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Digital PR

Published January 28th 2021

The Definitive Guide To PR Reporting in 2021

Although the need and rationale for PR reporting appears self-evident, it is generally seen as a necessary evil by most PR professionals.

PR people everywhere are ultimately accountable to various groups of stakeholders and have to inform them about what they planned to do – and whether they achieved it or not (within a given timeframe and budget).

When it comes to PR reporting, the reality is that it’s still often seen as a weekly or monthly scramble to pull together disparate sources of data, wrangled into a Word, PowerPoint or PDF document, with some textual commentary which gets emailed to clients (internal or external) with seconds to spare.

And then the process rinses and repeats every week, month or quarter.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In this definitive guide, we look at the who, what, why, when and how of PR reporting in 2021.

More specifically, how to spend less time producing PR reports and dashboards – and turning them into value added business drivers rather than bottomless repositories of meaningless data puking.

Why do PR reports exist?

PR reporting is typically seen as a “rear view mirror” exercise. Someone, somewhere (usually a HIPPO – Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) wants to know what the PR team have been doing – and whether things are “on track” and delivering a positive return on investment (this of course presupposes that there is already a plan in place with defined targets and KPIs that allows the PR team to be able to determine how well they are doing).

Arguably, PR reports are usually just about what has already happened.

However, they should also provide indications as to what to do next, as a result of what has already occurred.

A key question to ask of any PR report is:

“Will we do anything differently as a result of what the PR report tells us.”

Far too often, the PR report gets sent to people who, even if they read it, don’t ask questions about what the data and metrics are revealing. Or how it might inform changes in approach.

According to Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic in her book Storytelling with Data:

“There is a story in your data. But your tools don’t know what that story is. That’s where it takes you—the analyst or communicator of the information—to bring that story visually and contextually to life. You must shift from simply showing data to storytelling with data. Being able to tell stories with data is a skill that’s becoming ever more important in our world of increasing data and desire for data-driven decision making.”

Ironically, PR professionals are supposed to be expert storytellers – which indeed they are when it comes to creating narratives and messaging around PR content for clients. However, data storytelling has become an equally important skill – especially around PR reporting.

Who are PR reports intended for? (And what do they want to know?)

All metrics are political, including PR metrics. The things you choose (or are told) to report on are a reflection of what things are considered to be important, meaningful, impactful, etc for your organisation (or at least senior management).

Some of the most important questions to ask about any PR report are:

  • Who wants this PR report?
  • And why?
  • What is the PR report intended to reveal to them?
  • What do you want the recipient to take from it?

Getting clear answers to these questions will help greatly in determining exactly: what kind of report or PR dashboard you build, how you deliver it, how often you have to update it, and the time, money and effort needed to create your reports for all relevant stakeholders.

When and how should you report? (the importance of reporting cadence)

The decision on how frequently reports should be created and distributed is often overlooked. Weekly and monthly report cadences are simply used because people expect a report with a regular frequency – and are therefore the most common report timeframes.

Web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik wrote a blog post in July 2018 which outlined an impact matrix framework for digital analytics.

In simple terms, he argued that reporting frequency should be determined along two scales:

  • Are the report metrics super tactical or super strategic?
  • And what is the role of the intended report recipient?

The chart below maps out report frequency in relation to who will be interested in specific numbers along the tactical/strategic scale.

Some of those metrics may already apply in PR reports. Those that aren’t can easily be incorporated into the matrix.

Using this framework can help shape decisions around what data to collect and report on – and how frequently to share it with relevant stakeholders.

In a similar way, it is important to not let the ability to create faster reports or near real time dashboards drive reporting frequency at the expense of the metric being measured.

Determining Return on Investment (ROI) is a case in point. LinkedIn recently released the results of a survey of over 5000 marketing professionals which revealed that: “77% of marketers are measuring ROI within the first month of their campaign, knowingly trying to “prove ROI in a shorter amount of time than their typical sales cycle, while only 4% of marketers even measure ROI over a six-month period or longer.”

PR professionals are always being asked to prove ROI – however, this metric needs to be reported on over a much longer time period and shouldn’t be part of a weekly or even monthly reporting dashboard.

