Measuring PR: It’s Not That Easy

Public Relations Measurement

The saying goes, “there a statistic for everything.” Case in point, a recent article was published on the Washington Redskins website and it showed that 58.1 million people read an article they posted. Oh wait, they really think that 7.8 billion unique visitors saw the article. Both of those numbers are a bit hard to swallow, especially the latter since there are not 7.8 billion people in the current world population. Having that many unique visitors would be impossible.

Here’s the story behind those numbers and the reason it is so difficult to tell by just the numbers what the actual results are from any given PR effort. Meltwater, a leading PR measurement company  communication’s expert, Riana Dadlani, explained how the numbers are reached. In 2014, the team website ran coverage about their training camp from July 24 to August 12. The numbers they reported were actually just impressions. So that sounds pretty good right?

But, here’s the tricky part about the numbers they are reporting. They calculated viewer impressions when their article made it on one of the Internet’s search engines like Firefox or Google. Even for a few seconds. Then, they count it as having received the full possible unique viewership that particular search engine received during the full month. So, if it was on Page 1 of Google search for 10 seconds, they considered their article was viewed by every person who visited Google to search for something during the month. And, the numbers were calculated by tallying the totals from every search engine or major outlet that showed the story. If the story made it on a search engine more than one time during the month, the numbers got counted for each time.

To put this in perspective. If you have a business page on Facebook, you can see how many people might have seen a post. That number means how many people were on the site while your post was showing somewhere on their newsfeed. Not everyone who saw it read it.

That is a fairly reasonable way of assessing the information by most PR standards. However, using the way the Redskin’s PR team determined their numbers, it would be like saying the number of impressions was all of the people who were on FB during that month. And, if someone shared your post, they would count those numbers again. That would be a great day if it were true, or even potentially true, but it isn’t accurate. Nor, as the 7.8 billion number implies, is it even possible. You can read more about the PR firm’s explanation at Traffic-the-Entire-Earth.

It can be difficult enough to know what is happening with PR efforts in a rather complex digital world. But, when firms report unrealistic outcomes, you have to know it’s going to create a PR crisis down the defensive line somewhere.


  1. Anna, pr news says

    Interesting piece! Thanks, Jonah!
    Yeah, it’s always tricky to measure PR activity, cause it’s not “easy-to-count” subject.
    Agree, impressions and outcomes are completely two different thing.

  2. Christine Perkett says

    Jonah, thanks for the interesting look at how one brand measures success! This type of tracking reminds me of the days of “measuring” circulation – 65k readers receive a publication… it doesn’t mean they read your article. They MIGHT have, but it’s doubtful… and impossible to know.

    This is exactly why the industry needs to get away from measuring possibilities. This type of data does the industry no good. Too many marketers are measuring possibilities instead of outcomes. We pump out reports about what our customers and prospects may have done or could do, depending on A, B, and C. And we’re not spending enough time analyzing and capturing formulas of our best performing campaigns.

    It’s also curious why brands and CMOs are still asking for Ad Value Equivalency (AVE) counts in results. The PR industry needs to move away from “comfy” but meaningless metrics like AVEs and circulation, too. Why are so many PR measurement and analytics vendors, who should be helping to innovate the industry, still focused on reporting meaningless metrics? More importantly, why do brands continue to track “success” through such metrics when technology and data have evolved how we can really measure impact? The PR industry is advancing and although vendors can charge money to deliver such reports, if they’re really intent on moving the industry forward, they won’t.

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