Introducing the State of Media & Readership Report

We all see the articles that news outlets publish, the beats their reporters cover, the topics and brands that get picked up.

But what we don’t see is: what are people actually reading? What is breaking through the noise and what does this mean for communicators? That is, until now.

Readership measures unique visitors to an article page. Meaning, how many people actually engaged with a news cycle or saw a brand’s coverage. Some of the world’s biggest brands lean on readership to measure impact and guide their media strategies. For the first time ever, we’re releasing some of the readership trends previously only known to our customers.

What does readership tell us at a macro-level?

Memo analyzed readership on half a million articles. The findings are in our first-ever State of Media & Readership Report, which uncovers some of the actionable, data-backed insights to inform your media strategy in the year ahead.

Here are some of the big takeaways from the past year:

  1. Don’t make any assumptions about publications based on topic. Some publications drive consistently high readership around surprising topics.
  2. Don’t discount paywalls and syndicators. News aggregators and content syndicators increased readership by 41.8% in our sample. For paywalled content, syndicators boosted readership by over 100%.
  3. There’s little correlation between social engagement on an article and readership (0.18 in one analysis). In a separate analysis of over 600 articles on multiple brands, less than 10% of article traffic originated from social media.
  4. Wednesdays are the busiest news days. However, readership around brands spikes on Mondays, Fridays, and weekends. In fact, articles published on the weekends get 68% more readership.
  5. When a crisis arises, address it early and let the news cycle fade. Bad news drives readership. Balenciaga’s handling of its controversial ad campaign shows us that continued comments and actions around negative news drive increasingly higher readership.

We break down the top readership moments of the last year, the topics that drive brand and leadership coverage, headlines that break through the noise, and so much more.

Unmasking Meta’s Bad News Strategy

Comms pros often agonize over what day to release news. Whether it’s good or bad, the day news is announced can significantly impact coverage and readership, especially if there are other global events happening on the same day. Do big companies share negative news on Fridays? Do they share good news at the beginning of the week? We analyzed nearly 6,300 articles about Meta – a company that has had its fair share of negative press in the past year – to understand their bad news strategy and the impact it has on readership.

Meta’s shifting bad news strategy

Most of the time, bad news isn’t within the control of the person, people, or thing(s) it’s about. Meta is no different. In early 2022, readership on negative Meta press peaked on articles published on Fridays, mostly news out of the social media giant’s control. In the second half of 2022, the highest readership came from negative stories published in the middle of the week. So why the shift? We took a deeper look at what macro trends may be influencing decision-making.

It turns out that some of the negative news coming out of Meta in the second half of 2022 aligned with planned global news events or holidays.

  • News that Sheryl Sandberg was stepping down was announced on June 1st, the same date of the much anticipated Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial verdict was scheduled.
  • Zuckerberg told employees they’ll be turning up the heat on performance reviews and slowing hiring on July 1st, right before the 4th of July holiday weekend.
  • Meta announced plans to make staffing cuts on September 21st, just days after Queen Elizabeth’s funeral service broadcast across the globe and the associated news cycle. 
  • Meta then also announced layoffs on November 9th, in the middle of the U.S. midterm election cycle.
Readership of negative Meta news compared to global events

Is Meta’s bad news strategy working?

A third of Meta’s highest readership spikes over the past year came from negative news coming towards the end of the week, whether it was news within their control or not. So releasing bad news on a Friday isn’t a strategy that works in their favor. While it sometimes produces fewer news articles, the articles that do publish attract more readers.

Announcing negative news during global events is presumably to reduce pickup or decrease attention. Makes sense. The world is distracted. Here’s the thing–readership actually increased. Readership of Meta’s layoff news spiked at nearly 5 million in the midst of the U.S. midterm elections, roughly five times the readership of negative news announced earlier in the year. Given the nature of the announcements, it’s likely that readership was always going to be higher compared to press earlier in the year, but five times is a lot.

Is any day of the week good for bad news?

Negative readership outweighs positive readership early in the week (Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday), while the opposite is true later in the week (Thursday, Friday, & Saturday). 

Overall, Meta’s negative news readership was highest on Wednesday and lowest on Saturday and Sunday, when coverage volume was also low. Wednesdays generated the highest average readership in 2022, while average readership was lowest on Thursdays, followed by Mondays and Tuesdays. 

Negative Meta news readership compared to volume of coverage

Volume of coverage certainly does not indicate readership. Ideally, if a brand is announcing negative news they would want to target the day that produces the lowest readership numbers. That means sharing good news on Wednesdays and bad news on Thursdays.

What can we learn from Meta?

It’s impossible to say that if Meta announced layoffs outside of the U.S. midterm elections it would have attracted fewer readers. That said, readership spikes during those expected global news days indicate that targeting those days doesn’t entirely work. It could impact the volume of coverage around negative news. Readership however still surged, which means that attention on the news didn’t see the impact that Meta may have intended.

