The changing way we measure influence

While it is often claimed the impact of PR is impossible to quantify, that adage is insufficient in today’s world where businesses of all kinds are expected to account for every dollar spent.

Although it is true that there isn’t an exact science to how we measure PR influence, most agencies rely on a set of tools which basically measure what we like to call “coverage generated.”

But that approach is undergoing a rapid transformation right now.

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As noted in this recent article in Axios, for decades the impact of media has been measured by reach – the number of people who read the paper, listen to a radio program or watch a show. But as smartphones become the dominant means of consuming media, measurement is shifting from the number of eyeballs to the degree of active engagement. Tech companies, for example, focus their reporting on daily active users rather monthly unique visitors.

The Axios article identifies some interesting trends on the part of traditional media companies and their technology counterparts to make themselves an indispensable part of people’s lives and thereby “crank up” engagement. For example, the New York Times is focusing subscription-getting strategies on habit-forming offerings like cooking and crosswords, while Amazon is moving into the food delivery market in an effort to reach deeper into people’s personal lives.

Binge video is cited as a trend that is becoming increasingly important, with tech companies pouring billions of dollars into creating original content to get a piece of that binge-watching time. However, the biggest conundrum for those organizations is that there is currently no reliable way to accurately measure who is watching what, where and for how long.

“Tech standards for how they measure video consumption are very different from television, and they’re often not verified or vetted,” the Axios article points out. “Snapchat, for example, measures a video view as any time a video is opened, while Nielsen counts video views on linear (and now digital) TV as active engagement for at least a minute.”

As the consumption of content across multiple mediums grows, it only makes sense to move away from traditional means of measurement and identify cross-platform measurement tools. Media companies – and by association PR agencies – need a better sense of how content is viewed on different screens and platforms, not only to understand how and if messages are landing, but also to get a better understanding of who their audiences are and what they care about.

In the meantime, PR agencies should pay close attention to the means of engagement tech and media companies are investing in to reach audiences and prioritize the development of integrated campaigns for clients to ensure maximum reach. What is the right balance between traditional and online, longer-form media? Should clients create custom content YouTube or Facebook channels? Is there value in live streaming news and/or other content via the multiple channels available? And what role does a client’s owned channels play?

While the answer will often depend on the content and the intended audience, I am seeing a growing trend among companies to rely on PR to set the tone for all external communications, including sales. Bearing that in mind, it is crucial that PR agencies work in partnership with their clients to understand the scope of their communications goal beyond “just PR” and determine the right platform(s) to deploy to engage their target audience.