ROI in Public Relations

An obvious important step in the public relations field is measuring return on investments. It’s important for the PR professionals, the client, and the client’s clients to know that there is positive efficiency of investments. They want to know that their business is growing and the strategies/tactics they’re using to implement the growth are working, as well. ROI’s are measured using different equations to calculate profit from investments, but, as described by Tom Watson of Bournemouth University and Ansgar Zerfass of the University of Leipzig in an academic article on ROI’s in public relations, “in public relations’ practitioner parlance, however, ROI appears to be used in a much looser form to indicate the results of activity,” (2011). 

So, in this loose term of return on investments, an article published by the Huffington Post blog asked PR practitioners to share their best advice about measuring public relations efforts. One of the recommendations to measure the success (or lack-there-of) of a public relations campaign, was from Shonali Burke, president and CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc., who suggests to constantly ask “why?” “‘Why’ are you investing time and resources into a particular campaign? What do you hope to get out of it? Ultimately, your PR efforts should support your business objectives, so don’t stop asking, ‘Why?’ until you get there.” This goes back to a main part of developing a campaign, the objectives, strategies, and tactics of reaching a goal, and figuring out who the target audience is and how to reach them. It’s also important to not only keep an eye on the client’s ROI’s, but also to keep track of competitors, which “requires analysis against key competitors within target strategic areas in a defined set of media” (Borchers, 2014).

Once PR professionals have determined what strategies they will use to measure the success of a campaign message, they need to implement those strategies. Some ways to possibly measure the effectiveness of the campaign tools used are, “common measurement devices like site traffic, targeted keyword searches for the brand, call volume, brand-awareness analysis (pre- and post-PR), sentiment tracking, and SEO metrics,” (Santoro, 2012). Obviously, these aren’t the only way to measure return on investments, but certainly with this being the “technology age,” online measurement tools can be very valuable to PR professionals.

It is important to note, however, that return on investments aren’t influenced solely by public relations tactics. For example, Jackie Malloy, a research strategist in communications for General Motors (GM), spoke out at a PR News Conference about why ROI’s are only an accounting measure. She said, “I am responsible for research and measurement for GM Communications. While there are a lot of PR measures that I track, I also know that ROI is not a measure I can do. Why? Because it is impossible for me to link every GM sale to what it was that influenced a person to ultimately purchase a vehicle,” (Davis, 2013). She suggest using benchmarks and Barcelona Principles to track public relations measures.

So, while ROI’s are definitely an important tool for public relations practitioners and can be measured and analyzed in many ways, it’s important to take into account other factors that could be contributing to those numbers, as well.


Watson, T., Zerfass, A. (2011). Return on investment in public relations: A critique of concepts used by practitioners from communication and management sciences perspectives. Prism Journal. Retrieved from

Borchers, M. (2014, March 26). Measuring the ROI of Public Relations: Five Experts Weigh In. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Santoro, M. (2012, February 23). 8 Ways To Measure Return On PR Investments. CMO. by Adobe. Retrieved from

Davis, L. (2013, May 21). Why ROI is Often a Useless Metric for PR Professionals. PR News. Retrieved from


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