Readership trends give you more context and insights than volume trends do when it comes to media coverage. Announcing bad news on big news days may not create the outcome intended. At least it didn’t for Meta (from what we can tell). Who’s going to tell them?

Ad Value Equivalency is fundamentally flawed, but is it fixable?

I still remember holding a ruler against my magazine clippings, hoping a client’s placement took up enough space to be considered ⅓ of the page versus ¼. It was my first job out of college: a boutique public relations agency serving fashion brands. An account assistant, I was tasked with compiling Ad Value Equivalency, or AVE, reports.

Each quarter, I dutifully pulled out the ruler to determine what percent of a page in GQ my client’s sneakers took up (let’s say 33%), and multiplied that by how much a full page ad would cost to run in GQ ($143,681 at the time, I checked). The Ad Value Equivalency for getting those sneakers into the hands of a stylist, who in turn put them in the final shot: $47,415. Rinse and repeat until I had a full tally of how much my client would have paid in advertising for the coverage produced through PR.

Was it bulletproof? Of course not. Comparing advertisements to media coverage was, and still is, an apples-to-oranges comparison.

But was it really that bad? I’d argue no! Since the magazine’s ad rates were determined by its monthly circulation and audience, that ad rate was a decent proxy for the caliber of placement. If the placement took up less than a full page, my handy ruler accounted for that. We avoided subjective multipliers to account for added value of earned over paid. For print coverage, AVE gave my client a solid metric to track each quarter, and it let the agency demonstrate the millions of dollars in value we were generating. So where did it all go wrong?

AVE didn’t evolve with the rise of digital media

Let’s say I got those sneakers featured today on GQ.com. AVE would have me take the site’s 10 million unique monthly visitors, multiply them by a percentage of traffic I think saw that placement (let’s generously say 1%), and then multiply it by whatever GQ charges for an impression of a display ad on the page. With a hypothetical display ad rate of $50 per 1000 impressions, or $0.05 per visitor, the AVE for my hard-earned GQ.com placement comes out to 10,000,000 * 1% * $0.5 = $5,000. 

Yikes. At some point over the last two decades, the sneaker placement went from being valued at $47k to a “generous” $5k. Is earned media truly less valuable in the digital age, or is something else at play?

“The greatest trick advertising ever pulled on PR was getting the industry to use its math”

I’ve heard Memo CEO Eddie Kim come back to this refrain a lot. He argues that the biggest issue with AVE in the digital age isn’t that it’s derived from inaccurate potential reach numbers or that it makes assumptions about how many people saw the content.

AVE’s fundamental flaw is taking an entire article – where a reader is actively engaging with content about a brand for 80 seconds on average – and comparing it to the rate for a small box on the page that we’re conditioned to tune out. Finding a true apples-to-apples comparison means completely rethinking the foundation of AVE in the digital age.

What if we treated an article like the destination it is: a landing page

We can think of an article as a landing page, and this opens up an entirely new way to assign a dollar value to earned media. Our full methodology for MRV (Memo Readership Value) is outlined here. In brief, MRV calculates what it would cost a marketing team to pay for the engagement that was earned by PR and uses three inputs:

  1. The article’s unique visitors (what Memo reports as readership)
  2. How each unique visitor came to that article (i.e. how many readers found the article through Google search, via Twitter, through a newsletter, etc)
  3. The cost-per-click rates associated with each of those channels, as a comp for how much a paid media team would need to pay in order to replicate the earned engagement of PR

The result is a dollar-based value for an earned placement based on relevant paid-media math. Instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole like AVE, MRV uses newly available, accurate data to completely reinvent a way to show ROI for PR.

TL;DR: MRV does what AVE could not

AVE is fundamentally flawed because it equates a full article with a small digital ad. We shouldn’t be calculating value based on ad space but rather how much it costs to drive traffic to the article content via equivalent cost-per-click rates. That’s what MRV does. 

For the first time, you get an accurate view of impact through readership and you can demonstrate ROI for all your work. Bonus: we do the math so you don’t have to.

Potential reach does not equal readership.

PR measurement is broken. Desperate for a way to measure value and impact, the industry centered around impressions and volume decades ago. In all corners of business, metrics advanced. Yet, measuring public relations remained staggeringly stagnant. From impressions, we derived reach. From volume, we derived a share of voice. The problem is, there are so many assumptions made that all of these metrics are built on a crumbling foundation.

Risk manager, media researcher, and lecturer at NC State University Jim Pierpoint published a series of research around media monitoring and PR measurements. He unpacks the evolution of volume-based metrics, reach, and why none of it adds up to any accurate calculation of impact. In this blog, we recap some of Pierpoint’s findings along with some of our own.

The foundation of PR measurement is antiquated.

