How can you make public relations measurable?
With most brands now selling online, direct-to-consumer has become one of many channels that brands can leverage.
But is there a way to track PR numbers in the same way you can with digital marketing?
My guest Travis Murdock is the US General Manager at Sonus PR, a B2B agency focused on cutting-edge tech.
With 25 years of tech experience in B2B and consumer companies, Travis is on a mission to help entrepreneurs build their brands and tell their stories—and in this episode, he’ll share his expertise with you.
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is making public relations measurable. Here to speak with me is Travis Murdock, who is the US General Manager at Sonus PR, a b2b agency focused on cutting edge tech.
Travis has 25 years of tech experience in b2b and consumer companies. His focus is helping entrepreneurs build their brands and tell their stories. Travis has worked at other agencies, including Edelman and Ruder Finn. He also worked in house for about half his career in various marketing and PR, roles holding CMO and head of marketing positions. Travis, welcome to the show.
Travis Murdock: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Steffen: Now, Travis, before we start talking about how you guys make public relations measurable, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career? And what led you to leading Sonus PR here in the US?
Travis: Such a great question. I was one day, it was my junior year of college and didn’t really yet know what I wanted to do. And I saw an ad in the paper for International Public Relations Manager, which I didn’t even know really what that was to any degree. But I did have a business class that I needed to create a resume for and needed to interview for. So what I did was, and by the way, it’s the only newspaper article I’ve ever looked at, to get a job.
So, I called them up and got on the list, and I just was gonna do it as a practice interview, right. I needed to do that was a class assignment. So because I wasn’t going to get the job, I was a junior in college, I just really went in that interview. And I went for it. Like, I had no hesitation, I had no concerns. I just really pitched hard.
And when they asked me, what should I do, you know, I told them, and it was a very small startup. You know, there was probably about 15 people in the company. I didn’t know what a startup was, at that time. And their offices were in a tool shed behind, like a Quickie Mart type spot. So look, the crazy part was, is that I got the job.
Now, later, I recognize that it’s probably because I was probably the only one willing to accept, you know, almost no money for pay. And, but that was okay. I immediately fell in love with public relations. I then got a degree in PR, and spent my last two years of my job, or last two years of my college, traveling with this job, and it was a great start to a career. Awesome.
Steffen: Awesome. It sounds like a great way to start your career, you know. Now, when people think about public relations, they probably don’t necessarily think about that what public relations company do is measurable, like digital marketing. Digital marketing for all solutions, you know, you put this amount of money in, what comes out? Why is it harder for public relations to measure the impact of their work and put kind of a number against it, compared to digital marketing, for example?
Travis: Yeah. So it’s a challenge. I think that there’s two things that drive this challenge. One is that people that are in public relations are relationship based marketers. So they’re trained from the very beginning to build relationships with influencers or with media, or with, you know, anybody else who moves the conversation. So the art that they learn in practice is relationships.
So that first thing is in our normal lives, we’re not used to measuring our relationships. And because of that, I think it hampers. That’s one thing that hampers our thinking on how to measure. I think that there’s another thing which is that the type of people who are attracted to this type of marketing, sometimes went into it, because they don’t want to do math, you know, and I can appreciate that.
And of course, measuring in the end is about kind of creating a process where you can count and measure and it has to be repeatable. So I think those are two factors. I will say, though, that there is a way to measure it. And I always urge my public relations counterparts to step up, because, as you mentioned, digital marketing is today, perfectly measurable.
And because of that, budgets, it’s much easier to get a budget for a pay to click campaign, for example, than it might be for a media relations campaign. But a media relations campaign, especially for a company that’s in the b2b technology space, but in any space, needs that third party validation. And media and other influencers are a very powerful way to do that.
Steffen: Yeah. Now, when someone runs PR, there definitely is an awareness play there, right? You want to increase the awareness of a brand, of a product, of a solution. Now, when we run digital marketing campaigns, awareness campaigns, we’re able to measure the impact of that digital marketing campaign on brand awareness, you know. Is that something that you guys look at too from a PR perspective? And if so, how do you manage that part?
