectivity of brand awareness and perception building is the number one reason why agency-client relationships have shrunk from an average of 7 years to less than 3. Simply put, CMOs have asked their agency partners to connect the dots between PR campaigns and revenue generation, but agencies have more often than not failed to step up to the plate and do so.

I’ll be honest, why PR continues to fail in client measurement is a bit perplexing when considering how many tools and technologies now exist to help not just make the process possible, but also make it relatively seamless. Here are a couple of technologies and tips to help connect media relations to sales.

  • UTM codes – The use of UTM codes in press releases and in media hyperlinks creates a customized, trackable URL that can tell PR pros exactly which of their client’s website visitors originated from the media opportunity. For example, if your agency places a byline in Entrepreneur, and the author or company name is hyperlinked to the client’s website with a UTM, then you’ll be able to immediately quantify how the coverage impacted web traffic.
  • Google Analytics – If your agency doesn’t have access to your Google Analytics, then give them credentials right away. At a minimum you’ll be able to track the actions of referral traffic, such as conversions and bounces, especially if the traffic is captured through UTM codes. Ultimately, Google Analytics access is essential to correlating media to sales because it provides visibility into the actions taken as prospects from media articles enter the funnel.
  • Marketing Automation Tools – As we’ve written about before, marketing automation tools, such as Pardot, Marketo and Hubspot, are changing PR for the better. Such tools provide visibility into lead status that PR pros must follow to see how the traffic they propelled to the website moves throughout the middle and bottom of the funnel.

Today, it’s very doable for PR agencies to help CMOs recognize revenue generation that originated from earned media relations. After all, we already know that:

  • Data indicates that media relations drives a higher percentage of MQLs than other website referral sources.
  • The vast majority of sales personnel use media relations to support lead nurturing.
  • Technology exists to help track the prospect lifecycle from headline to a closed deal.

While other firms contemplate adopting greater ROI and measurement capabilities, ARPR has been doing so for 5 years. Click here to download the entire media relations data report or check out our Panorama Approach to learn more about how we help client’s reputations thrive and their sales pipelines prosper.

Evan balances his time between scheming up client service initiatives, talking hacks and zero days with cybersecurity clients and serving as the agency's de facto CISO.

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