TOP Talk

The Art and Science of Communication Program Measurement: Three Critical Analytics Areas for Measuring Earned Media

Communication program measurement has been the subject of intense debate for decades. Organizations rightfully want to understand the impact of public relations and social media on their business and gauge the true return on investment of their budget investment.

Legacy measurement approaches on the PR side typically focused on calculating the advertising equivalent of a piece of earned media. In other words, how much would it have cost a company to buy ad space of a similar size as a piece of editorial content in a particular publication?

But this flawed method has fallen out of favor in recent years as more sophisticated analytics strategies have arisen, alongside automated tools and platforms, that allow companies to take a deep drill into how their PR program is helping move the needle against key objectives, understand with pinpoint accuracy which pieces of content are most effectively helping buyers move through the sales funnel, and see how social campaigns are enabling them to connect with key market influencers.

Let’s start with measuring earned media. The more coverage the better, right? Smart communication pros know this isn’t true (though you may need to convince your CEO otherwise). When measuring the impact of earned media, there are a lot of ways to skin a cat. But here are three measurement criteria we believe are most important to evaluate.

Influencer Awareness

This is the simplest yardstick. A company may have an objective to secure coverage in a certain publication read by its target buyer or to build relationships with a particular editor who holds sway in a market. Tier One works with our clients to understand and craft those wish lists, and then creates specific media strategies to secure that coverage or build those relationships. Our measurement in this regard is simply whether our campaigns were effective in meeting those objectives.

As a further extension of this kind of approach, Tier One has clients that rank publications as first- or second-tier and assign corresponding points to earned media coverage in those publications, along with points for whether a piece of coverage was a feature, a brief or a mention.

Share of Voice

Share of voice helps us understand which companies are leading the conversations in their markets. Tier One kicks off our media engagements with a benchmark share of voice exercise. With this, we look at a client’s media coverage over the past quarter or two against that of their key competitors. We determine the total number of impressions (or reach) all this coverage drives, minus out any negative coverage, then calculate each company’s share of voice as a percentage of those total impressions. We re-run share of voice exercises on a regular basis to see how our media relations effort is helping a company increase its market share of voice or further cement leadership over time.

Message Pickup and Sentiment

Evaluating coverage to determine whether key messages are being communicated is a further sophisticated yardstick of program effectiveness. Automated platforms like Trendkite or Meltwater can measure article sentiment but we believe it’s more effective to take a more manual approach to reviewing articles for message pickup and seeing what went right or wrong with how a reporter covered a story and a client’s key messages. (It’s also not a bad idea to manually review sentiment reports generated by these automated systems since AI isn’t failproof.)

In the second part of this post, I’ll share thoughts on the best ways to measure the effectiveness of social media programs. In the meantime, is your company taking a unique approach to earned media measurement? What’s working for you, and what isn’t? Measurement as a discipline is continuing to evolve over time and it takes a village: please share your thoughts and experiences in our comments section.



Kathy Wilson

About Kathy Wilson

Identifying and showcasing the unique and authentic elements of a company’s story – those “aha!” storylines that set a great company apart from the merely good ones. Then developing a strategy that leverages a variety of storytelling channels, whether it’s traditional media, social campaigns or visuals, to bring that company’s value proposition to life. 20+ year PR veteran.