Throughout my entire career, assigning metrics to public relations has been difficult, finicky, and tough to explain. 

With some of my colleagues in marketing, it’s always been relatively straightforward. They were tracking website traffic, blog comments, social media reach, or other numbers that are readily available.

But for PR? I’ve tracked everything from how many mentions I receive in a month, to how many reporters I reach out to, to what the rate of response is to my pitches, and finally how many people my press mentions reach. 

This year at Buffer, I was able to secure the use of a public relations software. I hadn’t used anything like it before because they can all be rather expensive.

The problem with tracking reach 

The software has an integration with SimilarWeb where they can give you the reach of the publication you were mentioned in. It comes with a catch, though, because these publications don’t usually announce how many people have seen each individual piece. Instead, SimilarWeb is giving you this huge number that is web traffic to the entire website or section of the website over the course of a month, which is a pretty big range. 

For some context into how I was using these numbers, one of the goals for the Buffer marketing team this year was to reach 105 Million people. This seems like a huge number, and it is, we’ve been working hard to stay on track. However, when I check my reach through the software, SimilarWeb tells me that every time we get mentioned in Forbes, I have the potential to reach 35 Million people. (That’s almost the population of Canada, which is where I’m from and is also a crazy number for one article.) 

The problem, of course, is that our marketing team isn’t going to focus all our efforts on getting three mentions in Forbes and expecting the same results that we usually have with an entire year of marketing. I needed a more realistic number to report every week. 

So, I created my own formula for calculating public relations reach. 

I report press mentions weekly so I focused on a number I could grab every Monday. I decided to keep PR reach as the number I track, but lower that number substantially to make it more realistic. In the end, I decided on taking 2% of the number from the software and assuming 2% of the people may have seen it. I believe in many cases it would be more than that and in many it will be less, but we have to start somewhere. 

Next, SimilarWeb had told me that the number they were showing was for the whole site and for a month. So, I divide 2% of the number by four since I’m tracking mentions on a weekly basis and not a monthly basis. Which in the end means I’m grabbing 0.5% of the total traffic that SimilarWeb gives me and report that per press mention I get every week. 

0.5% of monthly total reach = weekly total reach 

eg. 0.5% of 35,000,000 = 175,000

Since we report weekly this works for me but I know there are flaws with this formula.

For example, I’m not catching any of the traffic the weeks after. My reasoning there is that I think this can sometimes be quite a high estimate so I accept that it might be higher than it would be for any given week but I believe that over the span of a year it will even out. 

Don’t have a way to track traffic? 

Prior to being able to get an estimate of traffic for each mention, I used social shares as a way to determine how many people might have seen an article. In the end, I landed on the following formula: 

Number of social shares x 100 = estimated reach 

eg. 200 shares x 100 = 20,000

The reasoning here is that many people will read an article and not share it. You can use a free tool like SharedCount to grab the total number of shares any article has received. 

Again, I don’t pretend any of these are perfect formulas or metrics, but they have been super helpful for me because I want to report more realistic numbers.

If you have improvements to suggest to my metrics or another formula that I should try, I am all ears! Send me a tweet anytime to get in touch. 

Thanks for reading!

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4 thoughts on “The Public Relations Formulas I Created to Calculate Reach

  1. Great article, Hailley! Would you recommend Meltwater then? Or have you found a tool that more accurately measures? I did see your review on G2, and was specifically wondering what you are using moving forward. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Emily! I’m adjusting this post to remove Meltwater. I currently use them for work but have had several bad experiences with them. Since they auto-renewed my contract I haven’t had a chance to use other tools here! Honestly, Google Alerts picks up a lot of the things that Meltwater does. I have heard great things about Mention and Cision as well. :) Feel free to email me if this is still something you’re looking into!

  2. Very interesting Hailey (and, to be frank, reassuring that I’m not the only one scratching my head about this…).

    I was going to ask what the benefit of Meltwater was over Google Alerts and the free Chrome plugin for SimilarWeb, but noted your comment above.

    I cover both marketing and PR, so for me branding is a key KPI – Google Trends is perfect for long-term tracking, while for short-term, monthly reporting I have a spreadsheet giving a ‘score’ for each piece of coverage. I’ve also got various other metrics – followed backlinks, social shares, a tiered target media list…

    One day, I’d love to be able to set up a virtual focus group, made up of people that fit under our marketing personas. Then each month, a bit like an NPS survey, send out a question – have you seen [insert brand] online or in the news? If they answer yes, then ask: How did the coverage of [insert brand] make you feel about the brand? Positive, neutral, or negative.

    It’s a bit idealistic, but I think that would really align marketing and PR goals, and get decent feedback from the target audience themselves.

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