The ROI Dilemma In Media Relations: CEOs and PR Professionals Face-Off

February 7, 2014

 This article originally appeared in the Travel Media Association of Canada newsletter.

When it comes to assessing the value of destination public relations efforts – a.k.a. ROI – PR professionals face an ongoing challenge. On the one hand, DMO CEOs like to see numbers; estimating the “worth” of a media placement based on its equivalent advertising value is easy for them to understand. On the other hand, in a day and age where blogs reaching opinion leaders can lead directly to vacation sales, yet equate to minimal ad value, the concept of advertising equivalency has become irrelevant.

The Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, better known simply as the “Barcelona Principles,” finally has the PR industry convinced that its time to shift away from quantifying the value of PR efforts based on the advertising value of a paid placement. Today, most destination PR practitioners are convinced of the power of meaningful measurement which qualifies if a campaign is effective by analyzing the distribution of key messages, whether the message reaches its targeted audience and if the audience is prompted to action.

Yet PR professionals are frequently caught in the crossfire between changing measurement techniques and a CEO’s perception of how PR should be measured.

So how should PR practitioners respond?

First CVB public relations practitioners must understand that there are two big issues with traditional measurement tools.

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The first issue is that there is no industry standard rates for advertising value. Advertisers actively negotiate pricing which means the value of space varies dramatically from month to month. Clipping services report differing values for the same advertising space. Some public relations practitioners even tabulate value using a multiplier that is reflective of the perceived increased value of a media endorsement versus a paid placement. This means that comparing the success of a destination PR campaign from year to year or from destination to destination is notoriously inconsistent.


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Second, the importance and thus value of online editorial coverage varies dramatically from day to day. As media consumption continually shifts to online platforms and consumers shift their vacation research habits online, online content has become increasingly more important for influencing consumer perception and booking habits. Yet the proposed “value” of this content is often unimpressive by traditional measurement standards.

Once these key issues are understood, PR practitioners are ready to explore the measurement systems that are taking the place of “advertising value.”

The primary shift is toward a program that evaluates “outcomes.”  To evaluate outcomes, we must first determine what we are trying to achieve – is it straightforward brand awareness campaign or a tactical campaign? Then we must set benchmarking goals to which results can be compared.

For instance, when measuring brand awareness, there are two key questions that can be asked:

  •  Did we deliver the right message?
  • Did we reach the right audience?

When it comes to tactical campaigns, the questions will be different:

  •  Did the campaign generate bookings?
  • Did it create a change in behavior such as longer stays, dispersal of travel or amount of spending per person?

Then there are behavioral measures to consider, including such elements as click-through rates, specific content viewed, time spent with digital content and sharing behavior. These days, with consumer research showing that third-party endorsements of travel experiences by friends and family, particularly on social media, are having the greatest impact on travel decision-making, it’s more important than ever to measure the power of digital engagement.

It’s a new day and age for destination PR practitioners and a new systematic approach to measurement is key to long-term communications success.



Written by Maureen Haley

Maureen joined DCI from a Miami-based lifestyle marketing firm in 2009, and in 2011 was named Regional Director for DCI’s Canada office. A specialist in promoting destinations to consumers both in the United States and Canada, Maureen has her finger on the pulse of the tactics that generate editorial coverage and motivate consumer purchasing decisions.

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