Two professors from NC Chapel Hill conducted a study during the1968 presidential election (published in 1972) to understand how mass media sets the public agenda. They surveyed a sample of 100 Chapel Hill voters and found a near-perfect correlation between what they thought to be the most important issues during the campaign and the issues covered by the press. This study, “The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media,” birthed the foundation of PR measurement: the media sets the agenda for the public, so news volume is a measure of public opinion.

Over time, other dimensions were added to the concept of content analysis – e.g. tonality, potential reach based on a publication’s monthly unique visitors, social engagement with an article, etc. But at its core, this 1968 study based on 100 people without any causality told the industry that volume was a sufficient proxy for measuring reach, when we know now that this is not true.

Not all mentions are equal.

All comms people know that a feature in The New York Times is not the same as a mention in a trade publication, and vice versa. Yet, sheer volume metrics count every mention as an equal. Perhaps the next evolution of clip books and volume counts is share of voice – simply comparing volume against the competition. Here’s the thing, it’s still just volume. Sometimes (most of the time) more isn’t better, it’s just more.

In an effort to measure impact over volume, the industry calibrated on measuring PR in terms of circulation, unique visitors, and viewership. Counting circulation numbers for each piece of coverage is fundamentally flawed. If you secure three pieces of coverage in a publication that attracts 6 million unique visitors monthly, you multiply unique monthly visitors by the number of articles published. Truly astronomical numbers derived from potential reach. None of which is rooted in reality.

Does every article or mention of your brand get read by all monthly visitors? Maybe? Hopefully? Probably not.

Traditional media monitoring tools tried to solve for this by adding social listening to account for the added amplification of social channels. But as we’ve shown, social engagement with an article is not correlated with that article’s readership.

Potential reach metrics are exploding beyond reality

It is unrealistic to think that everyone who visits a publication within a month reads every article every time they visit, but that’s how traditional media monitoring tools estimate reach. According to media monitoring estimates cited in Pierpoint’s research, “reach” exceeded 250 million potential readers on 33 different days over the past 12 months for one particular company’s press coverage. Reach exceeded the total adult population of the United States on 33 different days. On 15 of those days, the imputed reach exceeded 300 million, and on the biggest news day, the imputed reach exceeded 600 million.

“According to the media monitoring data, not only did every American adult see news about this company on every one of those days, but for that data point to be accurate, we each saw the news coverage more than once.”

Jim Pierpoint in Proof of Concept: Reach does not equal Readership

Pierpoint points out that the already inflated reach numbers based on monthly visitors compounded with the number of media programs (from three network news broadcasts to dozens of cable and online news programs) amounts to an explosion in potential reach.

In 6 regression analyses between potential reach of published news about companies (aka impressions or UVMs) and actual article readership of that published news (aka unique visitors to an article), Pierpoint found correlations were as low as 0.40 (with 1.0 being a perfect positive correlation, and a “strong” correlation being about 0.7).

To stress test what correlations ranging from 0.40-0.68 mean for using potential reach as a proxy for actual readership, Pierpoint ran “Top 10” tests. He compared the top 10 news days based on potential reach against the top 10 news days based on actual readership. Only 2 days overlapped (80% error rate) for the technology company mentioned earlier, and error rates ranged from 20% to 90% – so…highly inconsistent.

At this point, potential reach is so far removed from reality, it should be a crime to call it reach.

Redefining readership and staying rooted in reality

Measuring potential reach and views will cause PR inflation. The correlation between potential reach and actual reach is statistically unreliable, making it a risky business metric. Pierpoint’s primary takeaway is “to generate actionable insights, we need to measure both news that was published and news people actually read.”

Readership, impressions, and reach are all used interchangeably by tools that thrive on confusion and ambiguity. Potential reach does not mean readership. Impressions do not equal readership. Competitive volume comparisons do not give an accurate depiction of the competitive landscape. Readership means the number of people who read article(s) mentioning your brand. Period. And that’s how you actually measure impact.

The value of content syndication for business news

How should content syndication fit into my media strategy? Does getting re-published on websites like Yahoo! and MSN meaningfully amplify content? Do people even read these aggregator sites? 

Questions once met with guesses or speculation can now get answers with hard data. Our team analyzed readership (i.e. unique visitors) on 341 articles re-published on MSN and Yahoo! that covered business and executive news – topics that would typically fall into the corporate comms bucket – over a 30 day period.

So, what’s the value of an aggregator site? 

To start, article readership is +41.8% higher on these aggregator sites compared to the originally published articles in our sample. This means that in total, content received 141.8% more readers than had it not been syndicated.

Some of our key findings and what they mean for comms teams are summarized below, and the full report is available for download here.

Takeaway #1: Don’t discount syndications in your PR measurement and reporting 

Right off the bat, we find that many, but not all, articles re-published on Yahoo! and MSN get more readership on those sites than they received on the original publications. This means that while MSN might not be a priority outlet from a media relations standpoint, for example, it should be on every comms team’s radar for measurement purposes.

This trend is not universal, and more nuance begins to emerge when we break down syndicated-content readership by the original publications as well as other attributes.

