Why you need to do better if impressions are your only PR metric?

When it is time to measure the success of a public relations campaigns, impressions are often the first metric that practitioners lean on to demonstrate success. But is this really an accurate way to gauge the impact of PR? In this blog post, we’ll explore why impressions should not be your only focus when evaluating PR success, and suggest some other metrics that you should take into account.

I’ve judged my fair share of industry awards and read my own body weight in PR case studies, and it still surprises me to this day when PR evaluation metrics start and end with impressions, like their job is done.

Make a good first, erm, impression and go beyond the vanity metrics

When I see impressions as the only metric in a PR case study I’m always ‘eyerollingly’ underwhelmed. Sadly, I see this happen with alarming regularity.

Impressions only focus on how many people have seen a piece of PR content, but do not indicate what action the viewer took or what impact it had. It does not provide any indication of public engagement with the PR material; for example, whether they liked it, shared it, commented on it or subscribed to updates related to the PR campaign. Impressions on their own are a classic vanity metric.

There are thousands of metrics out there that can be used to track the impact of a PR campaign, starting by measuring the levels of media coverage or social media outputs and engagement (and yes, impressions too) through to metrics linked to brand consideration, purchase, recall and sales.

Good measurement should pull on multiple data points to tell a story and inform – think of it as a trail of breadcrumbs that lead to a commercial outcome.

Having more data points allows for a much clearer picture of success so that marketers can compare their performance against past campaigns and goals set at the beginning of each campaign cycle.

Ultimately, PR practitioners must take a broader view when evaluating PR success and look beyond impressions.

Don’t always believe the impression figures that social media companies provide

There are other reasons to be cautious about the use of impressions. Social media companies may provide impression metrics that appear to be reliable, but they may not always be accurate. The accuracy of the impressions can depend on a number of factors, such as how the platform algorithm works and how much information it is collecting.

Some people have accused tech firms of inflating impression metrics for their own commercial gain. Reports have suggested that some platforms may be using bots and other automated processes to artificially increase the number of impressions, leading to inflated or inaccurate figures.

For example, a study by Avast in 2020 revealed that up to 10% of the impressions generated by its marketing campaigns may have been from bots.

PR practitioners should be aware of these potential issues and take into account other metrics, such as website visits and social media shares, when evaluating success.

How would you include impressions in a more robust measurement framework such as AMEC?

Impressions can be included in a robust PR measurement framework, such as the AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework, by taking into account the trail of breadcrumbs that lead clients from their campaign outputs through to outcomes. We’ve written about the AMEC Framework and the PESO mix a lot on this blog so take a look at those posts.

AMEC, or the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, has developed a PR measurement framework that goes beyond impressions to take into account outputs, outtakes and outcomes.

Outputs are the PR materials produced and sent out into the public sphere such as press releases, PR campaigns and content published on websites and social media.

Outtakes track the number of people who have viewed a PR output, and this is where impression metrics come into play. Impressions provide an indication of how many people have seen PR outputs such as press releases, blog posts and social media content.

Outcomes are the final step in the PR measurement process and measure the impacts PR campaigns have on a business’s bottom line. Outcomes include metrics such as leads generated, sales conversions and brand awareness.

By incorporating impression metrics into an AMEC measurement framework, PR practitioners can gain insight into how effective PR campaigns are in driving tangible results by understanding the number of people exposed to a PR output, as well as its ultimate impact.

If you want to go even further then turn to econometrics. Econometrics in marketing is a branch of economics that applies statistical and mathematical techniques to measure the effects of marketing initiatives. It involves the use of data analysis and quantitative methods to understand how variables such as media placements, PR campaigns, and other marketing activities affect customer behaviour.

Econometrics can help marketers identify which PR strategies are most effective in driving the desired outcomes. PR practitioners can use econometric techniques to measure the impact of PR campaigns on brand awareness, sales, and other key performance indicators (KPIs).

Using PR metrics such as impressions along with econometrics can provide PR practitioners with a comprehensive picture of PR campaign performance over time. By combining PR metrics and econometric techniques, PR practitioners can gain deeper insights into PR campaign performance and make more informed decisions about how to optimise their PR initiatives for maximum effectiveness.

And finally… the tl;dr

PR practitioners need to understand the importance of impressions in PR measurement and should use a comprehensive PR evaluation framework such as AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework. This includes tracking outputs, outtakes (impressions) and outcomes, which can be incorporated into econometric analysis for more granular insights into campaign performance. By combining impression metrics with econometrics, PR practitioners can gain a deeper understanding of their campaigns’ effectiveness over time so they can make better decisions on how to optimise their PR initiatives for maximum impact.

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