I was at a conference a few months ago to staff a booth on behalf of a client.
During one of the break-out sessions, a representative from a company who was speaking about their sustainability program ended the talk by telling the audience that they wanted to earn 500 million media impressions when they release their corporate responsibility report.
(For those of you who don’t work in public relations, one impression = one subscriber, or one visitor to a blog. If we land a story in the Detroit Free Press, and the paper has 230,000 subscribers, that’s 230,000 impressions. Get it?)
By their math, every single person in the United States (and then some) was going to be aware of their report. But anyone with a shred of common sense knew this wouldn’t be the case.
500 million is a great number to throw around. And constituents love to see the big numbers. But 500 million, in this case, is severely misleading. It’s nice to state that goal. It’s quite another to prove it. (You can’t.) When we go to the client with this number, we’re really just estimating how successful we’ve been.
Seems arbitrary, doesn’t it?
Since I started working in public relations almost a decade ago, I’ve known nothing but measuring success in media impressions. When I landed a story, I’d look up the circulation and watch the numbers pile up.
But the longer I work in this field, the more these numbers begin to feel empty.
My parents subscribe to the Detroit Free Press. I guarantee that if I brought up an article I had a hand in placing, they would have no idea which article I was referring to. It’s only two out of 200,000+ readers, but their story would not be unique.
Just because you subscribe to a newspaper doesn’t mean you read every story. (Duh.)
I think it would be easier (and more accurate) to just report how many stories we’ve placed, circulation numbers be damned.
Those numbers wouldn’t be as high, but at least they would be accurate. I mean, for all of the flack that digital gets, at least we can say with some certainty how many people clicked on a link to get to a story, which we assume they read. Better than saying someone ready a story because it landed on their front porch.
As a PR professional, we’re only as successful as the last story we placed. But if we are inflating the numbers, how can we deem that a success?
We need a more accurate way to measure success.
At a time when “big data” is running everything, we’re lagging behind in using real numbers to show our worth.