What kinds of PR reports are there?

  • What have we actually done?
  • How much time have we spent and on what activity?
  • How much money have we spent?
  • What have we achieved?
  • Are we on track to meet our overall goals?

And very often the really important metrics are comparisons…

  • How do our results compare month on month, quarter on quarter, year on year?
  • Are we where we expected to be? If not, why not?
  • What can the data tell us to allow us to make informed decisions about what we need to do to get back on track?

These are all fundamental questions that PR reports everywhere are ultimately trying to answer.

In terms of format, the PR report is still often delivered as a Word or PDF document or PowerPoint deck.

Or it might even just be a simple weekly text email. There is one thing all of these report formats share. They are static. The data in them is “fixed”.

And the only way for the recipient to interrogate the data further is to go back to the report creator and ask questions.

In addition, they can often lead to the phenomenon described by web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik as “data puking”.

Rather than make strategic decisions about what data is relevant (or what data narrative the report author is attempting to convey), everything gets thrown in – and the burden of interpretation is placed upon the shoulders of the recipient.

What kind of PR report should you be creating in 2021?

In recent times, PR dashboards have become all the rage. In principle, the benefits should be obvious.

PR dashboards should provide an excellent way to convey relevant PR reporting in a timely manner to relevant stakeholders.

They are typically web based, accessible 24/7 and often allow the end user the ability to analyse the PR report data for themselves.

Given these benefits, why haven’t PR reporting dashboards gained mainstream acceptance?

To date, the barriers have mainly been around cost and the effort needed to set up and maintain these dashboards.

With the emergence of free dashboard creation and display technologies such as Google Data Studio, many of these issues no longer apply.

More specifically, tools like Google Data Studio give PR report creators the power to combine different data sets in ways that would have been unimaginable in the past.

But they also open up the ability to create more customised PR reporting dashboard formats that more fully meet the needs of PR report recipients in 2021.

How can you create actionable PR reports?

Where are we going to get the data from in the first place that we need to fuel our PR reports?

Fortunately, BuzzSumo can help with many of the key elements of a modern-day PR report dashboard.

BuzzSumo’s monitoring facility can be used to capture media coverage URLs, as well as other useful data points such as domain authority and social media amplification.

It provides a really useful real time report that allows users to track volume of coverage content over time.

BuzzSumo's Media Coverage Monitoring

BuzzSumo Alerts Contain A Lot Of Information

However, for the purpose of more general PR reporting, you might want to be able to display this data in a different format, or combine it with other PR reporting data to provide a more holistic view.

BuzzSumo makes it very easy to get data out by providing two very powerful ways of exporting information for use in other tools.

In the case of monitoring data, you can use either an RSS feed or download a CSV spreadsheet file.

If you use the RSS feed option, you can automate the process of pulling the data into a spreadsheet by using automation tools such as IFTTT or Zapier to add new data to a new line of a Google Sheet automatically.

This Google Sheet can then be used to automatically power a Google Data Studio dashboard – a good example of how to reduce time and effort spent capturing PR reporting data.

Once the monitoring data is in Google Data Studio, you can extract further value from the data originally captured for you by BuzzSumo.

The following screenshot is an example of a media coverage evaluation dashboard that allows the user to view not just volume of coverage over time but also look at changes in overall domain authority of coverage – over a given time period – as well as by journalist or media outlet.

Domain authority can be seen as a reflection of the quality and influence of a media outlet.

Being able to demonstrate an overall rise in media coverage domain authority over time would hopefully correlate with improved brand awareness and/or business outcomes.

Combining BuzzSumo data with other sources: sentiment analysis

PR reports relating to media coverage usually focus on metrics such as reach and domain authority.

However, there is often a need to look more qualitatively at the media content generated.

For example, is the coverage positive, neutral or negative? One way to determine this would be to have someone read every article and apply a sentiment rating to each item of coverage.

Changes in sentiment could then be tracked, monitored and reported on over time.

However, it is possible to automate this sentiment analysis by analysing BuzzSumo monitoring data using another tool called URL Profiler.

