ROI, or return on investment, is a simple, well-defined formula that anyone with the briefest exposure to business or finance can likely recite. However, when it comes to public relations (PR), the return or gain from a company’s investment in a services retainer, project campaign or communications department’s efforts may be harder to define.

Yet in a world that’s universally connected by a never-ending number of social media and news outlets that never sleep, and run by individuals who can influence millions with a single tweet, public relations remains one of the most effective ways to help retain control over one’s brand messaging.

Further, when companies understand the true value gained from hiring your PR organization, the onus for you to produce hard and fast ROI figures becomes less of a sticking point. Instead, as PR professionals attempting to prove you’re worth your salt, your efforts are better measured through these five returns.

  1. Return on Relationships

Building and maintaining relationships is a full-time job – it’s why the most important aspect of PR is right there in the title. Without the right “relations” (i.e.: connections with targeted media outlets, industry leaders and social media influencers) a brand is likely to get lost in the fray.

Naturally, one of your most valuable offerings as a PR professional is your ability to pinpoint the appropriate outlet or influencer and build a bridge between them and your client.

When done correctly, the relationship between a PR professional and a member of the media is mutually beneficial. The media person looking for expert sources or story leads can work with the PR professional, ultimately gaining an understanding of the brand that leads to two important results: an improved story for the media member and earned media coverage and credibility for the client.

In short, you offer the power to position your client’s brand so they can be of service to media, and, in turn, share get their story with an audience of interested consumers.

  1. Brand Affinity

As articles, blog posts or endorsements begin cropping up across different mediums, they set off an important chain reaction. With each piece the brand gains recognition and credibility, which leads to brand affinity and when coupled with outstanding customer service, eventually spurs the ultimate client return: brand loyalty.

By proactively telling your client’s story through the right channels, you lead the client’s narrative, giving stakeholders a fully conceptualized brand story.

Through that story you flesh out a brand’s relevance via the unique offerings only your client can deliver, differentiate them from the competition, and highlight the most compelling features of the product or service and the team behind it.

  1. Targeted Reach

Of course, merely publishing a piece or two for the sake of doing so has minimal effect if the corresponding outlet doesn’t attract their targeted audience.

Working with your client to identify clear, specific PR goals stemming from the client’s overarching business goals is a great way to dial down to the tactics, helping you hone your reach. Then, using your PR knowledge, you can determine which markets to focus on and link your client’s brand to a list of tailor-made connections within the communities of interest.

For example, say you’re representing a beauty company that is about to unveil a new line of makeup brushes. A targeted group of YouTube or Instagram makeup artists and beauty aficionados with cult followings are likely the group of movers and shakers you need to engage with early on in order to get in on the ground floor, earn consumer trust and lay the groundwork for future promotions to help get the word out and ultimately, drive sales for the product.

  1. Stymied Competition

The benefits of keeping your brand in the spotlight regularly with PR initiatives is two-fold. Not only does the repetition keep your client’s branding at the forefront of people’s minds, it also starves your competition of any limelight. By frequently brainstorming initiatives and promotions – such as offering exclusive discounts to customers, strategically partnering with other charity organizations or kicking off viral social media campaigns – your brand will have a leg up on the competition.

Each placement or tastemaker mention not only grows brand awareness, it positions your client as the industry leader and allows you to begin building a monopoly over your niche market. Think of it this way – if you aren’t proactively doing something, you’re freeing up space for your competition to thwart you.

  1. Relevance in the Marketplace

Through your glowing reviews, earned coverage and authentic endorsements, you’ll covertly show consumers why your client’s brand is the most relevant, and timely of its kind.

It’s important for a myriad of reasons, one of which being coverage begets coverage.

If X journalist sees another credible outlet cover your client’s brand, he or she will be more likely to find an interesting angle to write about it. As your client’s relevance grows it could even encourage outlets to rely on your client as a subject matter expert, industry leader or commentator to help them substantiate future pieces they may write.

Ultimately, each client and their stated goals are likely to differ so widely that there truly is no standard one size fits all approach to calculating PR ROI.

However, successful public relations campaigns and teams follow an adaptable, fluid PR plan that directly stems from larger business goals. From there, skilled PR pros can piece together reports that list and detail gains in a way that clearly demonstrates their value. The opportunity has never been better for PR professionals to help clients see past the almighty dollar and educate them on the intangibles that make public relations work so essential to overall business success.