Exposure is Not the Same as Impact: It’s Time to Stop Using Impressions to Measure Value

Public Relations

What are Impressions?

Impressions are the number of potential eyeballs on your story or social media post based on estimated readers/viewers of the outlet/source.

In 2019, impressions are laughed out of the room. It’s not uncommon to see impressions in the billions. There are 7 billion people on earth: about 1 billion of them don’t have electricity, and most of the others don’t care about your article. If you have 1 billion impressions but you walk out your door and not one person can tell you about the article, you have a false metric. Not to mention, how many of your public relations impressions are just bots:

Bots drove nearly 40% of all Internet traffic in 2018.

Distil Networks, Bad Bot Report 2019

Think of your quarterly recap reports as a contract between an organization and the PR agency or between you and your boss—this is how we will define success and how we agree to measure it. You may still need to provide impressions because your client or boss asks for them. However, the trick is to do two things:

  1. Provide context on those impressions
  2. Provide additional metrics that tell a better story. 

Replacements for public relations metrics can include: 

  • Number of leads or conversions. Your impressions might go up quarter to quarter, but your sales are still flat. That’s because you might not be targeting the right people. Get a sense of how many leads you’re generating.  
  • Awareness testing: Using a tool like Survey Monkey, how many people saw your product or initiative in the news and acted or changed behavior because of it?  
  • Google Analytics: Look for spikes in web traffic when your news ran. If the article contains a backlink, find out how many people actually clicked to your website from the article and see how much time they spent there.  
  • A/B testing. Announce a new product or sale via the media and social media but give them different promotional codes to determine which drove more traffic (media or social). 
  • Message analysis: How many of your key messages were included in the articles? Quality over quantity is more important.  

Consider this: pretend you are in a room with your competitors. You might be screaming the loudest—but your quieter competitors are using PR to drive sales, increase awareness, and spark change.

Good PR is about using the media to make a difference—and finding the right metrics to see if it’s working.