Travis: Yeah, I love the thinking there. Because it gets right to the heart of the challenge, which is, you know, what is success? What is the thing that is measured as successful? And I’ll tell you that there’s absolutely a way to do this. And the way that you do it is in a couple of suggestions and thoughts.
One is that when we’re talking about media relations, in particular, with just a little bit of integration with some of these Google Analytics, for example, you can directly measure the benefits of a story, or the benefits of a social media campaign, or a stunt. How do you do that? You do that by two measurements.
One is direct traffic to the website. So you have referral traffic. Even the most basic person on websites can look at referral traffic, right? It’s available to anybody, and it’s really easy to see. And if you did a campaign that day, and there’s a spike. Claim it right, it’s yours. Like you ran a story and 5,000 people came to your website that day from that publication. You know that’s yours. Now, most PR people just don’t do that. Quite honestly.
And part of it is that referral traffic. One, they’re not familiar with Google Analytics. They’re more storytellers than they are kind of like, you know, marketing operations type people. And also, there’s always this idea, yeah, but was it really us? Right, the attribution kind of question. And I would just tell you, like, if the traffic came from that publication, it’s yours, right? You did it. So use the same tools that the digital marketers are using, you don’t have to use something different. The second tool you can use is Google search traffic.
So when the brand that you’re representing or promoting, you know, peaks, when you had a launch day, and you had multiple news stories that occurred, that’s you, right. That’s 100% available. If someone searches for you, that is one of the highest measurements of intent. And, you know, they’re looking for you. So like, those two, I’ve just given like two, those are two really practical, easy ways to measure PR.
Steffen: Yeah. Picking up on what you said in regards to traffic to the website right, I think you probably also have to differentiate between PR that is offline, right. Whether that’s TV or newspaper or whatever offline PR you do. And then online. Because if it is an online publication, and as you talked about referral traffic, of course, that is measurable in Google Analytics, you see, if you have set up your Rolodex correctly, where is the traffic coming from.
Another way for the offline part is you could basically establish kind of a baseline, right. You know, on average, what your traffic levels are on a day to day basis. And if you then run PR activities, and you see a spike, you just have to basically take what is my baseline? What am I having at that point, and subtract the baseline from the overall traffic and you have basically what the impact is of the PR activity for the day. Obviously, if you have it for longer then you need to look at a longer period.
But that doesn’t seem to be too difficult, you know? So why potentially do certain PR, do PR people not do that? I mean that for me, I’m a digital person. Seems like a no brainer. Because when I deal with clients, they obviously expect me to tell them what the impact is of the media budget they gave us, basically, you know. The client doesn’t have the expectation, knowing exactly what the impact is?
Travis: Yeah, let me give you a story that illustrates it, and then and then jump into the answer. So I was working for a very smart CEO who had a master’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in business. And, you know, he knew numbers, and he was an engineer, and he was also the CEO. A very smart person. And he and I were, you know, it was an earlier stage company. So money, you know, meant something every dollar we spend.
But we were doing well. And we can remember having this discussion, like, what’s the value of what you do? Like, what’s the value to me? How are you landing the customers? Like, because that’s all that matters. And I went into our Google Analytics, and I was able to show that 80% of the traffic to our website, came from media relations. And that I never had to argue again, about a budget.
And I want you to know, I’ve done that multiple times. It’s not always as high as 80%. But even if it’s 30%, right, you know that that’s a material addition to the company. In fact, we later showed that requests for meetings, this took a little bit more work to show. Requests for actual meetings with salespeople, nearly 90% were after they read something about, you now, that we did. Now, that took me going into Google Analytics, understanding how that works, wasn’t hard.
I didn’t know anything before I started. I haven’t taken a math class since you know, 1990. So you know, it’s not like I was the analytics person. But it’s something that changed it. So that experience really showed me that I need to show measurement. And as you just outlined, and we do this at Sonus regularly, all you have to do is show that there was a significant correlation between a spike in traffic and a day, when you can show that you did something. Those are actually incredibly clear.
This isn’t like deep data analytics, this is actually something that you can see with your eye. And if you plot out the stories that you did, or the press releases that you did, and you plot out the relationships you made, and then you look against spikes, it will be, I’m telling you, it’ll be very clear that you’re working towards that.
