For years public relations has been positioned and sold like an art, but today’s technology allows businesses to truly measure and analyze results. Going forward, it won’t suffice to simply rely on the art of PR without having the science of data and measurement to back it up.

Image: Don't rely on the art of PR without backing it up with data

Combining the art and science of PR

Public relations has been an entirely qualitative practice since it was professionalized decades ago by industry pioneers, such as Daniel J. Edelman. Edelman perfected the practice into an art form admired and imitated by many, but matched by few. Today the artisans’ approach is still appreciated, but data analytics and measurement demonstrate the value created, provide insights that drive action, and help you revise and refine efforts much more quickly and effectively.

Anyone can tell you a story is influential because the brand is The New York Times and the byline is John Markoff. But leading communications strategists today can show you who is influencing your actual customers, why and how often. For many brands the reality is that even though tech writers like Walt Mossberg are brilliant and well known, it might be the junior product manager blogging from a cubicle in San Jose who’s sending your website more traffic that converts into qualified leads and higher margin sales. Today’s best PR knows this and holds itself accountable to bottom line results.

The tools that make it possible

Image: Web statistics reveal the science behind public relations

Fortunately, plenty of tools can show you the science that pinpoint the most effective influencers, provide comparable data for your results and track major trends influencing your market. Our favorite vendors include: Little Bird, AirPR, TrendTopics and RivalIQ.

Measuring the influence and impact of PR doesn’t just allow you to refine and reinvest in tactics that work, it allows you to connect PR to revenue instead of to a cost. Demonstrating how PR grows the top line is an important element in establishing accountability and illustrating a commitment to modern marketing practices.

PR can often be the most challenging marketing area because it functions on the cusp of irrelevance and engagement — the moment when a current or potential customer recognizes your brand speaks to their needs. That means you’re constantly seeking the attention of the people for whom the company/brand/product is or should be beneficial, but who do not yet know or are not recalling your value proposition.

The challenge is that we all have hundreds of other things competing for our attention. Yet the busier we become with social networks and connected media, the more we actually reveal about our likes, interests and needs. So today, technology can tell you what’s on your customers mind, what they’re concerned about, the problems they’re trying to solve and which problems they themselves are already experts at solving.

So how are you measuring the science behind your art? Can you measure the dollars PR brings in, or only what goes out?