Rethinking Earned Media Measurement: Three Metrics That Matter More Than Impressions


Not so long ago, I sat at my desk physically cutting out print placements and measuring them with a ruler to determine their “worth” for clients.

Crazy, I know.

Dusting off that memory makes me feel like my mother when she talks about living in a time before the Internet, cell phones and Starbucks—but I’m not THAT old, and, trust me, this was common practice around the industry when I was fresh out of college.

We may not be pulling out the old ruler anymore, but, honestly, much of how our industry measures PR success has remained the same despite all of the communications advancements in recent years.

It’s time for a change.

Get your hands on pretty much any PR recap report and you’ll still see the usual suspects highlighted: total number of clips, impressions garnered and some ridiculously-inflated unique monthly visitor metrics.

It’s no surprise that some PR professionals still hang their hats on these. After all, these are the figures that are still most readily available when analyzing results, and they’re what C-suite members have grown accustomed to seeing.

But here’s the real question… so what?

Impressions aren’t king anymore.

Sure, without an impression nothing else can happen. But what matters most these days is what happens next.

Did someone trust or find that impression worthy enough to engage? Did they click, sign up, share it, stop in or actually buy something?

Beyond the impressions, these are the types of things we tout for our clients:

  • Audience Reached—Every client dreams of that perfect placement in the Wall Street Journal. The name alone carries serious cache, and the circulation is huge, so how could this not be a homerun for any brand?

    Despite the big name, your placement is going to fall on deaf ears if your product resonates most with middle class moms because more than 70% of WSJ subscribers are male. So while you’re bragging about that little feature on page 25 of the Journal, your potential customers are drooling over that other product featured on Ellen’s latest audience giveaway during the three o’clock hour.

    What’s the lesson here? The best placements don’t have to be in the biggest outlets; they just need to tell a killer story in a medium that’s going to reach your target customer.

  • Engagement—A consumer taking action also shows value. A visit to your website, redemption of a coupon, a social share or comment, a check-in at your location—these all tell you that seeing a piece of your creative content drove an actual behavior related to your business. And when that happens, everyone wins!

    Analytics tools can also help to illustrate correlations between media coverage, social content and website visits so you have a clear picture of what’s working.
  • Sales and Revenue—Finally, let’s talk about actually taking it to the bank. Say you’re the owner of a local boutique and Jennifer Aniston walks in to buy a shirt. You quickly snap and share a photo of her checking out – with her permission, of course. Next thing you know, you can’t keep that shirt on the shelves. That’s tangible value right there.

    On the flip side, if that same photo prompted 2,000 “likes” on Facebook but weeks go by without selling a single shirt, you can’t claim much value for your business. [Except for the fact that you can forever claim Jennifer Aniston once shopped at your store, but I digress…]

Is the impression dead? Not yet.

But there are far better ways to prove PR and marketing worth.

Who knows, perhaps a few years down the road we’ll be reminiscing about not so long along when PR pros used to tally this thing called “impressions.”