So, How Many People Am I Going to Reach?

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It’s a More Complex Question Than You Think

Irony has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it.

One of our clients was at a convention this week, and among his activities, he was hosting a panel on the digital revolution in the entertainment industry. While his credentials in the entertainment business are solid, he has yet to figure out how to operate his new Droid smartphone.

So one of my staff emailed him, pointing out the irony and the client emailed back, “I thought ‘digital’ meant they were going to talk about fingers!”

It started me thinking about the digital revolution in the media as well. With all the new technology available to us through the Internet, including the ability to track Web site visitors from their referring page to our own Web sites and even tracing how long they spend on each page, it reminded me how the emphasis on numbers and tracking have muddied the marketing waters.

Because we now have access to all these numbers and statistics, we can easily lose sight of the fact that the numbers aren’t the whole story. One of the primary differences between advertising and PR is that advertisers can drill down and focus specifically on numbers in terms of audience, tracking each time a pair of eyeballs looks at an ad as one “impression” of that ad.  The more impressions the ad receives, the more the ad campaign is perceived as being successful.

In the public relations arena, it’s impossible to track “impressions.” Media outlets aren’t going to track the exact number of eyeballs on each article – it’s not cost-effective for them to do so.  Besides, offline and online publications already have a yardstick that measures their reach.  It’s a combination of traditional circulation figures that have always been used to track the reach of a printed periodical and the number of unique visitors they get to their Web site each month, which is referred to as Visitors Per Month (VPM).

This certainly doesn’t mean that PR is somehow lacking as a marketing tactic, in comparison to advertising. The equalizer – and in my mind, the puzzle piece that elevates PR above advertising – is the third-party verification that inherently comes with PR. I talk about this frequently, but as the digital side of marketing continues to grow, it’s something all marketers must consider in evaluating the success of a PR component.

When someone buys an ad, it’s like buying real estate. They own that space and they can put practically any message they wish, within reason and within the policies of that particular media outlet. They can make reasonable claims about their company, product or service and use as many superlatives as they wish. They can represent themselves in the most complimentary manner possible. In other words, buying the ad allows them to control the message and how they want their message to be perceived by the masses. But consumers of today implicitly understand that this is the nature of advertising.

According to a global study by The Fournaise Marketing Group, consumer engagement rates from advertising have dropped 19 percent around the world. Here’s what Marketing Magazine had to say about the study:

“The study tracked response and engagement rates across traditional, as well as online campaigns, in 20 countries in the first half of 2011, comparing it to the same period last year. The US and Europe saw the sharpest decline at 23 percent. Online advertising was, on average, 25% less effective than traditional media, with display ads hit by a 26% decline. Fournaise deduced that while the global economic conditions had some effect, the drop was more to do with less effective campaigns and too much focus on ‘creativity,’ rather than customer benefits. In today’s world, where consumers are bombarded with advertising messages, a brand’s actions speak louder than words – and a consumer advocate is far more powerful than a brand one.”

A consumer advocate is more powerful, because a consumer advocate represents third-party verification, someone other than the advertiser to verify the brand’s positive claims. And, that’s what PR delivers with every interview and article, because the media outlets CHOOSE to use their free editorial space to feature that company or expert. Even if they simply quote a company spokesperson on an ongoing business trend, it demonstrates that the media outlet had some level of approval of that company.

That’s why PR doesn’t need the extra digital metrics, because it delivers something that is more important and impossible to measure – trust. That is the real jewel of a PR campaign, far and above the story the numbers can tell.

So if you’re advertising, follow the statistics and tracking data available through your online analytics, but remember that the effectiveness of your ads will depend in large part on how well your marketing campaign has created trust in the mind of your consumer.

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