Measuring PR success: How much does reach matter?

It’s a difficult metric to obtain — is it even worth trying?

Is reach a good measurement?

Over the last 11 years, I’ve put a lot of clients in the press. Most of them have been in the political space; but since starting my business, my team has also worked with businesses, non-profits, and specialized professionals seeking to boost their credibility and recognition.

Our clients have sought all sorts of metrics of success. Some simply want more press; some are targeting specific types of press. Still others have personalized metrics -– one company CEO was pleased that retired generals responded favorably to his op-ed.

But it was only recently that I was asked for reach as a metric of success. This isn’t “potential reach,” a manipulative metric used by far too many PR professionals and PR-tangential companies (I once had an op-ed get a few thousand reads -– but the “potential reach” was in the millions). This is actual reach -– the number of people who read, heard, or watched the client’s press coverage.

Without a media outlet’s internal metrics, it’s impossible to determine total reach. Tools like SEM Rush offer some of that capability. But the more I think about it, that may be an academic question because reach just isn’t a very valuable metric of success for a PR and media campaign.

Reach vs. other metrics

Reach is a better metric of success than potential reach. However, it is very limited because a) again, it’s impossible to track all reach without an outlet’s internal data, and b) “reach” is most valuable when reaching the right people with the right message at the right time.

There are other metrics which, depending upon the circumstances, are more important than reach, especially for clients who understand that the best PR campaigns are long-term investments:

  • The SEO value of press. For clients who rely heavily on Google searches for traffic, smaller metrics such as downstream media coverage (like material being republished or repurposed by other outlets) and backlink quality can create not just reach, but the opportunity for exponentially more reach through an effective SEO strategy.
  • Press credibility compared to client brand reputation. Putting a little-known client into Newsweek, Insider, or USA Today sends their message into the national space, regardless of “reach.” And it gives them automatic credibility with stakeholders and other press outlets.
  • Creating a call to action. Reaching 100,000 people doesn’t matter if none of them are interested in taking the client’s preferred action. Reaching 10,000 people who are likely to take action is 10% of the audience size – but may have 10 times the impact. This is especially true for political or activist campaigns.
  • Starting people down the sales funnel. For clients seeking buyers, donors, or investors, putting more of the right people on their website is far, far more important than simply “reaching” them.

Press value is limited without effective marketing

But even the most effective press campaign is limited without the other side of the branding coin: effective marketing that repurposes press placements to reach other audiences with variations on the same message.

“Without effective marketing, you’re leaving a great deal of a media placement’s value on the table,” said Pinkston president Christian Pinkston. “Social media and email marketing, improved SEO, and repurposed website content are all part of turning press into messaging that reaches more people over time.”

“Reaching” people just means they’ve been touched once. The best clients know what PR professionals and salespeople know: that people need to be reached many times with different message variations before they are likely to take the desired action.

Dustin Siggins is a business columnist and founder of the publicity firm Proven Media Solutions.


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