Second piece, which you asked about which is offline. Because a lot of what we do, especially when it comes to relationship building, there’s no online anything, right? Like that’s a human to human having a meeting, and PR people, when we’re alone, we all are like, yeah, but I built this great relationship, and it led to this sales thing. And for whatever reason, unlike the sales team, who takes credit for each relationship account that they build, for some reason, we don’t do that. So what do you do? You measure it.
I had a client, who was very successful, and they measured everything. They were an engineering culture, and they everything had to be measured. And that had led them to a lot of success. So when it came to PR, they weren’t going to just say no. They weren’t going to just say, okay, this one, we’re gonna let it go. No, they’re gonna measure it. So what we did was, but this was a relationship building campaign of influencers.
So we took our list of influencers. And then we decided what is a kind of an advance in the relationship. What constitutes increase, and sales teams do this every day. Where are you at the stage of the funnel, right? Same exact measurement. So we would measure that with each of the people and you know, the relationship owner would then report. And I want you to know this scale, like we were doing this at hundreds of people.
And it was very clear what was delivering results. Now we also measured if those people mentioned the client in any of their social conversations, we also measured whenever they promoted something or mentioned something. So that went into the engagement measurement. And that engagement measurement is, sure it has some fuzziness to it, just like the sales process does. But now all of a sudden, we had something that felt like it was measurable.
And you could also see the relationship builders, the PR people, who were doing it the most, right. You could start to see who was doing it the best, you could start to see where they were publishing. That is what I’m talking about in measurement. And, all it really took was just thinking about things in the kind of operational or marketing operations way. And then, you know, writing it down.
Steffen: Interesting. Now, does it help to unlock budget when you have conversations with clients? I mean, awareness, still, I mean, showing an uplift in traffic and getting X amount of people to a site is a data point that’s interesting to a company. But at the end, everything needs to trickle down to something. Whether that’s leads, you’re in b2b. So we’re probably talking about, talk a lot about leads. Leads lead to sales, etc. Doesn’t help being able to outline what the impact of PR is, in kind of maintaining budgets, increasing budgets, getting budgets approved in the first place?
Travis: Yeah, so I think about 20 years ago, most business leaders, but particularly in tech, in finance, healthcare, they all learned that public relations is critical. Like they were taught that in business school. They may not even know why. And they may not even know how it works. But that awareness became. So whether they should have a program or not, is not really a question. How big that program should be, is 100% about how much does it yield. And, you know, do I have one person that handles only the crises?
Or do I have a team of people that are helping me, you know, tell my story. So, I mean, it’s just been my experience that whenever, you can measure, you can get more. And it’s like, almost like a one for one. And I, again, other parts of marketing have really taken advantage of this, you know, digital marketing campaigns that finally got themselves down to pay per click, regardless of how you feel about the performance of that with your particular business, it makes it a very easy conversation.
You’re in the meeting, we need 10,000 leads, this costs us 10 cents per lead. This is the budget, let’s go and do it. And then as you become more repeatable at that, then the trust, there’s more trust. Here’s the thing about measurement. Measurement builds trust. Everyone knows that in the business, that there’s things we don’t know, we can’t control, we can’t forecast. That’s fine.
But the more that you can put into the predictability, then of course, those are the things that are the easiest for you to make the fastest decisions on. Now, I’m not advocating for PR just for PR’s sake. There’s times when other digital marketing makes more sense. You know, storytelling isn’t always the answer. Sometimes you need repeatable impressions and you need, you know, to be in a certain place. I agree with that.
But when it becomes operationally a part of your marketing mix, and it plays by the same rules, as the rest of the marketing team. PR doesn’t just get a pass, here’s free money, you don’t have to measure it. It allows them to be around more and have more stability. I mean, I don’t like it. But the first thing that you get rid of whenever there’s a downturn is your PR team.
And why is that? It’s because they’re not measured, they’re not being measured. So, as professionals, we have an opportunity to step out of that and help ourselves be seen for the value that we actually bring to the organization.
