Measuring the Effectiveness of News Releases — A Case Study

Jarboe-press-release-study-2-hrsBy Greg Jarboe — Back in 1986, I became the 13th Director of Corporate Communications at Lotus Development Corporation, which was the world’s largest independent software company at the time. (Katie Paine, publisher of The Measurement Advisor, was the company’s 12th, and hired me before she left Lotus.) And that was when Lotus was only 4-1/2 years old.

After my first month on the job, I took a very thick book of about 700 magazine and newspaper clippings that we’d received (including a cover memo that calculated their combined AVE) down the hall to CEO Jim Manzi’s office, and casually dropped it on his desk. Manzi took a quick look and said, “Jarboe, if I could deposit these little pieces of paper in a bank, then I’d know what they were worth. But, until you can measure the impact of PR in cold, hard cash, don’t waste my time with these so-called reports.”

Manzi’s response prompted a question that I’ve been working on ever since: “How should enlightened Measurement Mavens measure their results?”

Well, let me share a recent Rutgers Business School Executive Education (RBSEE) case study that indicates the public relations and communications measurement industry should measure the success of a PR campaign with:

The Rutgers Business School Executive Education Case Study: Smart (Optimized) vs. Multimedia (Unoptimized) News Releases

The Rutgers Center for Management Development (CMD) and my firm, SEO-PR, has conducted a number of public relations measurement case studies, and won awards for comparing the results of different approaches. In early October 2015, Jackie Scott, the global program director of RBSEE, asked me to conduct a new case study to find out if a smart news release distributed via Business Wire generated better results than a multimedia news release distributed via PR Newswire.

The primary difference between the smart and multimedia releases is that the smart release is optimized by using keyword research to identify which topics and search terms are the most relevant and valuable to potential readers. You can read more about the differences in the releases in this SlideShare presentation, which covers the material in this article.

Scott’s goal was to discover the most cost-effective way to increase the number of participants in a new mini-MBA program – or, to use the vernacular, “put more butts in seats.” RBSEE’s new program, the Mini-MBA program on the Supply Chain in a Digitized Network, will be offered April 11 to 15, 2016, at the Heldrich Hotel, in New Brunswick, NJ. The program, which costs $4,995, will be led by a team of top industry experts and faculty from Rutgers Business School Supply Chain department.

To compare the two news releases we considered a range of metrics, including the number of confirmed postings, the number of release views, and the number of tweets about each one. But we rejected those, as we consider them outputs, not outcomes. As key performance indicators (KPIs), we decided to use:

  • Website traffic (the number of sessions and the number of new visitors generated),
  • Engagement (the average number of pages viewed per session and average session duration),
  • Conversions (the number of course registrations generated), and
  • ROMI of the public relations campaign.

The multimedia news release was already scheduled to be distributed via PR Newswire on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. So, we decided to distribute the smart news release via Business Wire on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. To ensure that the second release wasn’t seen as “substantially duplicate content” by Google or Google News, the headline was lengthened and optimized, a subhead was added, a photo was added, and 172 words of body copy were added.

For example, the headline of the first release read, “Rutgers Offers Next-Generation Supply Chain Strategy Program.” The longer, optimized headline of the second release read, “Internet of Things (IoT) Impact on Supply Chain Explored by Rutgers Business School Executive Education Mini-MBA Program.” Why do we consider the headline of the second release to be optimized? It includes relevant search terms that aren’t included in the headline of the first release, including: Internet of Things (which gets 49,500 monthly searches), Rutgers Business School (which gets 4,400 monthly searches), executive education (which gets 1,000 monthly searches), and Mini-MBA (which gets 590 monthly searches).

We write releases primarily for the public and the press, not for search engines. So, why bother optimizing the headline of a news release? Because we use keyword research like market research to see which relevant topics the public and press are more interested in reading. In addition, press releases can appear in Google News, Yahoo News, and Bing News results when someone searches for a relevant term. And a year ago, a Google spokesperson said that Google’s “In the News” box would start pulling from, “as diverse a range of voices as possible to ensure we get users to the answer they are looking for… That might come in the form of a video, a press release, a blog, a photo, a social media post or a news article.”