Takeaway #2: Targeting Bloomberg and Business Insider can both reach a more narrow business audience and generate mass awareness with syndication

Among the 68 publications with content re-published to either Yahoo! or MSN over this 30-day period, Bloomberg and Business Insider are the two top-tier business outlets that benefited the most from syndication amplification.

On average, Bloomberg articles syndicated to MSN and Yahoo! received an average of 339% more readers than they did on the original source. Similarly, Business Insider articles received an average of 233% more readers. 

This means that comms teams don’t necessarily need to trade off between getting in front of the higher-value business audiences that subscribe to Business Insider and Bloomberg and building mass awareness on news aggregation sites. 

Takeaway #3: Don’t disqualify reporters from a pitch just because they’re behind a paywall; syndication can increase their readership 

Aggregator sites like MSN and Yahoo! make articles accessible to more people by eliminating the paywall barrier, driving higher readership. Syndicated articles from paywall publications saw 2x the readership on average compared to the original articles. 

As part of any reporter mapping exercise, understanding which paywalled reporters get syndicated to highly-trafficked, non-pawalled sites can surface opportunities to reach niche and mass audiences in tandem.

To see the full analysis, including deep dives into commonly syndicated publications, download the full report here

Internal Communications is PR. Just ask Stripe.

Internal communications is public relations. The words ‘internal’ and ‘public’ are contradictory, but the concept is true. Employee communications is no longer a function of human resources or people teams. Why? We live in a culture centered around information leaks. What’s communicated internally is shared publicly, sometimes within a matter of minutes. Internal comms is external comms. At the same time, external comms is internal comms.

Both functions (internal and external comms) shifted tremendously over the last decade. The breaking news we read about the world’s largest organizations comes from leaked internal all-hands meetings, existing employees, and forwarded company emails. One of the best examples of this is when journalists covered a Meta all-hands before it actually took place and coverage continued publishing while it was still in progress. Press discussed return to office policies at some of the world’s most powerful financial institutions before leadership actually finalized their plans. Employees in the modern workplace frequently look at what is said about the company externally with the same expectation of truth as internal communications.

What this looks like in practice

Internal and external communications existing separately today seems like a time capsule to a different time given today’s hyper-connected world. Uniting internal and external communications can be much more uncomfortable in practice than in theory. It requires a new level of transparency and proactivity. Stripe’s recent layoff announcement is a perfect example. Stripe published the internal email from the CEO outlining the challenging decisions to reduce the company’s workforce, transitional support for those impacted, and a plan ahead for those still employed. In articles covering the news, Stripe’s CEO is described as humane, employees impacted are empathetic, and some even credited the challenging economic climate. From a communications perspective, that is likely the best possible outcome given the situation.

Making the case

Separating internal and external communicators no longer serves anyone. Here are three core reasons why internal comms and external comms work best in unison:

  1. PR teams are trained to calculate risk and plan for it.
    Understanding employee perspectives is core to effective internal communications. You need to anticipate what employees need to know, questions that might arise, and how they are most likely to retain the information. One of the biggest risks associated with internal comms is a leak or, more specifically, a disgruntled employee airing grievances externally. What if the worst happens? Then what? Anticipating risks internally only gets you so far. Comms in a crisis requires understanding varied perspectives, whether that be among press, target audiences, or employees, and when or how to respond–all areas that external comms teams live in.
  2. External comms requires a contextual understanding of impact.
    PR leaders are responsible for understanding who is saying what and how many people are reading it (among other things). In a crisis, you can only determine if or how to respond if you know the scope and impact of the crisis. There’s a common phrase, “don’t listen to the sound of one hand clapping.” Understanding the views of the loudest voices in the room is critical, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate a required response. Understanding the impact of the loudest voices in the room prompts action. External communicators understand broader context, market influences, and impact through data.
  3. Building a brand is a recruiting and retention function.
    Studies show that people consider a brand’s reputation before they consider employment. Exactly 50% of candidates say they wouldn’t work for a company with a bad reputation, even for a pay increase. A whopping 92% of people would consider changing jobs if offered a role with a company with an excellent corporate reputation. The way that comms teams handle internal and external news (positive or negative) reflects directly on the employer brand. Building a brand requires consistency across internal and external channels. If done well, it becomes your company’s most effective recruiting and retention tool.

TL;DR

Internal and external communications teams are transforming. Today’s workforce and media landscape require a new level of transparency and proactivity. To be truly effective, you need to acknowledge that internal is evolving into PR. Comms leaders are responsible for understanding who is saying what and how many people are reading it. The only way to manage risk, understand context and impact, and build a brand effectively, is to start with data. Decisions about your brand are only as wise as the data behind them.

How communications teams are using Memo readership for strategy planning

It’s planning season and the Customer Experience team has been heads down holding user feedback calls. It’s a recurring exercise that gives us a pulse on how communications teams are actioning readership data and helps us prioritize 2023’s product strategy to support them.

