Five Metrics to Help Measure the Effectiveness of Media Coverage

[Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from PR News’ PR Measurement Guidebook, Vol. 5 . This guidebook can be ordered at]

Public relations professionals are expected to use their media relations skills to generate print and online coverage that reflects the strategic messaging, market positioning and brand equity that their employers or clients want to project. While the number of placements is one barometer of success in this area, I use five qualitative metrics to get a better idea of whether the results of the communications process met strategic objectives. Finally, I roll these metrics into a numeric score—the Media Branding Analysis (MBA) rating—to assess the potential bottom-line impact of media coverage.

These metrics are listed here, and then explained individually as they relate to the MBA score:

1. How important is the media outlet?

2. Is the article a stand-alone or a roundup?

3. Are your key strategic messages included?

4. Is the overall perception of the story positive or negative?

5. What is the measurable response to the published story or article?

1. How important is the media outlet?

This question is important on two levels. First, did you make The Wall Street Journal or did your mention appear in The Rapid City Journal? Clearly, print and online outlets differ greatly in terms of readership and overall prestige. But the other point is the extent to which the outlet reaches your specific target audience—the titled individuals in specific roles within their organizations who are the actual decision makers when it comes to buying your products or services.

As good as The Wall Street Journal may be in terms of readership and prestige, if you’re selling a specific kind of software or other narrowly focused product you may not be reaching a large number of true decision makers when you consider the relatively elite profile of most Journal readers. In fact, you might do a better job reaching more of your decision makers in a tightly focused monthly vertical publication (or Web site) with a circulation of 10,000 or even fewer.

2. Is the article a stand-alone piece or a roundup?

Your goal always is to generate stand-alone coverage, or perhaps coverage that mentions others in passing but is clearly focused on your client. They’re not easy to obtain, especially if your company or client is not well-known. Roundups, which are stories that mention a host of companies in fairly balanced coverage, diminish your mind-share. Another downside of roundups is that readers have a gift-wrapped list of competitors.

3. Are your key strategic messages included?

Every organization has carefully crafted words and phrases that define its brand and influence market perception. The words may be product names, specific technology, tag lines or slogans, or service methodologies. With today’s focus on SEO and online keyword searches, this metric has grown in importance. It’s critical that your media coverage include your specialized words and phrases—the more the better.

For example, getting coverage of an important new product announcement is great. But without specific and prominent mention of any new technology you’re unveiling by name, and why it’s noteworthy, a lot of the luster is lost. Without these key strategic messages, readers view your announcement as “just another new product.” The messaging is so important because how your product works, and the benefits it delivers, are far more important than what it does.

Many products do the same thing in a given category, but the “how” is the essence of differentiation and perceived value. If you’re getting stand-alone coverage, then you’ve done a good job communicating your strategic words and phrases. If the pickup is mostly roundups, then you’ve been less successful.

4. Is the overall perception of the story positive or negative?

I’m probably in the minority when I disagree with the statement that “any coverage is good coverage.” All we have to do is look at massive brand and financial damage suffered in the last few years by BP, Toyota and even Tiger Woods to recognize the flawed logic in this way of thinking. As you assess your media coverage, be honest about your company’s or client’s market perception based on the positive or negative tone present in your media coverage.

The positive placements go on your Web site and other marketing/sales collateral. The negative ones are judged on their merits and corrective action may or may not be advisable with the outlet that published it.

Similarly, predominantly negative coverage generally will still include some encouraging or supportive reporting. Your job as a PR practitioner is to make a judgment about the overall perception of the coverage. Even if the good and bad seem equivalent, you have to make a decision.

5. What is the measurable response to the published story or article?

This is the bottom-line metric in this discussion. Did the media coverage result in a measurable increase in inquiries about your company or client, or the specific product or service that was covered? A hefty clip book looks nice, but if the coverage didn’t move the needle on sales activity then you really haven’t met your business goals.

Look at your Web site stats, phone call volume, e-mail traffic and other channels—including social media activity—to get a near-term idea of the buzz and the potential bottom-line impact of your media coverage

Longer term, you must judge collected media coverage the only way it matters: measurable contribution to increased sales activity. PRN

[Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from PR News’ PR Measurement Guidebook, Vol. 5 . This guidebook can be ordered at]


This article was written by Bill Bradley, principal of Bottom Line Communications. He can be reached at


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  • Ryo Yamaguchi

    Hi Bill, great tips here out of the Guidebook, especially your emphasis on well targeted publications with your clear, intended message as a real mark of success, versus just raw hits and circulation. I think those are really important metrics to consider when trying to see a true bottom line impact. The one thing I think is difficult in all this is marketing lag. Sometimes impact can’t be measured in immediate sales, even if your marketing and PR efforts have really planted your brand well. I would love to hear more on longer term impact, as you just get into it at the end of this post. Thanks again for sharing!

  • Michael Ferland

    This type of measurement system is potentially misleading. It has 5 independant variables each with a score of 1 to 3. Measurement error is Multiplicative in this case and the resulting scores will have a confidence level that you can drive an Aircraft Carrier through. A good opinion poll is confident to 3% 19 times out of 20, Such methods as these have an error of 30% to the 5th power and so mathematically are dangerous. be careful.