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Making Sense in a Fragmented Media World

Measuring PR efforts used to be straightforward. Media accounted for their audience reach with numbers: how many people bought papers, listened to morning radio shows, watched newscasts and flipped through glossies. Next, PR teams inventoried earned hits and marked it as positive, neutral or negative. We moved on to our next pitch. Looking back, the process was simple, but it offered only a high-level view of a story’s potential exposure.

In today’s multi-screen, multi-channel world where campaigns are (overly) defined, indexed and tracked by hashtags, measuring their reach requires complicated algorithms. What’s more, thoughtless use of tags adds to the social digital glut and dilutes original key messaging.

What happens beyond the clicks? 

Effectively measuring PR today is a highly organized and continuous task. Just think about the many forms a news release can morph into. Media advisories and backgrounders are chunked into social mentions, each respecting a platform’s technical nuances. A Tumblr post is image-rich, a corporate blog follows strict SEO guidelines, a campaign that launches on Facebook tags multiple partners, and live event tweeting uses language that implies urgency. Brand selfies use an obnoxious amount of tags. YouTube videos offer quotes in transcripts.

The middleman — otherwise know as “old media”— still plays a role. Comments attached to online articles count as earned media, such as conversation threads inspired by a thoughtful Facebook post on a newspaper’s page engage the public. Retweets of links to earned coverage become modified tweets when readers add their own two cents. It’s an exciting time where the convergence of paid, earned and owned media offers endless possibilities.

As opportunities for PR have increased, we’ve looked to marketing and advertising to help us keep tabs on media and influencers click-throughs to campaign content. “Customer Acquisition Cost” becomes “Influencer Acquisition Cost.” Conversions in Google Analytics that track e-commerce transactions now do double duty counting registrations to PR events. But what happens beyond the clicks and swipes?

Today’s PR practitioners must stay flexible and give old models a makeover. While click counting is one metric in our toolbox, we should leave more of that tedious task to sales and marketing. Staying on message to all of our stakeholders, inspiring dialogues (online and offline) and increasing awareness about campaigns is what really defines our jobs.