The future of PR, part 2: Readership and today’s great inflection point

Caira Conner

April 28th, 2022

If a certain New Zealand wool shoe company wanted to know, say, whether more people read about their footwear in singular product reviews or “best-of” round-ups, they’d need access to readership data. If a cosmetic brand was interested in knowing which publications performed best for their competitor set, they’d need access to readership data. And if a multinational pharmacy wanted to create a flu-shot campaign that would reach the most people, they’d need (surprise) access to readership data.

The historical PR impression can tell you one thing: how many people might have read coverage about your brand. It can’t tell you how many people actually read about your brand, and it certainly can’t divulge which topics perform best within a publication or provide guidance on how to craft a pitch that will resonate with the most readers. 

Readership, on the other hand, can tell you all of those things. It reveals actual, not estimated, engagement between brand and reader. Access allows brands to see which types of angles and coverage formats resonate best with readers. It serves as a tangible metric for how a particular PR story actually performed, and how engaged with the topic an audience was. With readership data, brands know which media outlets are the right fit for their articles. Sure, readership won’t necessarily solve all of the industry’s measurement challenges (certainly, no single metric in any industry could accomplish such a feat), but it does mean brands no longer have to estimate the size of the audience they reached based on social listening or press hits.

Suppose a tech company wants to understand which well-known columnists drive the highest readership on cloud computing. With readership, brands can drill into specific keywords (“cloud computing”) or topics by author, and publisher, and know which one(s) has the highest number of readers in that particular area. Same goes for that cosmetic brand wanting to know the best publications to increase its competitive share of voice. An outlet might be flying under the PR team’s radar, but readership reveals all. If a publication is driving tons of readership to that brand’s top competitor, then adding it to their priority media list will be an excellent place to start growing their share.

It’s a transitional moment for readership. Use and impact is proliferating at the same time legacy measurement habits (say, counting press hits and grouping outlets by tiers as part of a proprietary score) are dying out. Adoption will be gradual, not instantaneous. 

Back to that aforementioned shoe company. In 2018, its founders watched as their startup became a unicorn with its $1.4 billion valuation; three years later, in 2021, they IPOd with a stock price surge of 91% on its first day of trading. Readership may not have been the single factor to its overwhelming success, but if you were reading about their coverage, there’s a very good chance they understood where, and why.

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