PR ON THE GO December 6, 2023

PR Life

When potential clients ask about ROI for PR spend, I roll my eyes.

Helen Croydon portrait

Author: Helen Croydon

Helen Croydon is a ghostwriter, personal PR consultant and founder of Thought Leadership PR at

Anyone involved with winning new clients in PR will, like me, dread that question: “What will be my ROI?” (Return on Investment).

I get it. If a business is spending money on a service, they want assurance it will be gainful. But the very nature of PR is such that it is dependent on external factors, out of our control. You may be able to estimate ROI if you’re delivering marketing services, where you control the content output, not PR where you are at the behest of media interest and news agenda.

This question is often followed by: “Can you give a timeline of the results we’ll achieve,” which makes me want to bang my head on my desk. Any PR agency that provides this (and many do), are just appeasing the sales prospect with what they want to hear. No PR professional who understands the media can predict what media coverage they will deliver, because the core skill to achieve it relies on being reactive, not prescriptive.  

When I first started my PR agency, I fretted when prospective clients would ask: “What will the typical ROI be on a six-month PR campaign” Or “Can you put a timeline in place of what PR will achieve over 6 months.”   

I came into the industry from journalism - I had no experience of corporate-speak. So I would immediately blame myself for not being able to answer. This must surely highlight my lack of knowledge of the sector and I must up my game!

But now, six years into running my PR consultancy, I realise these types of questions are ridiculous. We may be able to set goals for activities - say 3 pieces of coverage - but we can’t then guarantee what sales this will lead to for them. Nor can we guarantee what tier media any coverage will be.

One day, a client complained that after receiving glowing media coverage in a top-tier business magazine, it hadn’t led to increased sales. “What made you think that Business Insider was the ideal audience for me?” they said, clearly mistaking media relations as an a la carte menu from which you choose the publication to appear in.

Exasperated, I snapped: “If you go to a hairdresser before a date and they make you look gorgeous, it won’t guarantee you to get asked on a second date. Would you ask for your money back if you didn’t get asked out again?”

Suddenly they got it. Since then, I’ve been using similar analogies and it’s made all my sales calls or review calls easier. When an author client complained that, despite us securing interviews on 5 highly ranked podcasts, it hadn’t led to one book sale, I reasoned: “If you go to a tailor and they make you a beautiful suit, you wouldn’t ask for your money back if you wore it to a job interview and didn’t get the job.”

To another ambitious prospect who asked for a timeline of the ‘TV and radio bookings’ they would be asked to do as a result of our personal PR, I told them that this would be like asking a university to map their ascent up the career ladder before committing to pay their tuition fees.

PRs can quantify their activities, but they cannot quantify results. Building an online profile is a longtail game. I get leads to my business from prospects who say they came across an article I wrote more two years ago! Media coverage signals general authoritative online presence, and that’s unquantifiable, no matter how fancy your AI-generated metrics are.

So, tell your clients that you’ll cut their hair. You can’t guarantee they’ll score a second date but they’ll stand a damn better chance than if they don’t get a haircut at all.


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