Among discussions of feature requests and upcoming launches (publication regions! campaign tags!), one big theme emerged: readership data has become valuable input into our customers’ own 2023 strategy. 

Many comms teams are in the middle of planning how their brands’ key messages will be delivered to which audiences via which channels next year. Whether it’s for weighing different channels, setting next year’s benchmarks, or revising strategy based on newly discovered trends, accurate readership data (that is, the unique visitors to an article) provides a tangible guide for planning and prioritizing. Keep reading for 5 examples our team sees every day.

To learn more about how accurate readership can uncover real impact and help you make smarter comms decisions, check out Memo’s approach to comms measurement.

Media relations planning (part 1): Assessing beat reporters on readership

Customers with dedicated reporters covering their brands and industries often run 2022 lookbacks to understand which beat reporters are delivering for them.

Previously, these analyses were conducted with volume and sentiment, but that doesn’t actually reveal impact. Readership adds a new layer of intelligence, revealing the beat reporters who actually get the most eyeballs on their coverage.

Users who also track competitor readership have built-in benchmarking to understand where their readership sits relative to other content authored by a reporter. In both cases, these teams have a clearer direction for who to target for the year and can tailor their activities accordingly.

Media relations planning (part 2): Finding new highly-read reporters to prioritize

“When it comes to the media landscape, I only know who I know. Help me learn who I don’t know.” Our team gets this request a lot, especially when it comes to placing stories that extend beyond brand and product news. 

For example, an office-supply store could pitch its new category of “work from anywhere” products to one of its go-to retail industry reporters. If they want to be a thought leader in the era of hybrid work, they need to look beyond the retail beat for inclusion in broader stories about the future of work. 

Understanding the reporters writing about thematic issues that span multiple brands and industries is one of the most-requested insights reports from our team, especially as comms groups map out their priority channels for upcoming brand news and narratives.

Planning brand messaging: Identifying the most-read angles and outlets for key stories

Regarding narrative, most Memo customers know the news stories that reflect their brand values and vision. For example, a technology company might want to focus on news around digital transformation and ethical AI next year. A retailer might want to associate its brand with stories about smarter consumer spending and supply chain responsibility.

They turn to readership data to better understand the sources telling those stories. Filtering their readership by topics and outlets helps comms teams spot the factors that drive readership on a theme, such as headline angles, publications, and reporters – all intel that can inform content planning for the year ahead. (For more on this, see “All about article topics, Memo’s secret weapon for readership insights.”

These topic-based analyses are also an area where users often lean on our Insights Analysts, who help countless brands understand readership trends in areas ranging from broad themes like ESG to specific moments like the Super Bowl

Planning brand moments: Learning from past events to inform future campaigns

For discreet moments in the coming year – product launches, seasonal campaigns, events, etc – reviewing readership from similar moments in 2022 can highlight the publications that are likely to drive the highest traffic and awareness for brands. 

Impressions can be highly misleading and can prompt teams to overlook publications that attract high readership for specific topics. As our Insights Team illustrates in a report that compares actual readership to potential reach, publications with relatively low monthly traffic often outperform highly-trafficked outlets in certain subject areas. This visibility into a publication’s strengths is especially important when allocating scarce resources such as exclusives, press day invites, and executive interviews.

In addition to looking at their own historical performance, comms teams with competitor tracking also frequently analyze comparable moments from industry peers. The benefits here are twofold: they see the publications covering competitors that they’re under-indexed on, revealing a clear path to grow share of voice, and they get readership benchmarks for their industry to set measurable goals around.

Tracking results over time: Running YoY readership comparisons

Understanding which placements drove readership in the past provides valuable signals about the tactics to lean into next year. Many users work with the Customer Experience team to pull year-over-year readership analyses, especially for recurring and cyclical news cycles (e.g. annual conferences, seasonal sales, etc). Looking at changes in how readers engaged with coverage from previous rounds can identify the strategic and tactical shifts moving the needle.

I could go on listing all the ways customers have leaned on readership for comms planning. But for now, I hope I’ve conveyed two overarching themes: first, accurate readership data has transformed communications strategy. While it is particularly noticeable this time of year, it’s something we see day-in, day-out working with such innovative customers. 

Second, I hope it’s clear how supportive the Customer Experience and Insights teams are in these exercises. We truly take a consultative approach to answer our customers’ questions, working together to shape the report’s methodology and presentation. And if you don’t know where to start, we have no shortage of ideas. Contact your customer success rep or email success@memo.co anytime.

To learn more about how accurate readership can uncover real impact and help you make smarter comms decisions, check out Memo’s approach to comms measurement.


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ESG communications: insights & lessons from PRDecoded 2022

The buzz around ESG communications is getting louder. 

