How does one prove the return on investment of PR and content marketing programs? What are the metrics? What must be tracked? What are some of the tools to do the measuring? How do you answer the question about the worth of investment of such efforts when organizational leadership asks that inevitable question?

All good questions deserving of answers, so let’s start from the top. PR ROI was once difficult to measure, but that’s not so much the case anymore. While many still consider ROI in financial terms (the amount of money totaled from public relations campaigns after subtracting the costs), that calculation is not effective most of the time. Many other factors can be considered to make the appropriate calculate.

Also in the past, the main measurement criteria was the quantity of coverage, channel of delivery and media type. Other factors included type of mention, whether competitors were also mentioned, source credibility and popularity of the publication. For a tech startup, features on sites like TechCrunch, Mashable and Inc. are the top tier and where all goalposts point.

Earned media and published thought leadership pieces often allow organizations the ability to position their leader(s) as experts in their respective fields, and create favorable impressions of your brand with your buyers and, later or eventually, influences a buyer’s decision to buy. The buyer may not even realize the influence your media mention had on him or her, but once they begin to see you or your organization as speaking to their concern and a source for helping them solve their problems, they are more likely to seek you out when they finally are able to make a purchasing decision.

How do you know if your PR efforts are actually driving revenue?

There are a number of factors you can measure to justify your investment in PR software and activities. Here is a closer look at a few:

Web analytics can show who is coming to your website after reading earned media articles and lets you know what these visitors do once they get there. This allows public relations to show the ROI of media mentions in a way that executives will understand. Most users of web analytics track goal conversions and assign a dollar value to those conversions. Depending on the business, this value may be based on the average value of a new customer or the average value of an inbound form submission. Analyze referring sites to determine which press releases, mentions and articles are driving traffic. That way, ROI for PR can be measured in exactly the same way that it is measured for online marketing campaigns.

“Metrics are domain-specific and strategy-specific, but as always, it matters the most to measure how many people arrived from your campaign (input), and how many converted (output),” said Lazhar Ichir founder of topicseed. “By analyzing these two stages, you can work on improving whatever part of your pipeline or funnel. Unlike regular marketing, content marketing can be measurable: from time spent on a page, to other pages a visitor goes to, to how much revenue it generated over the months.”

Stacy Caprio, search marketing manager at Accelerated Growth Marketing, says “the best way to measure content marketing ROI is to keep track of the page views, new visits and revenue from each page, using tools including Google Analytics, Adsense and your ecommerce platform then subtract the cost of the content creation from the total revenue and new visitor sales metrics to get your content marketing profit and ROI.”

The importance of search engine referral

Search engines placement and the authority of the sites linking back to yours is exceedingly important. For example, if the New York Times links to your software product page or website, Google algorithms assume your site has value, which helps raise it in Google’s search results. This is remarkably effective in helping the search engines return relevant results to users. Even smaller blogs and niche sites with original content can prove highly effective in your PR efforts. These links back to your site or product page can drive your PR and content marketing ROI.

Watch your competition

Pay attention to what your competition is doing during your campaign. If they are not running a PR campaign at the same time and getting much less action to their bottom line or customer responsiveness, that is success. Also, you may wish to analyze is you are you taking a share of voice from publications that otherwise only gave your competitors coverage? Are you able to circumvent coverage for your brand that might otherwise go to competitors? If so, that’s success.

Also, brand leaders must quickly come to understand that PR ROI cannot be reduced to a simple accounting equation. Intangible value needs to be considered and this value may take a while to become “cash.” Because PR and content marketing strategies often achieve non-financial objectives, there are several other metrics to consider. Here are a few of them:

Mentions and impressions

PR’s main role is outreach to the media, and communicating a company’s message. Counting media placements is one measurement of ROI, and indicative of effort if you get massive coverage in various publications. The better the publication for your audience, the better the placement.

After counting, consider the quality of these placements. They should attempt to influence your audience. Is the credible? Is your company featured exclusively? Is the tone positive? Do they convey your message accurately?

These factors are why content marketing works so well. If you produce a piece for publication, there’s a great chance it will stay intact if it’s high quality. Therefore, you maintain the messaging, the voice and the focus of the piece – which features your brand exclusively.

Social Media Metrics

Regarding social media, the most important aspect is the quality of the conversation, the likelihood that the piece will be/is shared, and not necessarily the coverage alone. For social, focus on community and conversation rather than the number of mentions. Are people really talking about the message of your piece and are you becoming an influencer?

On social, it’s not the size of the audience that counts, it’s whether people following or liking something are truly interested in your brand. Are they active users, talking about the issues you’re solving and turning to you for their solution?

Measuring tools

Jacob Fenuccio, CEO of Fractal Solutions LLC, says, “Utilize tools like TEAMSUTM codesGoogle AnalyticsHotjar and MOAT Analytics.”

When answering the inevitable and important question of ROI for different PR & content marketing efforts, Fenuccio suggests that “the best defense is a good offense. The best way to handle the question of ROI for efforts is to stay organized, align with company goals/strategies, and do the right preparatory work. In our company, we prepared to track and convey the worth of investments/efforts through the TEAMS management software/platform. With TEAMS, our leadership can set goals and clearly convey strategic plans so that each project, meeting, and task is done with purpose and is tied to the ultimate metrics/KPIs of the company or a particular marketing program.”

Long-term outcomes

When employed properly, PR campaigns have an immediate impact, mid-term and long-term effects. For example, these efforts create brand loyalty and advocacy, and a better marketing position. PR should increase brand awareness, and generate goodwill toward a business. If this succeeds, it boosts brand loyalty and generates behavioral changes creating brand advocates. PR may help your brand become a recognized influencer in your niche, giving you a clear advantage over competitors, and positioning you and your team as thought leaders.

While there is still no mathematical formula to quantify PR ROI, the guidelines above give a fair idea what return on PR investment is all about. But, for PR to work effectively, you’ll need to align all your departments (sales, marketing, customer support, etc.) to work side by side.

In regard to content marketing, it should be used in conjunction with PR as an educational tool to help your customer better understand their own problems, what they can do about them while stationing yourself as an authority on those problems. Remember, people don’t care about your product, but about the benefits your product brings to them. If that’s what your PR efforts lead to, that the ultimate form of ROI success.