To Measure PR's Impact on Travel and Tourism
Your six-step passport to success.
by Katie Delahaye Paine
The good news about travel and tourism PR is that it is highly measurable. The bad news is that almost everyone does it wrong. The good news again is that we're going to show you how to do it the right way.
The Wrong Turn: AVEs Are a Dead End
The traditional way of measuring tourism PR has been to use Ad Value Equivalency: Count up the number of column inches generated by earned media and figure out what it would cost to advertise in the same publication. What you come up with is a dollar figure that tells you just about nothing useful, other than that you got some amount of ink somewhere.
(Regular Measurement Standard readers know that we frown on the use of AVEs. The very serious limitations of this technique are well documented. See this section of The Measurement Standard Blog Edition for a discussion and further references.)
On The Right Track: Measure Something That Will Get You Where You Want To Go
What you really need to know is how your travel and tourism ink impacts tourists and their spending: How did your PR efforts change sales and meals tax revenue? Butts in busses? Ticket sales? Heads in beds? Once you know how your efforts affect tourists' behavior, you can go on to decide how to adjust your efforts to further the overall goals of your program or department.
As the great guru of measurement Dr. James Grunig of the University of Maryland reminds us: "The main reason to measure objectives is not so much to reward or punish individual communications managers for success or failure as it is to learn from the research whether a program should be continued as is, revised, or dropped in favor of another approach."
The reality is that there are lots of very accurate ways to measure travel and tourism PR:
- Perhaps the most famous case is Southwest Airlines. By embedding a unique URL that takes visitors to a mirror landing page in each of their Search-Engine-Optimized press releases, they can tell exactly how many tickets they sell as a result of each press release they send out. See this Measurement Standard article for more.
- Elisa Camahort, co-founder of Blogger, uses a similar system to measure the impact of blogging on ticket sales for her clients in the theater world. She gets actors to blog about upcoming performances and then tracks the number of tickets sold by tracking the number of unique visits from the blog to the ticket sales page of their web site.
- The State of New Hampshire's Travel and Tourism Department has seen its budget grow every year, in a traditionally tight-fisted state, in part because it can show exactly how much impact its efforts have on the state's revenue. By looking at historic data on the total reach of its advertising efforts in a given quarter, and dividing that number by the number of visitors in the same quarter, it has established that for every 100 opportunities to see a positive message about the state, three people will visit. It also knows that each visitor, on average, spends $81.76 every day they are in the state. (A complete description of how the New Hampshire Department of Travel and Tourism calculates its ROI for marketing efforts will download from this link.)
What's It Worth To Be First In The Nation?
When the people at the New Hampshire Political Library wanted to calculate the value of New Hampshire's First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary to the state, they started by adding up the direct spending of the various political campaigns and media outlets.
But that didn't account for the long term impact of the press that 4,000 visiting journalists generated for the state. A media analysis of some 5,000 articles revealed that approximately 10% of them were positive – leaving someone more likely to either visit the state or do business in the state. This translated into 22 million positive impressions.
Using the above NH Travel and Tourism formula, and using only those articles that left an out-of-state reader more likely to visit the state, they calculated that the press coverage was likely to generate an additional 660,000 visits and thus generate some $540 million in new tourism revenue.
Additionally, Ross Gittell, James R. Carter Professor and Professor of Management at the Whittemore School of Business at the University of New Hampshire, calculated that approximately 2% of all those visitors would be business owners or executives looking to start or expand a business in the state. That translated into some 13,200 executive visits. Assuming conservatively that just 1% of those executives started or expanded a business in the state, the media exposure would have yielded 132 new businesses. Since the average business in New Hampshire employs 20 people, media coverage would have generated 2,640 new jobs.
Although New Hampshire doesn't subsidize new business, on average, states spend about $10,000 per job created – meaning that the media exposure from one primary had a business development potential worth $26.4 million.
In addition to these financial calculations, the NH Travel and Tourism people also keep a close eye on website visits and click-throughs, calculating an average click-through rate for all promotions as well as a cost-per-click-through calculation that enables the department to calculate which promotional efforts are most efficient at generating click throughs. This allows them to better plan future promotional efforts.
Once again, numbers like cost-per-click-through and revenue should not be used to simply justify the existence of a media relations department. The real value of all this measurement is to better understand how specific tactics and strategies impact the overall goals of your tourism efforts.
Six Steps to a Perfect Tourism Measurement Program
So how do you start in on measurement? There are six simple steps to take...
1: Define your objectives
You can't start to measure success until you know what success means for you. So, the first question you need to ask is: What specific outcomes are expected? Is it media exposure? Heads in beds? Butts in busses? Better relationships with travel agencies or tour groups? Whatever it is, write it down and get everyone to agree to it.
2: Define your audience
Not all prospective visitors are alike. Demographics might be one way to segment your visitors, but increasingly tourism groups are segmenting audiences by common interests—e.g., extreme sports, paddling, history tourists, etc. Each group will presumably need a different message and therefore a slightly different metric.
Step 3: Define your measurement criteria
Once you've agreed upon your objectives, you have to establish the specific criteria of success that you will measure. Each objective, may of course, require a different type of measurement.
Some criteria are tied to output measures, like getting certain key messages out to a particular audience. Others may be outtake measures, like raising awareness for your brand, or changing attitudes about your tourist destinations. And still others may be outcome measures, like getting people to attend specific events, to visit particular destinations, or to download something from your website.
