You’re probably measuring the results of your PR campaign wrong.
It’s OK, most of us are, my team included. We’ve been taking the easy way out, and practice makes permanent.
Many of us are still using advertising’s old impression-based metrics and advertising equivalencies to show the value of media relations rather than dive into the intrinsic power of true editorial as a result of PR efforts. It’s an incredibly flawed way of thinking. While advertising metrics are often grossly inflated impressive, they don’t take into account studies that show the higher level of trust people have in editorial and word-of-mouth when compared to advertising.
Instead, we often go by the “bigger is better” mentality—which is a mistake.
Are the ads that get seen the most really the best ads?
Impressions aren’t how we judge the value of an ad. So why do we often use impression numbers and ad equivalencies as ways to show the value of media relations efforts?
The top KPIs of a PR campaign should not prioritize reach over relevance, tone, message points, and the likelihood to be read by your target audience. While many would prefer their brand or event be seen in a national newspaper or high-traffic website, bigger is not often better. Sometimes a micro-influencer or free weekly newspaper can move the needle more for you.
Here are some real-world examples, from personal experience, of why impressions often do not correlate to value, and tracking value can be very difficult. As you read these, try to think of which placement has the most value to the brand featured.
Is this thing on?
One of the largest newspapers in the U.S. once did a feature on a B2B client of ours and the unique work they were doing for a very well-known brand. It was in the right section of the paper to be seen by the client’s potential customers, and featured some great images as well. When the story ran, the client received a few phone calls from old friends and former clients. Probably less than 10. It did not cause his server to crash or his front desk person at his company to become overwhelmed with calls.
Nine million impressions = $550 in sales
I once had a snowboard client featured prominently in a major, non-snowboard, magazine. A regional rep for that client was visiting one of his retail accounts when a customer walked in and asked for that particular snowboard because he saw the feature. The rep knew exactly what the customer was talking about, because the client’s marketing team was great about keeping reps in the loop on media placements, and he personally walked the customer over to the board.
If you’re unfamiliar with the ski industry, retailers place their equipment orders almost a year out from the start of the season, and manufacturers try to produce just enough product in advance so it sells through by the start of January, ideally before. No one wants leftover gear on the shelves.
As far as we know, that placement, which netted millions of impressions, sold one premium-level snowboard.
Millions of impressions don’t make you an influencer
I was interviewed for a story that appeared in a major national newspaper for a story that explored brand collaborations and authenticity as they pertained to consumer products for the outdoor industry. It appeared in the paper’s Sunday edition, and I know for a fact that the managing director at one agency partner we work with saw it, because he texted me that morning.
He was the only that told me he saw the article.
Can the lowest score win? Is this golf or PR?
Is the goal a higher or lower score in media relations?
When a financial client of ours opened a regional office at the tail end of the top 15 DMAs, we pitched local media on a unique financing option they offered customers. The result was their inclusion in an article, with one other brand, on the topic. It was a good story in the middle section of the paper, and also featured online, but not on the homepage or “above the fold” as some would say.
A few months after the story ran, the manager for that office got a call from a residential home builder who said he saw the article. The financial result from that call was very substantial.
Did nine million impressions sell just one snowboard? Doubtful. There’s a chance the retailer where that board was sold would leverage the knowledge about that placement and use it to sell the same board or other products from the brand. And it’s likely that similar scenarios were playing out around the country
Our B2B featured in that top three market newspaper may not have seen any new business at the time, but we don’t know how many customers saw the article or found it later, and reached out when they had the need.
Would our financial client have seen a bigger windfall in markets across the country if the story on their unique offerings were in a national media outlet? Possibly.
I’ve received multiple referrals from the director at the agency who saw the national newspaper article I was featured in. Was that story the reason for his referrals? No one has mentioned the article though.
So how should we measure?
Impressions are important, and should be tracked, but similar to someone’s weight on a home scale, an ideal number does not equate to overall health.
What we should measure is how the campaign affects awareness, mindshare and reputation, as well as impact, tone, and ideally for most brands, conversion to sales.
What we’re willing and able to measure is often a lot less, either due to lack of resources or effort. Measurement can take significant time and money, things few want to invest.
Impressions are important, they’re just not the most important.
So what’s the answer? PR teams, mine included, can do a better job of convincing clients and stakeholders that we need to do a better job of measuring. The alternative is that we just look down at the scale below our feet and pretend weight correlates to overall health.