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So, Just How Does a PR Campaign Help Sales?
How to measure the impact of your public relations efforts.
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 by Marsha Friedman
EMSI Public Relations

Marsha FriedmanI'm frequently asked about the value of PR in relation to the business goals it’s designed to enhance.

People wonder what will happen if they’re able to achieve a picture-perfect PR campaign and get the media to notice them and generate coverage for them. They wonder if the upside is increased sales, or if it’s in the branding or maybe it’s just the increased exposure for their company or projects or their book.

The short answer is yes, but the long answer is a bit more complicated than that. First thing’s first. When we do a print campaign, for instance, we rate it based on the reach of the publications in traditional print outlets and online outlets. We use two key terms – circulation and visitors per month (VPM) – and while one of those terms is old and the other is new, they are based on the same principle.

When we use the term VPM, we're applying it to the online publications in the same way that newspapers and magazines use circulation figures to apply to their audience numbers.

Back in those primitive days before the Internet, when paper and ink were still a popular means of communication, PR firms rated the success of their print campaigns by adding up the circulation figures of the newspapers and magazines in which they got coverage for their clients. So if an article was written about you in the Philadelphia Inquirer that would be rated as a pretty good hit, because that paper has a circulation of about 300,000 readers daily. Now that's not to say all 300,000 people read the article that was about you. It's simply a measure of the potential readers of your article.

Then along came the Internet. We now live in a time in which almost every newspaper or magazine article is repurposed online and more people get their news online than offline. In an attempt to present advertisers with a "circulation" figure for the Internet versions of their print publications, publishers created the tracking of unique visitors to their news pages, and that number is called VPM.

For example, if we place an article on a Web site like the Huffington Post, which has a VPM of 22 million, it doesn't mean that 22 million people are reading your story. It just means that your story was placed on a site that has an online "circulation" of 22 million. It’s just like the Philadelphia Inquirer example above, where the circulation of that publication is 300,000, but there’s no way to calculate how many of those 300,000 readers actually read your article.
So VPM is simply a “circulation” figure for the Internet and it’s how campaigns are tracked in the era of new media, which isn't much different than the way it was tracked "back in the day."

Just as in the above example, it’s also impossible to track specifically how many people watched your TV segment or heard your radio interview. The ratings systems for TV shows are not specific enough to track who was watching at the moment you were on the air, and the ratings system for radio is not universally used, so extrapolating accurate numbers for specific days and times is also near impossible.

With radio PR for example, the measures we look at are the size of the market, the wattage of the station (5,000 watts is good, 500, not so much) and in the case of national radio shows, how many stations carry the show through syndication. These are broader brushstrokes than what people can achieve through advertising on the Internet and tracking clickthroughs, but it is also far less expensive. In online advertising campaigns, advertisers can track exactly who visited their Web site, what Web site referred them, what they viewed on the site and even how many minutes they spent on each page. Coming from that experience, it can sometimes be difficult for marketers to understand why the same kind of granular audience analysis doesn’t exist in PR.

But, keep in mind advertisers are paying for that infrastructure with their fees, which are often many times the cost of a solid PR campaign. In addition, those ad campaigns lack the power of third-party verification that exists in PR – when a host has you as a guest on a radio or TV show it’s a tacit endorsement of you as an expert. It’s someone of authority saying you’re credible and authoritative in your field. With advertising, the media savvy audience knows you paid for the space, so the only credibility those ads carry is that you had enough money to buy the ads.

How does all that factor into your bottom lines? Well, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, because reaching a lot of people with your message does not equate to making them want to buy what you’re selling. So many other elements are factors in the “buy” decision – your Web site, your specific product or service, the topic of your book if there’s one in play, your price point compared to your competitors, your distribution and availability – I could go on and on here. The truth is that both PR and advertising can only inform your potential customers that you, and what you are marketing, exists.

In the case of PR, it not only informs people, but it also adds credibility to your reputation, as PR coverage carries more “endorsement” weight than any advertisement you can ever purchase.

The key idea to take away from all this is that you won’t necessarily make sales just because you’re doing PR, but you’ll be hard-pressed to make sales without it.

Marsha Friedman is CEO of EMSI Public Relations, a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to corporations, entertainers, authors and professional firms. She also is author of the book, Celebritize Yourself.

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