If your objective is awareness, the criterion might be the percent increase of unaided awareness as measured by a survey. If your objective is to sell products, the criterion might be the incremental number of sales leads or website inquiries after a particular PR or promotional program took place.
Interestingly, when you ask what measures most corporate communicators have in place, the most frequent response is "counting clips." Stacks of clips may, or may not, have raised awareness for your brand or organization or destination. You won't know until you analyze those clips to determine whether in fact the brand is prominently mentioned, whether the media outlet in which the clip appeared was even read, and, if it was read, if it was visible enough to be remembered.
Another typical problem occurs when groups have mixed objectives. For example, one of the most frequently mentioned goals we hear is, "to reach our target audience with our key message." This goal is great as long as the target audiences are the same. But what if one department is targeting seniors and the next is targeting college students? Messages may mean different things to different audiences. The best solution is to look at what the message exposure was for that specific population.
The best objectives are specific and measurable, and they must include a timeframe. For example: "Achieve 25% more awareness than the competition by the end of Q4."
Years of advertising research indicate that visibility is directly linked to awareness. So if awareness is your objective, it is critical that your publicity programs break through the clutter and get your name out more prominently than the competition. This doesn't just mean more articles. It means more mentions of the company name in headlines, captions or other places of greater visibility.
The criterion in this case could be share of coverage volume compared to the competition. An even better qualitative measure would be, "percent of articles featuring the brand in the headline." This figure could then be compared to ongoing brand awareness tracking studies to determine the extent to which your earned media is having the same impact as your paid media.
4: Define your benchmark
The key point to remember about any evaluation program is that measurement requires comparison; you need to compare one set of results to something else. The most effective comparisons are made against your competition and peers, or to an industry average. Ideally you would select two to three competitors: a stretch goal, a peer and an underdog who's just beginning to nip at your heels.
The next most effective benchmark is to chart your own progress over time. While this may tell you how your performance on leading indicators is improving or declining, it won't tell you anything about how you are doing relative to the market, and as a result could be misleading.
If you are comparing your brand performance over time, don't just arbitrarily pick a calendar year or quarter for your initial benchmark period. Time your initial benchmark period to avoid any significant events, like when a new promotional effort kicked off or a new PR agency was selected, to ensure that you do not establish a benchmark that is unusually high or unusually low. This will allow you to measure the effects of your new strategies on key metrics against your standard performance.
Step 5: Select a measurement tool
Your measurement tools are the techniques you will use to collect data. These are useless unless they collect the sort of data that will help you evaluate your progress toward your goals. Essentially, you will be collecting data in one of several ways:
- Primary research via telephone, mail or online survey
- Secondary research of other data available
- Primary research in the media, including Internet sources
Not only do your tools need to collect the right data, but you must make sure they are affordable, and that they provide the data when you need it. I'll illustrate this point with a story that may sound familiar. At one company I worked for, we did all of our planning in August. We also did a yearly benchmark evaluation of our PR program in January, six months after our planning. Thus the data we worked with while planning was six months out of date. And the new data wouldn't be available until the following January, giving rise to the oft-repeated groan, "If we only had the analysis now." Note: "On time" for most companies means that you have a report in hand when it is of value, that is, as you start your planning.
6: Analyze results, compare results to objectives, glean
actionable conclusions and
The most important element to any measurement program is to analyze the data and draw conclusions. Once you've collected all of your results, avoid the temptation to focus only on the most exciting. Many reports I've seen gloat that, "Press coverage increased by 50 percent this month!" but fail to mention the fact that reach into the highest priority audience segment dropped by 15 percent or that the key messages about a particular product were never communicated.
To make information meaningful and actionable, relate each conclusion back to your original objectives. Learn to translate your raw numbers into charts and graphs with short headlines that draw conclusions from the data. Once you've done so, you're one step closer to actionable information.
The other aspect of ensuring that your information is actionable is applying it to relevant programs that you can do something about. Do not measure dead products, competitors that aren't viable or publications you don't have time to target.
You will never be as powerful or persuasive as when you present your results to those in the C-suite or on your board. Think ahead about what actions, including the following, you might want them to take, and plan your presentation accordingly. For example:
Many clients I've worked with received additional budgetary dollars on the spot, just by showing their results.
- Get commitment
Have you ever had a hard time persuading an executive to go on a press tour? Remember, executives are data-driven. Show them the chart to indicate the potential disaster if they don't go.
When you present results in the form of graphs and charts to show how a promotional effort failed because of poor timing, it's amazing how convincing you can be.
Use your results to win other departments over to your point of view and approve your programs.
Convince other groups that you really need more help if they want to achieve their desired results. Coverage for one client we were working with skyrocketed in August and continued at vastly increased rates. I couldn't figure out what happened, until I presented results. Then I learned that the client had doubled its staff in July. Conversely, another client saw its share of ink disappear. When I asked what had been going on internally, I learned that the disappearing press coverage coincided with a reorganization that had included dissolving the PR department.
All too often we hear from overworked marketers with unclear priorities looking for ways to figure out where to put their limited resources. By using the data from results to demonstrate what doesn't work, you can frequently dissuade managers and colleagues from making the same mistake twice. Has a product manager ever asked you to do a party or a press conference because he/she thought it would be, "a fun way to introduce the product"? Show the manager a chart that illustrates how much more effectively a press tour communicates the key messages.