We also used the Google Analytics URL Builder to add parameters to the URLs we used in the second, optimized press release. When users click one of the custom links, the unique parameters are sent to your Google Analytics account, so you can identify the URLs that are most effective in attracting users to your content. (We recommend using the Chrome browser to use the URL builder form. Fill in the form and click “Generate URL” to create URLs for Custom Campaigns for website tracking. The form will return a URL you can then copy and paste into your press release links.)

Public relations outputs in the first two hours

Jarboe-press-release-study-2-hrs
Results two hours after release for the multimedia (unoptimized) release vs. the smart (optimized) release.

Both PR Newswire and Business Wire email reports about two hours after a press release crosses the wire.

The multimedia news release: Two hours after the multimedia news release was distributed on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, PR Newswire informed RBSEE that it had been distributed to 189 websites, and that it had 151 release views. In addition, PR Newswire reported that there was 1 tweet about the release by a person with 924 followers.

The smart news release: Two hours after the smart news release was distributed on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, Business Wire informed RBSEE that it had been distributed to 197 websites, and that it had 886 release views, 146 multimedia views, and 29 link clicks. In addition, Business Wire reported that there were 19 tweets about the release, including ones by @debraruh with 111,000 followers, @edaccessible with 65,400 followers, and @TheIoT with 40,100 followers.

Public relations outcomes in the first two months

We used RBSEE’s Google Analytics to track the website traffic, engagement, and conversions generated by each of the releases.

The multimedia news release: From Oct. 8 to Nov. 30, 2015, the multimedia news release distributed via PRNewswire.com generated 12 sessions by 9 new users. (In other words, a couple of people came back to the website a second or third time.) There were an average of 2.58 pages viewed per session and the average session duration was 58 seconds.

A full-text copy of the PR Newswire release was posted on MarketWatch.com, which generated 12 sessions by 6 new users. There were an average of 2.00 pages viewed per session and the average session duration was 21 seconds. A full-text copy of the PR Newswire release was also posted on News.Yahoo.com, which generated 11 sessions by 11 new users. There were an average of 2.09 pages viewed per session and the average session duration was 56 seconds.

When combined, the three versions of the PR Newswire release generated a total of 35 sessions and 26 new users.

The smart news release: From Oct. 22 to Nov. 30, 2015, the smart news release distributed via Business Wire generated 96 sessions by 67 new users. There were an average of 2.44 pages viewed per session and the average session duration was 2 minutes and 25 seconds.

In addition, Bob Ferrari of the Supply Chain Matters blog invited Margaret O’Donnell, RBSEE’s program manager, to contribute a guest post about the new course. It generated 4 sessions by 1 new user. There were an average of 4.00 pages viewed per session and the average session duration was 4 minutes and 51 seconds. The second release prompted Dave Schatz of New Brunswick Today to write a story about the new program. He interviewed several people, including O’Donnell, and included her contact information in the story for readers who were interested in getting more information. However, he did not include any links to the RBSEE website in his story. Finally, the second release prompted Susan Fourtané of EBN to contact O’Donnell. Fourtané interviewed Glen Gilmore, an attorney and social media strategist, who is one of the instructors in the new course. Her story generated 7 sessions by 2 new users.

Jarboe-smart-vs-multimedia-press-releases

Bottom line results: Smart beats multimedia

When combined, the smart news release distributed via Business Wire along with a related blog post and two news stories generated a total of 107 sessions and 70 new users. That’s 3.1 times more sessions and 2.7 times more new users than the three full-text versions of the multimedia news release distributed via PR Newswire.

According to Google Analytics, there have been “no conversions” yet. However, that’s because the new accelerated certificate program won’t be held until April 11 to 15, 2016. And conversions aren’t counted until the course is held.

However, Scott has informed me that the second campaign has generated six registrations at $4,995 per participant, or $29,970 in incremental revenue. To calculate her Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI), I estimated that the optimization and distribution of the press release as well as the blog outreach and media relations, which were provided pro bono, would have “cost” RBSEE $2,323. This is a short-term ROMI of 12.9X. That’s even better than the 8.6x ROMI that Rutgers CMD averaged back in 2011. Read more about the results of this study in this SlideShare presentation, which covers the material in this article.

In other words, you can measure the impact of PR in cold, hard cash. ∞

Note: This piece originally appeared as a free article in the late February 2016 edition of The Measurement Advisor newsletter.

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