Reach Makes a Better Impression

31 Mar

Question:  You are about to go into a meeting with the C-suite members of your company to report on the success of your PR campaign.  Would you rather be able to say:

A.)  The campaign is working well, we have generated over 12 million impressions    


B.)  The campaign is working well, we have reached 91% of our target audience an average of 4.2 times.  

OK, so it would have been best to be able to report a direct causal link between PR activities and sales with an estimated ROI of 250%, but, between the two examples above, most of us would rather have reach and frequency data than just impressions.  Reach is typically expressed as a percentage of the audience and therefore requires the practitioner to know the total audience size and how many of the audience were ‘reached’ with a given combination of articles.  You also need to understand media consumption dynamics.  In the advertising world this sort of analysis is common and expected.

The power of reach is that it provides a much more realistic estimate of possible impact than impressions.  For example, if you are targeting women and get a hit in the New York Times, most PR pros today would lay claim to nearly 5 million impressions.  Some, citing pass-along readership and/or a mythical PR credibility advantage, might even inflate this number by a factor of three and claim almost 15 million impressions (For additional discussion on the use of multipliers, please see this IPR White Paper) .  In fact, you have reached a little less than 2 million women with the New York Times hit.  Reach paints a more realistic picture.

In the UK, Metrica purports to have reach and frequency data gleaned from a primary study of 12,000 consumers.  They use it as a standard metric in their bespoke media content analysis offering.  So why don’t any of the U.S.-based media content analysis firms offer reach and frequency metrics?  The database development would be expensive but uptake most likely would be strong. 

While both impressions and reach only represent opportunities to see (OTS), at least the reach approach requires the potential reader to be someone who could actually buy your product or service.  Baby steps of progress.  Next, perhaps we’ll start to measure people who actually saw an article and took the time to read it.  Maybe we’ll use the word du jour and call these ‘authentic impressions’.  

As always, thanks for reading.  -Don B  

82 Responses to “Reach Makes a Better Impression”

  1. Jason Whitmen March 31, 2008 at 7:59 pm #

    A friend of mine just emailed me one of your articles from a while back. I read that one a few more. Really enjoy your blog. Thanks.

    Jason Whitmen

  2. Mariana Sarceda April 8, 2008 at 3:43 am #

    Hi DOn! You’ve really made a point. Sometimes, in PR we get so obsessed with numbers that we only want to hear the highest and most impressive one. However, more often than never, our advertisements or articles have a less signficant impact numerically speaking. I guess we should get acquainted with the idea that it’s not a question of how many people can potentially read our article/ad but how many of our target readers actually paid attention to it. I’ll keep this in mind next time I have to deal with statistcs and show results to my CEO.

  3. Don Bartholomew April 8, 2008 at 2:13 pm #

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I believe you are thinking about it in exactly the right way. -Don B

  4. Andrew Laing April 21, 2008 at 10:53 pm #

    Don, if I can add. I agree with you on the value of a %reach, but it is not straightforward to calculate what is the total. We often look at national coverage for clients over time within a representative sample of media. But we discount an audience reach based on various factors such as prominence, placement, etc. (we swim against the current by looking for the SMALLEST number — what I guess you might call “authentic” impressions), but then would that number be divided all possible people reached by the outlets? Possibly, but I’m not sure if that fits the bill.

    I’ve been thinking for a while on a similar question as it pertains to comparing levels of media activity in different regions — that is, providing a valid metric over time that says media in the North are more active on the topic than media in the South. It’s easy to say coverage/impressions was greater in one region than the next, but whether there was really more activity in the West versus the East is more complicated, because it requires standardizing in some way the total potential audience and/or newshole available.

    Nonetheless, always love questions about methods and metrics.

  5. metricsman April 22, 2008 at 8:39 pm #

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks very much for reading and your comment. Hope all is well in my second favorite country. I agree there are challenges to getting proper population numbers or even tight estimates thereof. The available data is somewhat better for consumer markets (e.g. census data) than it is for B2B markets. Estimating, say, the number of working chemical engineers in Canada is a difficult number to come by and would require some estimation or extrapolation.

    I don’t necessarily agree with factoring the reach estimate by some variable of quality (e.g. prominence, tonality). I believe there is some merit in keeping the ‘opportunities to see’ pure and then, perhaps, making some qualitative assessments in order to guesstimate the likely marketing impact.

    For the levels of media activity by region, presumably we’re speaking about regional and not national issues because anything of national interest that breaks in a particular region quickly (same hour/day/week) goes national. It might be more straightforward to start with the audiences (i.e. are there regional differences in topics, tastes, incomes, etc.?) and then see which media channels best reach each of the audiences that you/your clients have an interest in.

    Thanks again Andrew. -Don B

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