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How to Measure PR in the Digital Age: The Kick-Butt Index

In business, everyone wants to kick a little butt.

In my field, that means scoring a big win for a client—whether it's securing a feature article in a national newspaper, improving engagement on a Facebook page or creating an eBook that attracts thousands of downloads.

For your business, kicking butt will mean something different.

We all understand intuitively what "kicking butt" represents for our particular brand or organization. And thanks to PR measurement expert Katie Delahaye Paine, we have a tool called the Kick-Butt Index (KBI) that allows us to measure PR in a way that's relevant for clients.

Here’s why I believe the KBI is a good way to approach the evaluation and reporting of PR campaigns.

The public relations measurement challenge

To begin, let’s use media relations and blogger outreach to put some context around the subject.

Media and blogger outreach is typically a top-of-the-funnel activity that builds brand awareness, an important measurement metric for all products and services. If people haven't heard of your brand, they won’t be able to purchase it. Also, awareness is a helpful metric because it usually correlates to brand market share—and sales.

However, a number of challenges arise when you attempt to use awareness to evaluate a media and blogger outreach program: 

  • It's costly to measure the impact a marketing program has on awareness. In fact, tracking studies are typically more expensive to implement than most media relations programs.
  • Brands market their products using a variety of tactics, including advertising, sales promotion and social media. Unfortunately, tracking studies aren't good at isolating the individual impact of each tactic. For example, it's not possible to know definitively how much earned media moved the needle versus paid or owned.
  • It is difficult to connect the dots from the moment someone first encounters your brand to their actual purchase of it. B2B brands that use marketing automation software can do closed-loop marketing to map the journey to purchase, but consumer brands sold through traditional retail channels are generally in the dark about how a prospect moves through their sales funnel. 

The state of public relations measurement today

Several years ago, the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) standardized media relations evaluation in this country with the introduction of Media Relations Rating Points (MRP).

This approach pairs audited impressions (more correctly called “opportunities to see,” since there's no guarantee that a media outlet’s entire audience actually saw an interview or article) with a qualitative tool called the MRP score - which is definitely a step in the right direction.

Prior to its introduction, PR professionals evaluated editorial media coverage in an inconsistent manner. For one thing, we didn't have access to audited audience numbers, relying instead on the sometimes unreliable numbers provided by the media outlets themselves.

Some practitioners also used multipliers to increase the number of impressions. Their reasoning was that the reported impressions failed to account for multiple readers per copy (in the case of magazines), or that their earned media impressions had greater credibility than paid impressions.

The good news is there's now uniform consensus in the industry that multipliers are little more than a best guess... and a definite no-no when it comes to PR measurement.

Another questionable practice is the use of advertising value equivalency (AVE) to determine the value of PR. In this approach, the PR professional calculates the cost of placing an ad of the same size or length as the PR coverage.

Most practitioners accept that earned media is very different from paid, so comparing the two in this way makes little sense. For example, ads are always positive and focused on the brand. Earned media can be positive, neutral or negative; itmay feature the brand prominently or merely mention it in passing.

The impact of social media and the rise of the independent blogger

MRP has significantly improved the evaluation and reporting of traditional PR. However, it's difficult to use this measurement standard—at least the quantitative part—for independent bloggers because accurate audience numbers are not available for independent online media. This piece of our earned media efforts needs to rely on a qualitative metric.

Measurement accuracy is also a problem in shared media. In the case of Twitter, for example, some PR practitioners are incorporating followers into audience impression numbers. An influencer with 10,000 followers that tweets 4 times adds 40,000 impressions, or "opportunities to see," to a program’s tally.

Given the half life of a tweet, this approach grossly overestimates the program's reach and its impact on a brand.

Enter the Kick-Butt Index, which is a beefed up version of MRP’s qualitative score.

What is the Kick-Butt Index?