In the past few weeks alone, Axios published two newsletters focused on the complicated exercise communicators have in building consumer awareness of what “ESG” means, let alone what their companies are doing about it. A CNBC survey revealed the tension between companies’ public declarations of ESG support and their internal philosophy on ESG management. And PRWeek held its annual purpose-focused conference for communicators, PRDecoded.  

CCOs and leaders in sustainability, CSR, and DE&I convened for two days last week to discuss how brands can better craft and promote a narrative about their purpose. Members of Memo’s Insights Team joined to share new readership trends around environmental and climate issues. 

Here are our takeaways from the event + the team’s own findings on ESG-related readership trends.

To learn more about how accurate readership can uncover the real impact of your ESG comms activities and help you make smarter decisions, check out Memo’s approach to comms measurement.

Research summary: readership trends on environmental news 

Memo’s Insights team was on site at PRDecoded to share an abridged report that analyzed readership (unique visitors to an article) on thousands of articles about environmental issues published in Q3 2022. Here are three of the trends and opportunities they identified:

Trend #1: Wired and Vox are under-the-radar outlets for ESG themes

Perhaps unsurprisingly, large national newspapers were the top-read outlets on environmental news over this time. 

But outlets that appeal to socially-minded readers, such as Wired and Vox, see high average readership. They publish fewer articles on the topic, but the articles they do publish get higher traffic than articles on sites with higher UVMs. (These are what we call  “hidden gem” publications, and identifying them for an industry or theme can help Comms teams prioritize media relations.)

Trend #2: Deforestation is trending in news readership. 

Both the most-covered and most-read subtopic over this was “climate action” – news about climate change, carbon footprints, emissions goals, etc. 

Among the other subtopics, “sustainability” was covered more, but  “deforestation” had higher readership. Following the Covid-19 pandemic and recent monkeypox outbreaks, there’s increased awareness of and interest in the impact of deforestation on pathogen transmission. For companies addressing deforestation specifically, now is a great time to grow awareness of these initiatives. 

Trend #3: Earned media helps brands protect their reputations as ESG-minded companies

In addition to publications and subtopics, we also analyzed readership on the brands featured in environmental news. One retailer, for example, received negative coverage about its carbon footprint, but this was outweighed by readership on positive coverage on its efforts to reduce packaging waste. (This context is why Memo customers monitor readership on crisis news cycles in addition to proactive campaigns.)

PRDecoded summary: the biggest takeaways on communicating purpose

Speakers at PRWeek’s annual purpose-focused conference addressed topics ranging from climate action to diversity to building trust. Here were some common threads:

Takeaway #1: Authenticity is table stakes for successful ESG communications

Authenticity in intent first, message second was a recurring theme among speakers, including McDonald’s Sr. Director of Global Brand Communications Molly McKenna, who advised against latching onto passing fads where brands can’t play a meaningful role.

Leaders from BCW similarly warned against “purpose washing,” or expressing public support for a cause without the underlying action to back it up. (Speaking of, shout out to PRWeek for partnering with GENYOUth to sponsor a breakfast cart that will serve nearly 100,000 meals annually to Chicago students.) 

Such authenticity is essential if brands want to build and maintain trust at a time when misinformation is so pervasive. “Actions speak louder than words,” noted Mars VP of Corporate Affairs Kristen Campos.

Takeaway #2: Employees are a key stakeholder – and not just for internal comms 

Executives from UPS set the tone when they kicked off the conference sharing their communications team’s approach to crafting its public-facing purpose statement: they surveyed employees internally to see what excites them about UPS. (The result: “Moving our world forward by delivering what matters.”) 

When it comes to communicating purpose, Artealia Gilliard, Ford’s Sr. Manager of Environmental Leadership and Sustainability Communications, noted that the auto company starts with its employees first to build advocacy from the inside out.

At a time when internal comms can quickly become external comms, organizations are rethinking strategies for listening to employee feedback, responding to demands to address current events such as racial justice and gun control, and mitigating against internal issues playing out in the public sphere. A major theme of the internal-communications focused panel “Empowering Employees” was the function’s increased collaboration – if not outright merging – with external communications groups.

Takeaway #3: Purpose is the vision, communicating it is an art, and data is a guide

Whether it’s using surveys to get a pulse check on how its purpose is connecting with its employees (Allstate), or social listening to understand what followers care about (McDonald’s), communications teams are leaning on data for guidance in crafting and refining purpose messaging.

This is not to say that data defines a brand’s purpose. Rather, data helps inform whether messages are resonating with stakeholders at different places in the customer/employee journey, as noted on a panel between Edelman advisors and Tupperware VP of Global Communications & PR Cameron Klaus. 

Of course, not everything can be captured in numbers. As Walgreens CCO Aaron Radelet put it, when it comes to communicating purpose, it’s about how people feel about you, not what they know about you.”