Steffen: Now you talked about trust. How has the fact that there is more trust involved change the client discussion and the relationship that you have?
Travis: Yeah, yeah. So, you know, let’s say you’re, you know, as a PR agency, and as you’re having conversations with a client, and the traditional sales method is, it’s relationship based. And it’s about, you know, it’s a little bit about, have you done this before kind of domain expertise. And those things are important. I mean, I’m not saying they’re not important, but when you shift the conversation from the very beginning to what actually moves your business.
Let’s just use an example. Like what publications actually drive mindshare, for your business, right? Mindshare drives market share. So, what is actually getting mindshare. And when you shift that conversation and you do it, you can do it in the beginning, everything changes. The client now, you become the true consultant, like, in the best way.
You become the adviser to the business that grows the business. You have to learn to talk numbers, right? That’s the challenge, we outlined why that’s a challenge earlier. But once you start to talk numbers, you find yourself in a different position. Now, also, they can put you in front of their CMO.
They can put you in front of their finance team, you know, to explain how and why this is working. And you just earn a very different seat. Right? When you’re earning money for the company, you’re just, you know, you start to occupy the same seat that the sales team does, and you become the person that’s a driver of that. Very different place.
Steffen: Yeah, you’re part of the overall solution. Instead of just, you know, this, I don’t want to say afterthought, but just this team that is there that does one thing off to create some awareness and marketing or the other marketing activities are constantly running, paid search, display, etc. These investments are evergreen. PR isn’t necessarily is evergreen.
So there’s a difference. And once you kind of engage in your whole discussion with the sales, as you said, and marketing team, that obviously adds the additional value. Now, what three tactics can nearly any PR team, PR agency follow to improve their visibility with their clients and standing and demonstrate their value?
Travis: Yeah, well, the easiest one I would encourage everyone to do is one we’ve talked about already, is just go to your client or to your, if you’re in house, go to your web team, ask for guest access to your Google Analytics or whatever website package you use. And don’t do anything more complicated than go and look at the referral traffic. Just do that. Anybody can understand what those numbers mean, and then plot that against either the news stories you’ve landed, or the press releases you’ve landed.
Now, at Sonus we have created a system that allows us to automate the creating of that. So it allows that to scale. And I would encourage anyone that wants to do that repeatedly to ensure that they find a way to make that scale, or you’ll only do it once, right. And that doesn’t do any good. And that’s a very simple thing that everybody can do.
I think the other thing is, I would kind of demand in the most appropriate way you can but still insist that just like the rest of the organization, like sales, or the other parts of marketing, have a quarterly business review, where you talk about, you know, what you’ve done and where you’re going. I would insist on that. And I would insist on the ability to talk to the same people that the sales team gets to talk to.
They get access, you know, to C level executives talking about it, and you should insist on that, too. Now, they’re not going to be used to that. When you walk into their office, they’re not going to be used to that. But walk in saying, this is what we’ve done to move the needle, and you tell me what you need, what’s your agenda for this quarter, and then tie into those. You know, you do that twice and again, you will be in a different seat. You will be in the place which is like we need to grow.
You’re part of the growth team. We need advice. You’re part of that advice. It also I promise you will make all the other roles that you do like crisis and C level communications, it’ll make it all easier because you actually know these people, right, they’ve come to you. So those are a couple pieces that I would say are things that any agency or any PR person can do and help them to talk, what I say is talk in numbers, right. Learn to talk with numbers.
Steffen: Well, I think that was some great advice. Unfortunately, we’ve come to the end of today’s podcast recording. Travis, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your knowledge on making public relations measurable. Now if people want to find out more about you, about Sonus PR, how can they get in touch?
Travis: Yes, happy to chat with you through, you can find me on LinkedIn, Travis Murdock. You can also reach me at Travis.Murdock@Sonuspr.com. And I would love to chat with you about this topic.
Steffen: Perfect now, as always, we’ll leave that information in the show notes. Thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
Voiceover: Performance Delivered is sponsored by Symphonic Digital. Discover audience-focused and data-driven digital marketing solutions for small and medium businesses at symphonicdigital.com.