One of the most common metrics discussed in public relations and advertising is the media impression. We often find ourselves explaining what impressions are and why they matter—indeed, some argue that they don’t.
Let’s dig into this metric and understand what it truly measures.
What are we talking about when we talk about ‘impressions?’
Impressions, broadly defined, are any interaction between a piece of content and an audience member.
When you read the front page of the New York Times, each article on that page registers your viewing as one impression. When you drive past a billboard on a highway, that counts as an impression. When you read Facebook, every ad you scroll past or around in your newsfeed is an impression.
So, an impression is the broadest possible metric for any piece of earned, owned or paid media’s performance.
Do impressions count for anything?
Of course they do.
If given an option between having your brand’s ad or earned media placement be seen by one person or one million people, the logical choice (all other factors being equal) is to choose the larger audience.
Think of impressions as a directional metric. If you’re out there working to get publicity about a story, product, idea or service and your impressions count is zero, then the rest of your PR and marketing metrics are somewhat moot. Impressions bridge the gap between the total addressable audience that you have and the rest of your PR and marketing funnel.
Why do impressions get a bad rap?
Simply put, impressions get a bad rap because many advertising and PR professionals measure the success of their campaigns and outreach using this metric alone. This is obviously not a sufficient measure.
Impressions are only the very top of the funnel—much more has to happen after an ad or a story is published. Just because someone has driven by a billboard doesn’t mean they will remember it—only hungry drivers, for example, are likely to pay attention to a restaurant sign.
Beyond the impressions
What other measures matter? First and foremost: engagement.
In digital PR and advertising, this is more easily measured than offline. Metrics can range from simple behaviors like time on page and bounce rate to more complex metrics like branded organic search over time and social media engagement.
After engagement comes conversion. Who did what we wanted them to do–from walking into a store and picking up an item to clicking through to the story or filling out a form? What tangible, measurable interaction did the audience have with the business or its website?
So, the bottom line is that, yes, impressions do matter. They’re the “once upon a time” of your earned media story. Impressions help us set the context for everything that comes after.
But it really is everything that comes after that matters most.