Our team’s two cents: measurement on ESG communications is still in its nascency. While there are numerous tools that can mine data from owned channels, social followers, and publicly available search trends, they’re missing a key piece of the puzzle. Purpose is more than a message – two days of programming made that clear. It’s the actions brands take that build toward a vision, actions that get dissected every day in the press. 

Earned media is a major conduit for a brand’s narrative, and it’s finally measurable. We work with Comms teams on the forefront of analyzing earned readership data to understand, build, and protect their narratives. It’s been encouraging over the past couple of years to see the growth in ESG communications measurement specifically, a reflection we hope of more purposeful business.

To learn more about how accurate readership can uncover real impact of your ESG comms activities and help you make smarter decisions, check out Memo’s approach to comms measurement.

Readership in a crisis: 4 ways PR teams use Memo for Crisis Communications

In today’s hyperconnected world, crises can erupt in an instant. A single tweet, memo, or decision can ignite a firestorm of negative press.

Other times, it’s a slow burn. You hear murmurings of a reporter working on a piece, you get the call for a statement, then you wait.

Either way, a crisis news cycle can mean late nights and lost weekends fielding emails from the C-suite, panicked over the negative stories, and desperate to put out the fire. But just how big are the flames? Are they getting bigger, or starting to die down? Is there even much of a fire at all?

Knowing exactly how many people are reading coverage during a negative news cycle can answer those questions and feel like a lifesaver. Article readership data (i.e. unique visitors to an article) brings weekend-saving clarity and direction for crisis communications and rapid response. Below are 4 ways Memo customers incorporate readership into crisis comms.

To learn more about how accurate readership can uncover the true impact of a crisis, check out Memo’s approach to comms measurement.

1) Verify the extent of a crisis story with article readership

The Comms teams I’ve spoken to all say something similar: “we know when a crisis story is bad, and we know when it’s nothing, but we don’t know about everything in the middle.” 

Just because a national outlet like the New York Times or Forbes published a negative article about your brand doesn’t mean everyone will read it, regardless of what your CEO might fear. For example, these three headlines (in alphabetical order) are from the same publication. One has 2,000 readers, another 200,000, and another 2,000,000 readers:*

“FedEx driver dumped packages at least six times in ‘debacle’”
“Jury awards woman Walmart accused of shoplifting $2.1 million”
“Outages at Slack, other websites paralyze businesses”

This 1,000x differential in article readership is not unusual. (To learn why see our report “3 graphs that illustrate the problem with PR impressions.”

At its very least, having article readership readily available when a story breaks can be, as someone I spoke to once put it, “a chill pill for my CEO.” If the story isn’t gaining traction, responding could only create more noise and awareness than the story had initially.

And at its best, readership provides crucial guidance into managing a crisis after a story breaks, which brings me to my next point:

2) Form a response and allocate resources based on the outlets and angles fueling the fire

When formulating a response in a crisis news cycle, it helps to know what to respond to. In some cases, this could be what’s getting the most attention.

For example, let’s take Starbucks. As many positive articles they receive about the return of the pumpkin spice latte this season, there lately seem to be just as many (if not more) about its baristas moving to unionize. When it comes to hot-button issues, the spin on a story can create a narrative with a life of its own. Take a look at the following headlines:

“Starbucks CEO to unionizing baristas: ‘Why don’t you go somewhere else?’” (New York Post)
“Starbucks Just Fired a Union Organizer for Allegedly Breaking a Sink” (Vice)
“Starbucks weighing better benefits but says they could exclude union workers” (CNBC)

All of these articles came from the same news cycle only a few days apart, but there’s an 8x difference in readership between the least-read and most-read headline.* This data reveals which narratives resonate most with the public, and could help Starbucks target and prioritize a response plan. Should the rapid response team recommend a clarifying statement from the CEO? Or talk to HR about the alleged sink incident? Or get a spokesperson out to CNBC? 

3) Benchmark readership on a crisis internally and against competitors

Comparing the extent of a crisis news cycle against others like it helps communications teams create a benchmark that contextualizes the severity. Put another way, it tells you how bad is bad.

I’ve seen Memo customers do this in a couple of ways. In some cases, they’ll compare readership on a recently concluded news cycle to past crisis events. This allows teams to, for example, track the effect of a response on how quickly issues were contained relative to the past. 

In other cases, they’ll look at crises weathered by competitors or industry comps. Just as share of readership on proactive press shows the initiatives working for your brand and competition, readership share on negative press can reveal which brands are getting hit hardest in the press. For industry-wide crises (e.g. big tech antitrust, cryptocurrency sell offs, etc), this type of readership benchmarking also contextualizes how your company is faring compared to competitors.

4) Identify crisis news readership trends to better equip your team in the future

The first rule of crisis comms is actually talking about crisis comms. Plan for a crisis in advance. Errant tweets, leaked memos, and unpopular decisions will happen. Understanding how past news cycles have played out – the trajectory over time, the readership on spokespeople responses, what outlets and reporters had the biggest impact – can help crisis communications teams anticipate their needs.

