PR KPI inflation: Why you shouldn’t use readership numbers or reach as measurement KPIs

2022 is my 20th year in public relations and with the last ten focused on measurement, it’s been great to see the development of new communication techniques and the increased use of analytics to measure them.

This year’s PRmoment Award entries include elements of owned content, social, paid and search and judges will review a variety of metrics to prove views, clicks and outcomes to weigh up the winners.

However, with this evolution in digital marketing-led comms and measurement, it leaves me so confused as to why our core area; media relations is still widely reported on using publication total monthly traffic numbers and inflated reach figures.

Coverage success figures?

Looking at the total readers or followers of a publication or influencer totally makes sense for planning or used as context if an estimation of how many may have seen the coverage itself, but reporting on the fans of a media outlet tells award judges, report readers and stakeholder very little about the success of the coverage.

With content being published quicker and more frequently than ever before, stating total monthly traffic, impressions or total follower counts, paints an unrealistic picture of how many people saw the coverage itself. Even if the coverage hit the homepage (often the most popular page of a site) the coverage wouldn’t remain there for 30 days (which is what publication readership is based on). And no matter how successful the campaign is, nobody gains a mention on every page of a site.

It also raises the issue of when there has been more than one piece of coverage achieved on a site; how does the second or third piece get reported? If the Mail online gain 25 million visitors in a month. It does not get 50 or 75 million visits because of our twopieces of coverage!

Inflated reach figures are worse than AVEs

There is a lot of industry discussion about AVE (Advertising value equivalent) being a damaging metric to our industry. I’d go as far to say inflated reach figures are doing as much damage, if not worse.

And budget holders agree; James Alexander, Diageo’s European head of culture and entertainment PR and marketing, says: “It's a big gripe of mine seeing PR saying potential reach is X million or even X billion people. As a brand manager and allocator of budget, you can’t take a lot from ‘reach data’.”

Industry awards aren’t just a time for peer recognition, I’m sure it goes without saying most entries have the intention of gaining the attention of budget holders. So why don’t we make their jobs easier and give them metrics they can use?

Keep things simple

I know what you’re thinking; publishers and influencers won’t reveal true impressions so what are we meant to do?!

Keep things simple. Only use totals in context to an estimation of how many people saw the coverage.

Not only will this smaller number be a more realistic story of success, it also instantly puts you in a position to be evaluated against the rest of marketing and therefore in the game of winning more budget.

Estimated coverage views

Diageo’s James Alexander, a multiple AMEC award winner, goes on to say: “As an allocator of marketing budget, you can’t take a lot from reach data’. We like using the ‘estimated coverage views’ metric. It’s more realistic which means it’s easier for me to compare PR against other areas of marketing”.

Along with many other KPIs, Paid, Owned and Social marketing consistently report on impressions. Estimated coverage views can be used as a proxy for impressions.

Whilst marketing attribution continues to be a challenge (global communications report 2021) marketing budget holders need a consistent way to evaluate and compare. Estimated coverage views as a proxy, along with impressions does this.

Other areas of digital marketing (PR’s new competitors) are also often evaluated through ‘cost per impression’, a value metric added to a campaign-specific measurement that provides year-long consistency.

Again ‘estimated coverage views’ can be calculated in this way; providing a simple view value that can be used by multiple stakeholders, award judges and budget holders. This is a useful guide on calculating ‘cost per estimated view’ here.

When you’re writing and submitting this year’s PR award entries stop and think about the metrics included. Are they realistic? What can award judges and stakeholders take from your numbers? Do your reports put you in a good position for budget next year?

Because in the case of PR reports in 2022, bigger is not always better.

Written by Stella Bayles, director at PR reporting tool CoverageBook

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