The concept involves determining, for any particular client, the attributes of the ideal communications effort, whether PR, advertising or something else. Once you've identified these attributes, you assign a value to each with a total value of 10. The ideal program would score a perfect 10. Now, instead of guessing at your success, you're able to evaluate it based on clear criteria that your client has deemed meaningful.

What do I mean by meaningful? The criteria a company incorporates into its KBI should reflect how it creates value and drives business.

For instance, when a company develops a magazine ad for its brand, what MUST be included in the ad? In the case of a food product, it will likely be an appetizing photo of the brand, a positive headline, and copy that encourages a reader to view the brand in a positive way.

Here's an example of a Kick-Butt Index for an earned media article:

brand kbi

Score every article generated by the program individually; then tally the score and divide it by the number of articles to see the average KBI for the entire program.

Benchmark KBI

Of course, you'll want every article to score a 10 out of 10, but since perfection is unrealistic, I propose an initial benchmark for success of 70%. That is, the average score of all the articles should be at least 7 out of 10. This figure is totally arbitrary, but once you incorporate the KBI into a few PR programs, you'll get a sense of a reasonable target for your brand.

What about shared media?

According to the Coalition for Public Relations Research Standards, the widespread use of social media has made it crucial to take "shared" media into account.

While there is no uniform consensus on how to go about it, they recommend using "shared" metrics as a way to evaluate paid, earned and owned media. The “shared” metrics refer to the number of times people share  a particular piece of content with others, including tweets, likes, LinkedIn shares and Google+ shares.

In an earned media campaign, it's typically straightforward to count the number of shares each online article or blog post receives. There's no standard benchmark, but over time you'll accumulate enough data to establish one for your business.

It’s not perfect

Like the CPRS' MRP score, the KBI measures outputs instead of business outcomes, so it’s not perfect. In my books, however, the KBI is preferable to some of the other approaches, past and present, used to evaluate PR success.

Most importantly, it's a flexible tool that allows you to customize the metrics for each of your clients. The Kick-Butt Index means you can finally not only define success narrowly and precisely, but also measure it clearly and accurately.

Join The Conversation

  • Shelley Pringle's picture
    Aug 21 Posted 2 years ago Shelley Pringle

    Hi Lyndon, We have the answer to the question and always have. PR is a top-of-the-funnel activity (most of the time) with a goal of driving awareness. Therefore, the way to measure it is by tracking awareness. Simple! Of course, there are exceptions and I've seen PR programs that directly drive sales. But being able to measure that type of result can be difficult and usually costly.

    You are absolutely right that PR is not just media relations. But think of other PR activities, such as influencer programs to health professionals (just as an example). The goal here is to build awareness with this community and encourage endorsements. So there are other metrics we can use beyond awareness but it's still part of the mix. 

    Certainly PR is, in part, about buildling relationships. But we build those relationships to help our clients achieve their business goals. So measuring relationships is just another output, not a business outcome. 




  • Aug 21 Posted 2 years ago think_lyndon1

    Hi Shelley,

    This discussion has been going on for at least the last twenty years - for as long as I've been working in and around the industry and it is something we need to find an answer to.  The problem is that I think the majority of the industry is trying to measure the wrong thing.

    What if, rather than measuring coverage, or awareness, or the ideal communications effort, we measure the strength of relationships?  We do it every day in our personal lives so why not in our professional ones? 

    Isn't measuring the perfect effort is like saying we get a medal in a sports competition because we tried our best.  Or like saying we should win because our running 'form' was technically excellent - Michael Johnson proved that this just isn't the case!  

    Public relations is about building and maintaining relationships, after all, so why not measure this in order to evaluate succcess or failure.  It will also give an indication of whether people will do what we want [the marketing piece] - measuring marketing on the same KBI scale would reward best effort, not outcomes from what I understand of what you're saying.

    Fundamentelly, we can only address this properly by understanding what it is we are supposed to be delivering.  Media coverage and awareness is publicity, not public relations - and until we fix this the industry will continue to measure the wrong thing.

    Best wishes,


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