As an example, Memo’s insights team found that for one brand’s recent negative news cycle, 79% of readership was driven by articles published within the first three days. The average readership on each article published after that three-day window slowly declined each day. Given the recurring nature of this type of story, the Comms team can operate with clearly defined timing parameters in the future.

To learn more about how accurate readership can uncover the true impact of a crisis, check out Memo’s approach to comms measurement.

*Due to contractual obligations, Memo cannot publicly release our publications’ article-level unique visitor data, so I use differentials and anonymized publications where appropriate.

3 graphs that illustrate the problem with PR impressions

“We know impressions are inaccurate, but at least they’re directionally correct.”
“We know impressions are inaccurate, but we divide them to be more realistic.”
“We know impressions are inaccurate, but no one is forcing us to change.”

“We know impressions are inaccurate, but.” It’s a common and persistent refrain in the PR industry. Years of having no alternative metrics created a status quo of measuring the potential, rather than the actual.

Unfortunately, impressions are not directionally correct at the article level: highly-trafficked outlets don’t always get higher article readership (i.e. unique visitors to an article page) than lower-traffic outlets. And dividing monthly impressions by 7 or 30 days is not a realistic assessment of how content performs: on the same day in the same publication, one article can get one million readers, another one thousand. 

You might say Memo has a refrain of its own: “Impressions are not just inaccurate, they’re misleading.” We’ve published data that shows how impressions distort share of voice and how impressions overlook important outlets. But mechanically, why is this?

Our team analyzes readership data every day. We want to illustrate exactly why impressions obscure the insights that are so glaringly obvious with readership. 

Actual readership among a publication’s articles is highly variable

We pulled an entire month’s worth of content published on an outlet that receives roughly 30 million unique monthly visitors. Each box represents an article, and the size of the box represents that article’s readership, i.e. the number of unique visitors to the article in the first 7 days of publication.

Each of the approximately 800 boxes is a single article published in August 2022 on the same publication. The size of each box represents that article’s readership.

The most-read article that month received over 2000x more visitors than the least-read article. 

There is brand coverage that completely hit it out of the park, and there is coverage that could benefit from further amplification. 

There are article topics that tend to fall on the upper left corner of that graph, and topics that tend to fall on the lower right corner.

There are takedown pieces that blew up, and takedowns that barely made a splash.

Article-level readership provides a wealth of information about earned media performance and strategy. So what about impressions?

Impressions (wrongly) report that every article performs the same

We can visualize the same ~800 articles with potential impressions instead of actual readership. This is what we see:

Each of the approximately 800 boxes is a single article published in August 2022 on the same publication. The size of each box represents that article’s potential reach (aka impressions or UVMs).

Did we get a lot of eyeballs on our product press? Does this outlet get high readership on our industry’s news? Is this negative story worth a spokesperson response? Potential reach doesn’t help us answer any of these questions, but readership does.

It’s the difference between a clippings report where every article has the same performance metric (left) versus a readership report where you know exactly how many people saw the coverage (right):

Sure, the report that tallies up to 225,000,000 potential impressions looks impressive. But with 258 million adults in the US, business leaders know it’s a bogus figure.

Lower UVM publications can get more article readership than higher UVM publications

The monthly unique visitors on a site can be a helpful proxy for publisher authority when, for example, trying to understand the landscape or build an initial media list. But impressions are a horrible proxy for article performance, even across different publications. 

Everyday we see outlets with relatively low monthly visitors publish articles that receive higher readership than content on relatively high-traffic outlets. (A Memo report further examines this trend.)

In fact, one of the first things new Memo users say is “I can’t believe how many people read our placement on [insert niche outlet].” 

To illustrate, here is the same publication visualized above next to a second publication with approximately 75 million UVMs:

Each of the approximately 800 blue boxes is an article published in August 2022 on a publication with 30 million UVMs. Each of the approximately 1,300 purple boxes is an article on a publication with 75 million UVMs. The size of each box represents that article’s readership.

The higher-UVM outlet published the most-read articles among the two publications. But there are hundreds of articles on the lower-UVM outlet that received more readership than content on the higher-UVM outlet. 

We’ve now illustrated that impressions are 1) not directionally correct, and 2) not a realistic assessment of article performance, no matter how you slice them. 

Still, if no one is forcing the issue, why change?

Comms has become more entwined with marketing and business strategy. Its measurement will be too.

One of the biggest PR measurement trends that emerged this year was that Communications teams are working more closely with Marketing and other business functions. With this seat at the table, however, comes expectations of more rigorous measurement. 

Our team has worked with some of the earliest adopters of readership data. The Comms groups that embraced this change a year or two ago are already operating at a different level. They’re more strategic with media relations. They’re better equipped to handle crisis stories. They’re giving earned media its due credit in the broader marketing mix. 

No longer misled by the false impression (pardon our pun) that content performs uniformly on a publication, they’re making better business decisions.