Comms pros need to rethink the impressions they make

As each new year begins, I think about impressions, as in making good ones. Of course, in the PR world, a different kind of impression is also sought. And while media "hits" have their place, they are far from the be-all, end-all too many in the industry seem to still think they are.

As each new year begins, I think about impressions, as in making good ones. Of course, in the PR world, a different kind of impression is also sought. And while media "hits" have their place, they are far from the be-all, end-all too many in the industry seem to still think they are.

During the recently held Corporate Reputation Roundtable (p. 44), a participant, who also happened to judge this year's PRWeek Awards, lamented how agencies and clients still highlight media impressions as a key result of their submitted campaigns. Inasmuch as PRWeek is revealing the finalists for its awards in this issue, it seems like a good time to delve deeper.

An impression is not a standardized metric. It could reflect various factors, audience circulation or reach among them. The use of multipliers also clouds matters, as random numbers can be thrown into the equation based on how a firm or client equates the credibility of PR compared to other disciplines. If different multipliers are used, you can't fairly compare one campaign's results to another.

Another factor to consider is the ambiguous definition of an impression. If it is simply understood as a mention, then a negative impression would be the same as a positive one. With that logic, your company could be in a major crisis, get mass coverage, and spur tons of impressions. Is that a desirable result, though?

And what about quality of coverage? A company might be in a story, but is it in the opening or is it buried? Is it complimentary or critical? Does it reflect a key message or is it a passive note? More- over, one must view numbers in context. A billion positive impressions sounds, well, impressive, but not if you had 1.5 billion last year.

Perhaps the biggest misconception is that impressions are standalone measures. They can be presented as such, but they are best viewed as a component. They can be key factors to raise awareness, but what did that accomplish? Show a link between the impression and consumer behavior and the metric means something.

I'm not suggesting impressions are irrelevant, but their place on the strategic hierarchy must be reconsidered. Targeted media impressions, for example, are a better gauge because they reflect mentions in specific outlets more likely to elicit reader action beyond simply a glance.

When - not if - the industry figures out how to evolve media impressions into a more meaningful and quantifiable measurement, that will be a worthy story. 

Gideon Fidelzeid is the managing editor of PRWeek. He can be contacted at gideon.fidelzeid@prweek.com.

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