Reach vs impressions vs reality

“Our client is pushing back on our placement reports and wants to know how many people actually saw the coverage. What do we tell him?”

This is a recurring question in our Inner Circle forum. I’ll answer it in this post.

First, it’s important to understand where the client – or your boss – is coming from. When their other platforms report “impressions,” that means how many people actually got shown that tweet or IG post or digital ad in their feeds. But in our world of media relations, “impressions” has traditionally been the same as the outlet’s total estimated audience, times the number of placements. So naturally, when we report the results of a big campaign and it looks like we’re claiming that half the world’s population saw our placements, they push back.

The problem – obviously – is that we don’t have access to the backend analytics for, say, The Wall Street Journal or Insider or Real Simple or wherever our placements are. In contrast, your digital marketing counterparts have all kinds of handy analytics for your social platforms and your own site.

So that leaves you with the following options, each with significant trade-offs.

On one extreme, you can hold your ground and try to explain this reality to your client and invite them to accept your definition of “impression” numbers. This can work with clients who have been working with PR people for 10+ years, but is less effective with marketers who haven’t worked with PR people before.

The other extreme is you can shell out for a special solution such as Memo, which uses adtech to give your client what they want – an actual estimate of the number of people who see a given article. I once ran into the founder of Memo on an escalator, but I don’t have enough perspective on this service to tell you how well it does or doesn’t work. (If you’re a client, please let me know your opinion!)

In between those extremes, our industry seems to be settling into a grudging acceptance – more like a “kicking and screaming” acceptance – of using a super-generic multiplier to very crudely estimate actual article views from the total monthly unique visitors to an outlet’s site. That benchmark is . . . drum roll please . . . 2.5 percent.

Kind of anticlimactic, I know. Where does this come from? No one is really sure. But Meltwater and Muck Rack both cite this number in their support articles about calculating media impact.

So there is your likely unsatisfying answer to the question posed at the top.

Thought leadership tip – I strive to ensure what I share in this newsletter isn’t commodity information you can find elsewhere. So I pushed ChatGPT4 hard on this measurement question, and it provided a lot of great context, but it didn’t know the level of detail I gave you here, and the formula it proposed doesn’t really work. Here’s my chat if you’d like to see. I also did another chat with web browsing enabled, and it gave very similar answers.

I recommend you apply this same exercise when you’re preparing thought leadership pitches and content. Make sure whatever your expert is saying is better than what your target journalists and audiences can get simply by asking ChatGPT.

This article was originally published on November 8, 2023

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