One of its many features is the ability to analyse web content for sentiment, word count and host of other relevant factors such as readability.

By taking the URLs of monitored coverage from BuzzSumo and analysing with URL Profiler, each piece of coverage gets a positive, neutral or negative rating as well as a sentiment score.

URL Profiler will also find the top 10 keywords contained within each article by prominence and frequency.

This again can be helpful for tracking standard PR reporting requirements such as message penetration.

URL Profiler data is automatically saved as a spreadsheet which can then be used as a data source for a Google Data Studio PR reporting dashboard.

Building a single PR reporting dashboard using data blending via Google Data Studio

By combining data from BuzzSumo, Coveragebook and URL Profiler, it becomes possible to create an integrated media coverage reporting dashboard.

Google Data Studio allows multiple data sources to be “blended” together so that the data can be combined to provide a more holistic view (or detect correlations).

In this case, all key data points for media coverage purposes are contained in a single table:

  • Domain authority
  • Social sharing
  • Media site monthly visitors
  • Estimated article views, and
  • Sentiment

Again, being able to track changes in these numbers over time as well as match to an overall goal or target number in a single dashboard view is typically what most PR report recipients are seeking.

The screenshot below shows how all of that data can be displayed in a single simple dashboard using scorecards and time series charts.

The scorecards will automatically update based on the date range selected and compare with the previous period.

The example here shows how media performance in the final quarter of 2020 improved considerably over the previous quarter.

Create your own metrics

Once you have your BuzzSumo monitoring data in Google Data Studio, it opens up the opportunity to create your own calculated metrics.

For example, by taking into account both the overall Domain Authority score for a journalist’s media articles and the amount of social amplification that an individual journalist’s coverage gets, you can automatically calculate an Influence Index score.

The screenshot below shows how this might work in practice.

Even though a journalist might have written more stories than another journalist, the latter may have more “impact” because the title he/she writes for has a higher domain authority and the wider social amplification would have had broader reach.

This could have relevance for determining which journalist may have greater future impact and would influence media targeting by the PR team.

What makes for an ideal PR reporting dashboard?

As ever, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic has some great advice about building dashboards – and they particularly apply to PR reporting dashboards:

“Picture a blank page or a blank screen: every single element you add to that page or screen takes up cognitive load on the part of your audience—in other words, takes them brain power to process. Therefore, we want to take a discerning look at the visual elements that we allow into our communications. In general, identify anything that isn’t adding informative value—or isn’t adding enough informative value to make up for its presence—and remove those things.”

The six golden rules of dashboard design are:

  1. Understand the context
  2. Choose an appropriate visual display
  3. Eliminate clutter
  4. Focus attention where you want it
  5. Think like a designer
  6. Tell a story

The above examples are really just to whet your appetite to the possibilities for better PR reporting.

What about being able to combine media monitoring data captured by BuzzSumo and blending it with, say, brand search volume data might show how improved media visibility is resulting in higher brand awareness which in turn is generating higher sales, revenue and profitability?

Or showing how increased social sharing and social media impressions are also impacting brand awareness?

There are almost certainly many other PR reporting use cases to which these tools and techniques can be applied.

In summary, PR reporting in 2021 should move from a resource and time-consuming evil to a value-added business driver that allows PR professionals to spend more time gaining valuable insights into impact and delivering more effective PR work.

Hopefully this guide (in conjunction with BuzzSumo, Google Data Studio and other tools) will help you to kick start your newly optimised approach to PR reporting.


Planning your next PR campaign? Read our guide on 7 Best Practice PR Tips For Your Next Campaign.

About the author

Andrew Bruce Smith of Escherman is a specialist digital PR, social media, SEO and analytics trainer and consultant.

With a career spanning 36 years, he was cited in 2018 by the UK Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) as “one of PR’s greatest thinkers”.

Andrew has been a consistent digital innovator, being among the first UK communications practitioners to exploit e-mail (1990), the World Wide Web (1994) and Twitter (2007).

He has consulted or provided training to over 2000 organisations in the last 10 years including NATO, the Department of Environment (DEFRA), NHS, Specsavers, Sky, Jaguar Land Rover, Disney and many others.

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