PR attribution - Prowly Magazine
 · 9 min read · December 11, 2023

6 Things You Should Know About PR Attribution

Lucas Sommer

Most communications practitioners understand public relations' value when gaining exposure for a brand, product, event, or milestone. Because PR and marketing work hand-in-hand in most organizations, it's necessary to ensure one can track how successful marketing and communications efforts really are.

The real question is whether PR can be tracked with attribution the same way marketing campaigns are. Many PR pros are asking that very question. While there is significant headway being made in quantifiable PR measurements, many in the space can use a primer on knowing how best to use attribution to quantify the success of a PR campaign.

With this in mind, there are six critical things PR pros must know regarding PR attribution and how they can get the most out of their campaigns:

1. Understand PR attribution

While marketing practitioners have been blazing new trails with attribution associated with various campaigns, PR specialists have played catch up. Getting up to speed requires understanding attribution and why it's important to determine the return on investment and the true value of a communications campaign. Attribution is the practice of assigning credit to an engagement that leads to a buying decision.

During the buying journey, there are multiple touchpoints or engagements. The key for PR pros is knowing how to make sure their communications efforts are accurately counted as part of that buying journey. Doing so will ensure PR remains a vital and quantifiable component of a brand’s overall marketing strategy.

2. Know the difference between PR attribution and measurement

PR attribution and PR measurement are not the same things. PR specialists may have a high comfort level when using traditional methods to measure a PR campaign's results. These methods might include the number of views for a press release, the increase in website traffic after distribution, and how many publications actually carried the story. While these are necessary things to keep track of, none of them offers attribution.

Instead, PR attribution should include tracking specific visitors from several different links embedded in the release and multiple trade publications. When activity around those links is identified and tracked, they can become meaningful touchpoints within a multi-touch attribution model and an important step in the customer's buying journey.

Using attribution, along with traditional measurement, will tell a more comprehensive story regarding how engaged readers of press releases and related articles actually are to your brand, product, or service.

3. Decide which attribution model to use

Realizing that attribution should play a significant role in quantifying your PR campaign's effectiveness is half the battle. The other half is identifying and implementing a specific attribution model. There are generally 5 to 6 different types of attribution models PR pros can use. These models were initially designed for marketers but can also be used for PR pros if leveraged properly.

There are single touch and multiple-touch models, each providing the number of touchpoints that their name suggests. Each touchpoint is assigned a particular impact the specific engagement has on leading a prospect to make a buying decision. Not every model is suitable for every PR campaign, but understanding how they work will shed light on how they can be used.

Single-touch models

First-click model

First click attribution refers to a single-touch model that emphasizes the first touchpoint with your brand. That touchpoint could be reading your press release or article derived from your release, which is eventually followed by several other engagements. While there may be one additional interaction or several additional interactions, the first one receives all the credit for the sale.

It may be a stretch to believe significant sales will result from reading a press release, so this particular model may not be best suited for PR pros. It’s more likely that the press release could prompt further investigation, so the first click model, although helpful under other circumstances, might not be best suited for PR.

Last-click model

Last-click attribution is similar to the first-click approach. Rather than giving all credit to the first touchpoint, the last-click attribution model allocates all credit to the last interaction before the sale.

As is the case with the first-click model, the likelihood that a press release may not be the final domino that leads to a sale in most cases. If prospects have had multiple interactions with your brand and read a release or article, it could certainly help influence the buying decision. Still, other models may be more suitable for PR.

Multi-touch models

U-shaped model

The U-shaped model assigns 40% of the sales credit to the first and last campaign engagements. The remaining 20% is divided evenly among the other touchpoints in the journey, whether it be one more or five more.

With this model, a PR campaign – and the engagement a prospect has with a release or article – can contribute as an initial or subsequent interaction. Determining whether the release is an initial engagement or the last one, along with other engagements, might provide some insight into the PR campaign's effectiveness.

Time Decay model

One model gives most of the credit to those touchpoints occurring closer to the sale. The time decay attribution model indicates the initial touchpoints are less important than those that lead up to and occur right before conversion.

Depending on the nature of your PR campaign, an announcement or unveiling of a product or service might occur earlier in the buying journey. But, if your release adds additional information that many already in the buying journey can use to decide, the time decay model might be of value.

Linear model

In some campaigns, marketers may want to give every touchpoint an equal share of the sales credit. In those instances, a linear attribution model works well. Your prospects may come across your company when searching on a related topic, may subscribe to your email newsletter, or may engage with an ad on LinkedIn.

Concerning your PR campaign, each engagement with your release or related article would receive the same credit as engagements across other channels. This approach can provide greater insight into a brand's overall marketing strategy while also ensuring PR is included in the mix.

Data-driven model

The data-driven attribution model is the most sophisticated model of the ones we've reviewed. This approach relies on incorporating data (whether derived from AI or other means) to determine each touchpoint's importance. The data-driven model makes no general assumptions but relies on each engagement's performance to determine attribution weight.

This approach could provide the greatest opportunity for PR campaigns, as the credit given a release or article is based solely on the campaign's merits. Being able to isolate an engagement's performance can do wonders for quantifying a brand's PR efforts and possibly ensure proper resources are devoted to it.

By the way - we prepared two lists with marketing and PR tools that are AI-driven in case you're looking for the best option.

4. Take advantage of A/B testing 

As is done with marketing campaigns, testing which publications provide the most and best traffic that actually leads to a sale is an analysis worth doing. Not only can communicators measure which publications deliver the most leads, but they can also isolate the leads and quantify which ones lead to the most sales.

Once you know which publications provide better leads, you can devote more resources to that one while decreasing resources to the ones that don't.

5. Use topic segmentation to determine which topics align with your brand

Knowing which topics are mentioned in conjunction with your brand will result in the greatest increase in desirable traffic can lead to more productive combinations. 

For example, if you find your brand mentioned with certain topics in the publications you pitch to, and there is a measurable increase in traffic because of those topics mentioned, it's worth leaning more on those topic combinations to continue that desired traffic volume.

6. Leverage technology to deliver the data you need

While PR has historically used impressions, general awareness, and the like, practitioners can now use technology to gather detailed PR attribution data. This can be done using tools available to marketers. 

PR pros can leverage practices such as UTM parameters to determine where leads came from in relation to those deployed links. Imbedding trackable links within the press release, as well as within any accompanying data provided to the media, can be used to track reader behavior. Prospects will read the release or a related article and eventually click on those links. The link then takes them to the company website or a specially designed product launch page uniquely associated with the release.

Those visits are tracked, touchpoints are added to the multi-touch PR attribution model, and the results are folded into the buying journey. While this is not difficult to do, it does require some understanding of how to properly imbed trackable links into content such as press releases.

If you’re using Prowly, you can also track the performance of your online newsroom, press releases, and email pitches, and use these insights to enhance your standard PR reports.

How to get started 

So, how does one get started to marry PR with attribution? There are many ways to begin, such as tracking links embedded into press releases with URL shorteners and UTM parameters to ensure Google Analytics is properly tracking the right traffic from the right sources.

It's also worth incorporating the use of one of the attribution models that can accommodate PR traffic. Several PR software solutions can also help PR pros properly track and report the effectiveness of public relations as well as digital ads.

Assigning attribution is not the exclusive domain of marketing campaigns. Public relations pros can also quantify the effectiveness of their campaigns. Traditional measurement has its place, but attribution is really needed for PR practitioners to prove communications effectiveness with accurate data.

Cover photo by Myriam Jessier