Apr 20

Different yardsticks: Measuring during COVID-19

Tools used for measuring and calculating on a grid paperMeasuring the effectiveness of public relations can be a challenge on a good day, but during a global pandemic?

We tossed those usual rules out the window weeks ago. The media has pivoted to focus almost exclusively on the grim news of our current reality: new coronavirus cases, new deaths, skyrocketing unemployment numbers, racial inequities, lengthening lines at food banks and more. While we are seeing some softer stories break through – a birthday celebration for a patient of Emmanuel Hospice, a request for support from Guiding Light – most coverage remains focused on breaking news about the war being waged against COVID-19.

As I wrote in my blog last week, the time is not yet ripe to pitch most non-coronavirus stories. Yet clients expect – and deserve – to understand the return on their communication investment, even now.

That’s meant we have had to look beyond traditional media placements to measure ROI. And let’s face it, even before COVID-19 the use of advertising value equivalency had been fraught with peril for decades. Despite deep flaws, the calculation was often a default tool in the PR toolbox.

That’s because it’s hard to draw a straight line between a media placement and its results. We all live for moments when we can connect these dots and share a direct outcome, but they don’t happen often. It’s far more likely we will hear nothing, even after a great media placement, except maybe a tangential anecdote months down the line.

As I review our results, particularly over the past month, I have found a number of meaningful ways to quantify our impact, including:

New relationships

I have always appreciated the opportunity to connect current clients and friends, particularly if new business relationships can form – whether SPR benefits or not. During COVID-19, companies and organizations are pivoting to provide products and services to address this overwhelming need. Birgit Klohs and her team at The Right Place enhanced their already robust offerings by serving as “matchmakers” to connect manufacturers wanting to produce medical supplies or personal protective equipment. I have tapped into this network by introducing both manufacturers with extra capacity and those with extra need because of disrupted supply chains. I have also been able to directly connect manufacturers with new sales opportunities that have converted into contracts.


In addition to our own blogs, we have supported clients with writing, editing and placing the blogs they are producing to address the pandemic. One shared that the first blog in his new series, which was picked up by a B2B publication, resulted in multiple C-suite executives reaching out to connect after it was placed on LinkedIn – including one for a Fortune 100 company.

Social media

Our entire team is preparing a staggering amount of content for social media, allowing clients to connect directly with key portions of their stakeholders. Stories that might not be of interest to our time-strapped media colleagues find tremendous engagement on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.


We have written a lot more asks for our nonprofit clients, who have abruptly dealt with the cancellation of “prom season,” also known as the spring fundraisers that fuel so much of their annual budgets. Our approach is simple: Address the organization’s increased need in response to COVID-19 in clear, compelling terms. One nonprofit told us that an ask letter we had drafted resulted in two large gifts from area foundations in the first few minutes it was posted to Facebook.

Sign-ups and click-throughs

As our community works to educate itself on the impacts of COVID-19, we’ve seen an increase in the demand for content. As one client began turning out a steady stream of e-alerts, we recommended establishing an email address to allow their clients to sign up easily. Sign-ups went from a few dozen to more than 2,000 in a week. Ditto click-throughs for content in e-blasts, electronic newsletters and other outreach.


While our current Stay Home order has suspended in-person volunteer efforts, the needs of our nonprofits have not stopped. We helped one client announce a new YouTube project to crowdsource content, which has resulted in dozens of videos created by our very talented community in response to a call for support.

Our media files for March and April may not the traditional number of clips we would see. But we have continued to do meaningful, quantifiable communications work for clients, even during these most unsettling of times.

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