Gini Dietrich

How to Measure Media Relations Beyond Story and Message Placement

By: Gini Dietrich | August 2, 2017 | 
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How to Measure Media RelationsLast week, I was perusing through the AirPR blog, when I came upon a mention of this tweet from Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times.

Is this running in print?

I left the following comment:

First, that tweet makes me angry. It’s so short-sighted on his part. Clients and executives (though I don’t agree) ALWAYS want to know where it’s appearing. And anyone older than 40 wants it in print more than online. It’s not rational, but it’s fact.

So yeah, Farhad, the people who sign our checks want both. At the very least, we have to be able to answer them when they ask. I totally agree online is better (and you can measure it), but that’s not reality for most of us.

And then I stepped off my soapbox and responded to the actual content of the article, which was about PR measurement.

If it’s Not in Print, it Doesn’t Count

We had a client for many years who always asked if something was also going to run in print.

We hated to ask the journalist, but we had to be able to give our client an answer.

And, truth be told, part of the reason they are no longer a client is because we had far more success online than in print—and that is not what their founder wanted.

It didn’t make logical sense.

We were able to prove the online stories were driving serious qualified leads.

He didn’t count them because a) he couldn’t hold the story in his hands (or, I guess, send a hard copy to his mom); and b) his sales team didn’t generate the leads.

For all I know, those leads are still waiting for follow-up from the company.

It wasn’t a good fit on either side, but you can bet he asked every, single time, “Is this also going to run in print?”

The end for us was when he said, “I don’t care about online at all. If you can’t get anything in print, I won’t consider it a success.”

So you can bet we were asking journalists like Farhad if the story was also going to run in print.

It doesn’t make it right—and it certainly is not the future—but it was our reality.

Media Relations is Not Magic

Media relations is hard, as you well know.

We can’t control any of it, yet most business leaders expect us to work some sort of magic.

And, if we do, their phones will ring and their cash registers will sing.

It’s also part of the reason the PR industry has such a bad rap (we won’t mention the hot mess in the White House communications department that is contributing to it).

What people know who have worked with PR professionals is they spend a lot of money and can’t quantify the results.

And what PR professionals haven’t done is actually quantify the results.

In 2010, I got really angry and announced on this very blog Arment Dietrich is no longer a PR firm.

Of course we are still a PR firm, but I drew a line in the sand.

If all you want is media relations (which is what most people liken PR to), we are not the firm for you.

This happened because I personally had just gotten a client on the front page, below the fold, of the Wall Street Journal.

It was an incredible story, with every message delivered and more.

And it was on the freaking front page!

The chief of corporate communications and I were ecstatic.

We kept calling one another to exclaim, “Did you see the new jump in website traffic?”

(Back then, that’s all we had.)

And it was a significant increase in traffic for nearly a month.

How to Fill in the Media Relations Gaps

The day after that story ran—the very next day—I received a FedEx package from their CEO.

In it, was a copy of the New York Times and a post-it note that said, “When is this next?”

I cried.

Actual tears.

There was no congratulations.

No wonder and amazement.

Just “when can you do this again?”

It was at that very moment that I knew we had to expand our services beyond media relations—and we had to prove the work we do achieves business objectives.

Not only that, but unless there is something huge happening at the organization, media relations only truly works once or twice a year.

To fill in the gaps—to answer the “when can you do this again?” question—I knew we had to offer more.

What to Measure—and How

The PR industry is in this weird spot where we are expected to report on media impressions, advertising equivalencies, and fan/follower numbers.

Business leaders want to know if the story is going to run in print or only online.

Our job is to educate them.

Right now, if that’s what they want, give it to them…and more.

You can find what to measure at every stage of the marketing funnel here and what to measure in a PESO model program here.

While you’re reporting on the numbers they expect, you’re also going to give them the numbers that matter.

I guarantee, after a couple of months, someone will say, “Do we really need media impressions or AVEs?”

And you can dance a jig (on video, preferably, so you can send it to me) and delete them from your report.

Same thing goes for print versus online.

You certainly can try for both, but continue to show how online can be measured—and what kinds of results you’re getting with it.

It may end up like our former client—and you have to make a decision about continuing that work (or finding a new job).

More likely, especially in 2017 and beyond, you’ll never have to answer the, “Is this also going to run in print?” question again.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • This reminds me of an episode of VEEP I just watched… they were talking about getting coverage on CNN and everyone seemed quite excited. Until it was clarified that it was CNN.com, and then the interest fizzled, with an offhand “well, no one watches that…” comment that killed the discussion.

    I fear that there will always be a “holy grail” goal the client has in his or her mind, whether that’s a Superbowl Ad, front page of the NY Times or “going viral”. Similarly, reactionary efforts to “get on the facebook” or social channel du jour is frustrating. Why do you want to be there? What are you hoping to accomplish? How is it part of the larger strategy?

    Educating our clients, and developing/providing them with a better understanding of what works, what drives results and what we can scale and measure will be an ongoing task.

    • Not to mention the way they perceive we should measure our work…

  • Bill Dorman

    You have that too; what have you done for me lately?

    Key to me is consistency, effort and hopefully quantifiable results but also making sure expectations and reality, and what that looks like is established up front.

    • Yes! That’s why it’s so important to have an integrated program. Without it, you have zero consistency because media relations alone is so difficult.

  • Liz Reusswig

    Yikes! I’m a little surprised you received the package via FedEx…he sounds more like Pony Express kinda guy! 😉

  • I was listening to a podcast the other day with the founder of Rolling Stone Magazine and they asked him what advice he had for people wanting to do something similar, and he said “not start a magazine.” And then discussed online publishing.

    All this to say, if leaders in the print industry don’t see the importance of print anymore, neither should anyone else.

    Although we can’t tell clients that the founder of Rolling Stone thinks they are being short-sighted, so what you say to do above is a much better strategy.

    • Why can’t we? I’m totally telling clients that from now on.

  • I kinda of imagine you taking the FedEx package and throwing it at the guy’s head.

    This type of people who don’t recognize the success their team achieved are the worst. They always want more, because of this or that reason, and end up burning out their teams and driving away their PR firm.

    Business owners, PR pros and pretty much everyone need to look around, to understand the reality happening inside and outside their industry and then build a strategy that makes sense.

    • Ha! Nope. I cried. I was super frustrated (and probably a little burned out). They weren’t a client much longer after that. The chief of corporate communications left, too. We laugh about it now.

  • Dawn Buford

    Until print media goes away entirely, you will always have those asking if it will be in print, even if 95% of everything is online. Most of any older generation will always cling to what they know like a safety blanket.

    • I love to ask Vistage groups who still gets the paper. There are always about five who do. Then I ask who actually reads it that way and maybe (maybe) one does. So, though they still subscribe to the actual hard copy, they’re getting their news online.

  • Alyson

    Yes! This is a great piece. 100% spot on… especially the part about people thinking media relations is magic and not realizing how much work goes into it.

    • My word! We just had this conversation last week. A client wanted us to get him in the print holiday guides. Um…holiday guides closed two months ago.

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