We have a bevy of great tools and techniques for measuring almost every aspect of marketing, from click to conversion. Yet in regards to measuring public relations, most marketers feel lost.

After all, PR is unpredictable and subject to whims, breaking news, and sudden pivots, right?

Well, not entirely.

Real patterns and trends drive PR the same as any other industry. The analytics are there, too. You just need to know how to use them. But that's the rub. Many people don't know how or what to measure or what even constitutes PR success. As a result, they pour money into PR programs without even knowing whether they're paying off.

Whether you're managing an agency or an in-house team, you'll need a measurement program that gives you visibility into team performance and helps you evaluate the caliber of the results.

So, with the right tools and best-practices, you can track PR performance. Here are seven secrets to knowing whether your PR is working.

1. Benchmarks are the foundation of smart measurement

Any team can point to a certain number of social shares or a tweet by an influencer and call it a "success." But so what?

Results don't mean much unless you can place them in context. What's the usual number of social shares for a contributed article? A blog post? How many bloggers do you normally have to pitch on behalf of a startup before one takes notice?

Setting benchmarks in advance takes the guesswork out of setting PR goals, and doing so helps you evaluate how well the team is really doing. It also helps develop a definition of success everyone can agree on.

2. Your business objectives should always be the center of the PR program

Let's say you've hired a PR team with a great reputation for meaningful relationships in your industry. You want to use its connections to land you keynotes at industry conferences that your target customers attend. Your business objective is to get face-to-face time and build credibility with these specific customers at a grassroots level. You'll know the PR program is working by how many new partnerships or sales come as a result of the speaking program.

Months into the PR plan, you're surprised to see a PR report full of media wins but nothing about new customer engagements as a result of speaking at conferences. That is what's known as a "failure of alignment."

Make sure the team's strategies are mapped to your business objectives and measure accordingly. Metrics on vague ideas like "brand awareness" are useless; you want solid numbers.

3. Software, not spreadsheets, is where real measurement happens

If your PR team still is using a spreadsheet system to track its performance, I can guarantee members are missing deadlines and failing to spot the patterns driving their results.

The PR industry has loads of new tools to play with that can measure, monitor, analyze, track, automate, and provide total visibility into PR programs. If your PR team members aren't using technology to manage and measure their work, they are wasting your time and budget.

4. Numbers are only half the story; insights are the other

In PR, people become so focused on getting "wins" that we miss the important data being revealed along the way and what that data tells us.

Both failed campaigns and roaring successes can teach us what to do more, what to retire, who to target, and how.

Insights are what give a PR team a masterful playbook. And this knowledge doesn't begin and end with PR. The lessons learned can be valuable across marketing, sales, and customer success teams.

5. Ad Value Equivalencies don't tell the full story; they don't tell anything

Step away from them. And if your PR team members try to pass this off as a legitimate metric, you should fire them immediately.

6. Other teams can help evaluate PR success

The only way to really track the ROI of a PR campaign is by following its path to the very end. That often involves CRM systems, content management solutions, and marketing automation tools.

How many leads did that campaign generate? How many converted? How much revenue did they drive? Ask the sales team how new customers heard about the company. Ask the social media team how many times a byline article got shared.

PR is ultimately one interconnected system, so look at how your existing measurement tools can measure PR. You might be pleasantly surprised to see PR as a major driver of revenue.

7. Reports should be built around your needs, not the PR team's needs

Sometimes, PR teams put together reports that are a tidy summary of everything they did that month or last quarter.

However, reports should tell clients and bosses what they want to know. How the PR team is helping to achieve overarching business objectives. How they are able to get the most out of the budget and resources.

Writing down a list of activities isn't enough. Make sure your team delivers reports that communicate the value of those activities.

* * *

In today's competitive landscape, no marketing leader can afford to be in the dark about a PR team's true value. With the right tools and practices, leaders can (and should) demand the data they need to ensure their PR is an asset to their brand.

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image of Aly Saxe

Aly Saxe is CEO of Iris PR, a cloud-based SaaS platform designed by PR pros for PR pros.

LinkedIn: Aly Saxe