Digital PR has forever disrupted how we measure and track public relations. leaving many PR pros scratching their head in confusion.

Advertising value equivalency (AVEs) are going the way of the dinosaur and for those struggling to put a value on their PR visibility, it’s time to take a fresh look at the possibilities.

The fundamental question that should come before ANY action is taken: what is your goal and how can you measure success in reaching that goal? It doesn’t matter if it is your annual strategy, a short-term campaign or a single piece of content – without a goal and a metric connected to that goal, it’s just a shot in the dark.

Deep breath! It’s not as bad as you think.

Here are a few thoughts on the subject, along with the occasional quote from the March #PRprochat, in case you missed it (first Thursdays at noon AZ time, 3pm EST – catch the next one!).

1. Decide your goal early on, then create content to fit the goal with a defined metric. Try to measure end results. What is the business goal you want to accomplish? Make sure you are measuring something achievable within the scope of the services you are providing and that your metrics consistent with how sophisticated your client is.

For example, what is the point of measuring revenue if the client is not able to connect sales dollars to the specific coverage you secure for them? Their in-house systems might make that difficult to track, yet following clicks to their website from a specific piece of content might be very achievable. Or what if it is a finance-related press release? Perhaps you can use for investor relations, using Google Analytics to track click-throughs to the

Thinking through what action you want a PR placement, press release or article to drive makes a huge difference.

For new clients, I find it often makes sense to determine metrics during the discovery phase. Since you are learning their business, it makes sense to talk about what they would like to achieve with PR, and what makes sense when deciding if something is successful or not.

And if they aren’t sure what their own objectives can be? Solid guidance can be a HUGE value-add you bring to the table.

Looking at end business results also helps you focus on quality and quantity, instead of the mere fact that you landed a placement. Did it boost website traffic? Result in social shares or a higher Klout/Kred score? Were email subscriptions or eBook downloads the result? Each of these things can be tracked back to a source.

Social shares of a PR placement is also important to include in reporting – not just the static end placement.

You just paid for a press release to go out on a wire service. Why does it not make sense to measure success by the number of placements of that press release? Because many of them are on automated news feeds that pick up EVERY press release, but have a lack of humans reading the feed. Looking at traffic generated to a website link or the home page might be a stronger indicator of results.

2. If you are tracking AVEs (advertising value equivalency) – then you aren’t thinking through your strategy enough. (What’s an AVE? Where the value is calculated by what that same amount of space would cost as an advertising purchase. For example, using the cost of a half-page advertisement in a publication as the value of a half-page editorial piece in that same pub.) It’s an outdated metric that does not signify value or quality of the placement. It’s very arbitrary.

Even using the publication audience size is a better metric than ad equivalence. At least then you can demonstrate reach…

In the past, PR professionals would report the AVE dollar amount (or double it, since editorial is inherently more credible than an ad, in the eyes of the consumer) as the primary metric. As public relations has shifted and online placements have become as strong part of the mix, methods used to measure PR have also improved and become more sophisticated.

The size of client can also determine the metrics you use. Is there enough time in the monthly retainer or your agreement to accommodate pulling reports and tracking? Time spent on reporting is time NOT spent on creating results.

If you are still reporting AVEs as a metric to show the value of PR, it’s time to move on. Invest time working with your client or employer to set real goals and realistic methods of measurement.

Along the same train of thought, the Barcelona Principals of measurement are also about measuring outcomes and impact, not output (placement). Learn more about it here – via @PRSA.

Also useful –> #PR measurement according to @ketchum

It’s also helpful to focus on QUALITY of the placement, not quantity. Does it reach the correct audience? Does it create a desired action?

2. Solid reporting impacts retention. Whether you consider time building reports and tracking as billable time or not, how well you communicate results has a direct impact on client retention. Those who ask “what have you done for me lately” need more communication and a better understanding of the value you provide.

And unhappy clients can often be tracked right back to a lack of measuring success and reporting. Occasionally, a gap occurs when a client doesn’t understand the metrics, so be sure to spend time ensuring everyone is on the same page. Consistent, steady communication leads to happier clients.

#DigitalPR – the combination of content marketing, SEO, social media and traditional PR – requires MANY metrics due to differences. Use what makes sense!

Even the smallest retainer must measure something. If it doesn’t, it’s well worth having a discussion about goals, then matching those goals to specific results and metrics.

Like this topic and want to read more? Skip over to the Storify #PRprochat transcript for March. This article only covers half of the conversation! You can also ping me on Twitter at @morgancarrie with your questions. I welcome the chance to connect.