EMSI Public Relations
I received a question from one of my clients regarding how we
track the success of our print and online PR campaigns.
In the process of thinking through the
question, I realized that the changing landscape of the media
(due to the fast face of technology) really hasn’t changed the
way we look at these kinds of campaigns.
immemorial, the only way to actually gauge the success of a
print PR campaign was to indicate where placements were made and
then list the circulation of that print outlet. For instance, if
the Tampa Tribune ran your story on a weekday, the print
circulation would be in the 150,000 range. On a Sunday, it would
jump to 225,000. Now, that’s not to say, nor has it ever been
intended to say, that 225,000 people read your article. It
simply rated the size of the news outlet that carried the piece.
And, print outlets used their
circulation numbers as the principal guideline to calculate
their ad rates. They still do, but the Internet has added a new
dimension to that. When the Internet came to be, advertisers
loved the fact that they had a better measure, because they
could track clickthroughs on banner ad campaigns and even
identify where the users came from, how long they stayed on your
page and whether they bought anything.
When these numbers and stats were
known to be available, the terms spread like wildfire:
clickthroughs, pageviews, unique visitors, impressions, etc.
And, while these terms are primarily used in advertising, some
do have relevance with PR placements that appear online.
Many PR agencies – mine included –
choose to continue to gauge our traditional print and online
efforts in the same manner that we’ve always done it, by
reporting a placement and indicating the size of that outlet’s
readership. For traditional publications, circulation of the
publication is the determining factor. For online publications
(as well as news search engines, websites and blogs) the size is
determined by a statistic known as Visitors Per Month, or VPM.
By indicating an online publication
has a VPM of two-million, PR pros are not saying that
two-million people read your article. They’re simply indicating
the reach of the site in the same way that the value of an
article in a traditional publication would be judged by its
I’ve also run into some confusion over
how placements are rated on large news aggregators like Yahoo!®
and MSN®. Every article on Yahoo is searchable through engines,
and can be found by surfing its sections. For instance, if you
want to find out about the NFL labor negotiations (in the same
way you would open your daily paper to the sports section), you
would go to Yahoo, click on sports, and surf the sports
headlines until you find the information you want. The URL for
those stories will be sports.yahoo.com/blahblahblah. And with
business stories, it’s biz.yahoo.com/blahblahblah. Those entry
pages are considered a part of Yahoo proper and the separate URL
simply offers Yahoo a better way to organize their massive
amounts of content, and also provide the user another entry
point to view it.
So if your PR agency got an article
placed on Yahoo’s sports or business page, the VPM for Yahoo
would be the statistic used as there are no sub pages or sub
sites within. It’s simply Yahoo and everything contained within
is part of Yahoo. This scenario is identical to circulation in a
traditional publication. It doesn’t matter if your story
appeared in the sports section or the business section of a
newspaper. Each section doesn’t get its own circulation rating.
The circulation of the publication is one figure for the entire
The point is, we can talk about
impressions and VPM and circulation all day long, and balance it
against all these new technologies designed to deliver consumers
to your Web site. However, none of it means anything relative to
the consumer. We don’t always know exactly what takes the
consumer from the point of being interested in you to the point
of buying your product, book or service. However, we do know
that process always includes the building of trust and that’s
why the third-party verification provided by real
honest-to-goodness media coverage will always trump all the
analysis of impressions and numbers.
After all, while the delivery system
may be highly technical, the consumer is not. The consumer is
looking for quality information in the news outlets they have
confidence in. And, your ability to engage the consumer in a
meaningful way that creates trust is dependent on you being able
to gain coverage in those news outlets.
At the end of the day, statistics will
never be more important than trust in the consumer sales cycle
and the only tactic that can deliver it is good old-fashioned
Marsha Friedman is CEO of
Public Relations, a national firm that provides PR strategy
and publicity services to corporations, entertainers, authors
and professional firms. She also is author of the book,
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