How To Show Your Contribution to the Bottom Line

“I can show a direct connection from this press release to company revenues,” said no communications professional ever. That’s right, I repeat…


If you’re wondering “why not?” one reason is that in today’s omni-media environment, attribution is complicated, influences are many, and impressions & AVEs don’t cut it any more.

All this being said, tying what you do every day to the bottom line is a complicated process. It’s one thing if you’re doing PR for an e-commerce company, but quite another “bottom line” if you’re working for a state agency (and still another if you’re a nonprofit on a mission to change society). So if you’re ready to scale back the complication and let your value shine, follow these 5 steps:

Step 1: Identify the organizational outcome

The key is, as the Barcelona Principles advise, to start with clearly defined goals and objectives. Not what you “think” is the goal, but what is outlined and agreed upon by whomever signs your paycheck. Contrary to what shows up as “goals” in most PR award submissions, most organizations invest in PR not to “get placements,” but to get something to change — be it constituency opinions, the number of attendees at an event, the volume of incoming donations, or something similar.

Step 2: Figure out what makes your target audience act

The next step is to establish what makes your stakeholders change their minds or behaviors. If you work for an e-commerce company (or any large company with a customer intelligence team), getting this information should be as easy as walking down the hall. Marketing research and customer intelligence departments spend their days accumulating data on what makes the customers act. They will have consumer research as well as historical sales data that assists marketers (e.g., how to create a compelling ad).

For example, when I was helping Procter & Gamble establish PR’s role in the marketing mix, they knew from years of advertising results data that in order to sell something, there had to be present a desirable visual, a recommendation and key brand benefits.

If you don’t have data to tell you what makes your customer/constituents/donors act, your next step will be to find your own data. Start at the top. Whatever senior leadership and/or the sales managers think will move the needle, is probably your best answer. If that doesn’t work, interview the folks on the front line, talk to your finance and business folks, and find someone with sufficient institutional knowledge. If that isn’t feasible then I recommend doing your own research by conducting a survey to ask your stakeholders what would make them change, act differently, or buy.

Step 3: Figure out how what you do influences the behavior of stakeholders

For Procter & Gamble, since we were already analyzing their coverage for tone and messages and tracking whether an influencer was quoted in the article, it was easy enough to produce a report that showed them exactly how many people had the opportunity to see recommendations, brand benefits, and desirable visuals. Their marketing analysts were then able to plug that into their marketing mix model and show PR’s contribution to sales.

I had a similar experience at a major pharmaceutical company where a marketing analyst sat in my meeting with the PR team and revealed that he could tell them, based on prescription data, exactly how and when earned media was helping increase the number of prescriptions written. A decade ago, movie studies learned how to mine earned media data and use it in their marketing model to influence opening ticket sales. Today’s forward-thinking media networks are analyzing how earned media drives ratings as well as increased online viewing.

But if you’re not lucky enough to have those kinds of resources, you’ll need to do your own research. Start by doing an audit of what data you have in-house. For example, is there data from your CRM system or your version of a Net Promoter Score (NPS)? Is Google Analytics set up on your web site?

Then, meet with senior leadership and get agreement on an acceptable definition of success or an acceptable proxy for the desired goal. For example, if you’re working in travel and tourism, you probably can’t directly count the number of people who come to your city as a result of your earned media efforts; however, you can use Google Analytics to determine the extent to which your efforts drove downloads to the visitor guide.

If you’re a nonprofit organization, one acceptable proxy might be the number of views on the “Thank  You for Donating” webpage that was served up after your PR event. For a government agency or advocacy organization, see if senior leadership will accept online petition signings or the number of views on the issue web page as the definition of success.

The important thing in this step is to make sure that senior leadership buys into whatever definition of “outcome” you come up with.

Step 4: Connect the dotsdots value

The next step is to correlate whatever metric or proxy you’ve gotten agreement on in Step 3 with the actual PR data. The first requirement is to match the structure of the data. For example, if you’re using daily data out of Google Analytics, in order to do any valid comparison to earned media, you will need to have daily data from your earned media.

Secondly you will need to decide which criteria in your earned media you are comparing. You probably have positive negative and neutral articles, plus possible message presence, prominence, dominance, and a host of other criteria that media monitoring companies provide. I recommend developing a “Media Quality Score” that aggregates and weights all qualitative criteria according to their influence in getting your stakeholders to act.

Finally you’ll want to use a statistical analysis package or the statistical functions in Excel to run tests of the data to see if there is a correlation.  Watch our video to find out how.

Step 5: Report the results

Once you have your data, start by reviewing what was agreed upon with senior leadership in terms of how earned media contributed to the outcomes. Then show the outcomes, followed by the details and the numbers. The point is that you don’t want to throw every bit of data up there and lose everyone’s attention. Start with your most significant findings and insights. Then have the data available when they ask questions.

If all of this seems overwhelming, or you want to help setting up your program, then don’t hesitate to get in touch. My experience with showing how earned media connects with outcomes spans three decades and I’m happy to help. Call me (603-682-0735) or email me ( and we’ll have you on your way to showing your value.

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.