A Modern Approach To PR Measurement

Rebecca Courtney, Corporate Communications Director

The public relations world has been debating the best way to measure our efforts for decades. While the power of PR is undeniable, it’s extremely difficult to correlate exactly when, where and at which point these activities impact the targets’ final purchasing decision.

Belonging near the top of the marketing funnel, PR is best used for long-term, awareness-centric brand building. However, as short-term, easily measurable and trackable marketing tactics, such as performance marketing, have become more widely used, the pressure is on for PR professionals to similarly and to clearly define the impact of our work.

Historically, PR efforts were primarily measured by “advertising value equivalent.” AVE places an estimated monetary value on earned media coverage based on what that specific media outlet charges for a similar-sized advertisement. Though you may see AVE still used as a form of measurement today, it’s now recognized as a much less reliable form of PR measurement, mainly due to the shift from print to online media. AVE also receives criticism because audiences don’t digest advertisements the same way they digest articles, so assuming their values are similar diminishes the impact of earned media coverage.

As the limitations of AVE became more apparent, the PR world turned to a different, more digital-friendly form of measurement: impressions. Impressions essentially boil down to a calculation of how many readers or viewers a publication receives, typically on a monthly basis. For example, if you secure a mention of your company in The New York Times Online, which has around 43 million unique monthly visitors, you would count that as 43 million impressions. Impressions have become the holy grail of PR measurement, and understandably so, with the influence of digital marketing’s comparable measurement methods like click-through rates and cost per conversion.

However, while impressions are certainly a more reliable form of measurement than AVE, they can’t be relied on as THE way to prove the impact of PR. Impressions do a relatively nice job giving us a general, quantifiable understanding of the potential reach our media coverage may have, but it falls short in accounting for context and quality.

Bottom line

Impressions don’t tell the whole story. But until we find a more reliable, quantifiable measurement, they are likely to be around for a while. Instead of relying solely on impressions, we need to incorporate qualitative evaluation methods to paint a more comprehensive picture.

Download our guide, “Modernizing PR: Looking Past Impressions,” where we outline a few examples of what those methods can be and how to incorporate them into your PR reporting.