Last week, a trusted friend and former colleague asked me to evaluate his company’s PR firm. He had recently joined a promising blockchain gaming company as CMO and was questioning their performance.

Here are four telltale signs your PR sucks and metrics you can use to correct your course.

#1. Your share of voice is minuscule

The gold-standard in PR performance tracking is share of voice. It gauges how well your perspectives are included in the conversations you care about most. There are numerous social media listening tools you can use to track share of voice, including Cision and Trendkite (click for reviews). Be aware they come with a hefty price tag.

For a quick-and-dirty analysis, I used Buzzsumo instead. The tool is widely used by content marketers and SEO practitioners to identify the most viral content on a given topic quickly. You can also click to see who wrote it. When I searched “blockchain gaming,” I discovered that content was shared 100,927 times over six months. This is valuable context, considering the PR agency in question reported 1860 shares of stories in their most recent clip report (same timeframe).

A 2% share of voice raises all kinds of red flags for a category leader that’s been investing in PR for over two years. For one, you’re not talking to the right people.

Based on the assumption that articles published on popular sites are more likely to drive more eyeballs, I factored Alexa scores into the analysis. Alexa ranks every website on the planet according to average traffic and engagement scores. As you might expect, publications like Yahoo! Finance (included in the clip report) ranks among the 1,000 most popular sites in the United States (and globally, for that matter), while leading cryptocurrency trade publications like CoinDesk and Cointelegraph rank among the top 10,000 websites.

A weighted average score of 1.8/4.0 shows nearly half of the stories were published on obscure sites with 50K+ Alexa scores. In other words, the PR agency is investing its time and client money to generate these stories.

#3 Your message is buried

Not all stories are created equally. A well-written feature article is far more effective at brand building than a passing reference. To quantify their prominence, I assigned scores to each of the stories included in their clip report, as follows:

  • 4 points per feature story
  • 3 points per 1-to-2 paragraph writeup within an article
  • 2 points per story with a 1-2 sentence mention or an executive quote; and
  • 1 point for a passing mention
  • 0 points for press release reprints

Their score of 2.8/4.0 reflects the fact that most stories included a few sentences or one- to two- paragraphs about the company. The majority of mentions were buried far below the fold or were too brief to be of any real value.

The score could indicate you need to develop deeper relationships with the writers you know. You might also need to come up with more compelling storylines.

#4 Your pipeline promises more of the same

When what you’ve been doing is not working, and you’ve lost confidence in your team, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

I look for gifted storytellers who understand how to build relationships with the right people and drive engagement. Then, I track their performance using the same metrics, plus one or two more.

The fact that relationship building takes so much time is the primary reason companies dream of hiring a PR pro who walks in the door with all the right mucky-mucks on speed dial. In the real world, relationship-building takes time, research, reflection, creativity, and persistence (read: follow-up, not stalking).

Here’s what you should do instead

I’m a big believer in the power of building relationships with the people who educate my target audience and inspire conversations I want to join. Contrary to PR purists, I take a holistic approach and look beyond traditional press and analysts to also include bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, and socially influential subject matter experts. Here again, Buzzsumo can help.

Once you have properly vetted the “target list,” put a process in place to build relationships with them. To scale, set up milestones such as meaningful social engagements and briefings, and track progress against it.

I also insist the team uses productivity tools that automate mundane tasks where ever possible, especially if you’re billed by the hour. Things like scheduling, reporting, and day-to-day administration need to get done right, but no one wants to pay $100+/hour to get it done manually. Scheduling tools like Calendar eliminate the back-and-forth and come with data visualization tools to tally your briefings. Productivity tools like Nimble CRM provide proper context, while its pipeline manager allows you to visualize your progress.

Conclusion

I’m not saying these benchmarks are the right ones for everyone. But they did answer my friend’s questions about his PR firm and set up a framework to measure future efforts. What metrics do you use, or would you like to see? Also, how do you get the most out of your PR?