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.

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

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.

All about article topics, Memo’s secret weapon for readership insights

While the wealth of readership data that the Memo platform provides is certainly exciting, it is hard to extract those insights without having a way to “slice and dice” the numbers. 

This is why our app assigns each article a “topic,” a label that provides an instant understanding of that article’s content. 

Say you want to hone in on coverage about hiring and workplace benefits – perhaps to see which outlets get high readership on the subject, or how your share of readership compares to competing employers. You can filter by topic in the app, in this case Business News – Hiring, Wages, Benefits, and view readership stats specific to this theme. 

Or conversely, if a topic is creating a lot of noise in your media coverage, you can filter it out to focus on the readership data most relevant to you. Pretty handy, right?

This month, we’re excited to release a new machine learning-powered classification system that improves both the categorization process and the topic taxonomy. 

We’re calling this launch “universal topics.” And while a faster, more consistent topic schema might not seem flashy, I promise that it’s an actual game changer for surfacing deeper readership insights at scale. Here are the details:

Memo’s article topics are built for how PR & Comms teams view media coverage

Unlike tools that generalize the subject of a piece of content, Memo tags articles with topics that are relevant to the coverage categories PR & Comms teams think about every day. An article about the new iPhone wouldn’t just be “consumer electronics” or “iPhone.” Rather, Memo might label it Product – Launch – iPhone 14 so that the user knows this was product-related press about the launch of the new iPhone.

Universal topics follow a pattern of Primary Topic (all) – Secondary Topic (most) – Tertiary Topic (some). For many longtime Memo users, these labels will look familiar. Here’s how the taxonomy works:

First, every article is assigned one of 13 possible Primary Topics:

  • Advice: How-to, instructional, and advice-driven articles
  • Business News: Corporate news, earnings coverage, executive news, etc.
  • Celebrity: Celebrity interviews, paparazzi coverage, gossip, and partnerships
  • Content Availability: Coverage of how, when, and where to access content
  • Corporate Initiatives: ESG-related initiatives by companies
  • Deals & Promos: Sales announcements and promotional offers
  • Event: Summits, conferences, sporting events, awards ceremonies, etc.
  • Human Interest: Feature stories that portray people in an emotional way
  • Incident: Coverage of crimes, deaths, cyberattacks, etc.
  • Industry Trends: General industry news and commentary
  • Issue: Coverage of large societal issues
  • Product: News about a company’s products, including launches and reviews
  • Merchandising: Articles promoting the availability of retail goods

Content and industry nuances are captured with subtopics

Once the Primary Topic has been identified, most articles will receive a Secondary Topic, and some will receive a Tertiary Topic. 

For certain Primary Topics, there are finite lists of corresponding Secondary Topics. All of the possible Secondary Topics for Business News, for example, are the following: 

  • Business News – Earnings 
  • Business News – Expansion
  • Business News – Hiring, Wages, Benefits
  • Business News – Leadership
  • Business News – M&A & Partnerships
  • Business News – Stocks & Markets
  • Business News – Thought Leadership

For other Primary Topics, there are infinite Secondary Topics. For instance, the primary topic Event has endless possibilities. In these cases, we use machine learning to pull out named entities that identify the specific event. An article that discusses the Emmy awards will be labeled Event – Emmy Awards. An article about the Academy Awards will be labeled Event – Academy Awards.

The primary topic Product is a combination of finite and infinite: the Secondary Topics are always either News, Review, Launch, or Roundup. Then we use entity extraction to pull a custom Tertiary Topic, typically the name of the product. So an article titled “Apple Launches iPhone 14 and 14 Plus” would be categorized as Product – Launch – iPhone 14.

The new topic schema enables easier readership analysis

A major benefit to the newly launched topic conventions is that the consistent structure makes it easier for brands to hone in on the coverage they care about for a given analysis.

In the iPhone example above, a brand like Apple could zoom in on iPhone 14 launch coverage to measure the readership of that campaign; they could look at the entire product news cycle for the iPhone 14 (the launch, product reviews, product promos, etc) to track readership over time; or they could compare all product launches across different devices to find the best outlets for the next device launch.

Imagines of Memo's readership dashboard filtering by different topics
Consistent topic hierarchies and naming conventions make it easier for Memo users to filter for different types of coverage.

Universal topics balance article fidelity with industry flexibility 

Previously, topics were assigned at the brand level, meaning an article’s topic might differ across accounts. 

By acknowledging that the topic of the article is a singular entity, universal topics create more value by prescribing an identity to that article, rather than assigning a topic in the context of the account’s dashboard. 

The launch of Brand tags in our platform in 2021 (labels that indicate which brands are included in an article) removed the need to clarify the brand context in articles with topics. In the past, for instance, when an article only mentioned an account’s keywords in passing, Memo assigned it the topic Mention. While that is the context of the article in relation to the brand, it doesn’t actually tell us anything about the contents of the article! 

With universal topics, each article’s topic is a direct representation of what that article is about. As described above, Secondary and Tertiary Topics provide more detailed entity information to make the topic relevant to the industry and brand. Altogether, this structure ensures consistency in reporting and allows Memo to provide deeper insights at scale.

Universal topics are also processed faster with new AI models

An added benefit to this launch is a standardized delivery time of the topic assignments. The granular customization at the brand level was possible with our legacy keyword-based topic assignment system, but it posed a hurdle as we migrated to more advanced, scalable machine learning models. And frankly, it took a long time to process.

Now, when you log into the dashboard first thing in the morning, all of the articles for the previous day will have a topic in addition to readership, every time! No more waiting for updates at 12pm EST or later. 

We have been working hard over the past several months to revamp our topic system, and we are so excited to share these improvements with our clients. The scalability of this system paves the way for deeper and faster insights, reports, and product features – so this is just the beginning.

Takeaways from this year’s PR Measurement & Data Summit

“Our industry is always trying to justify its value. As it turns out, that value has been hiding in plain sight.” 

With these words, Memo Chief Customer Officer Karlie Santucci concluded her lightning talk to a room of 100 PR professionals who convened for the industry’s annual Measurement & Data Summit, presented by PRNEWS. 

The topic of Karlie’s presentation, “Measuring the Value of Earned Media,” was top-of-mind for attendees. Throughout the full-day summit last Thursday, speakers reiterated the importance of tying PR and Communications to larger business and marketing objectives. 

But evaluating how those PR/Comms activities impact outcomes has historically been a challenge. Here are what some of the industry’s brightest had to say:

PR measurement takeaway #1: Better measurement lets us re-examine how we value earned media

To start, we’re surrounded by signals that earned media is highly valuable. CEOs attributing PR for their success on earnings calls. CMOs championing earned media as crucial to marketing programs. $17 billion spent annually on PR in the US (an investment that would not be made were it not producing value).

Memo MRV slide 1: The business value of earned media is more clear

But quantifying this value remains a challenge, and faulty attempts like AVE didn’t help the cause. 

Today, better measurement lets us re-examine how we value earned media. Here’s how:

  • For a given article, we know 1) its total number of readers, and 2) how those readers came to that article (e.g. from a Facebook post, Google search, a newsletter, etc).
Memo MRV slide 2: Memo reports how many people read articles
  • Think of that article – a great piece of press about your brand that you’d want eyeballs on – as a landing page.
Memo MRV slide 3: If we think of an article as a landing page, how much would marketing spend to drive readers?
  • What would it cost a marketing team to drive the same number of readers to that page with paid media? For readers who came via Facebook, marketers would have to buy Facebook ads at an average of $1-4/click depending on the industry. For readers from Google Ads, marketers would pay about $3-8/click depending on the industry.
Memo MRV slide 4: We know the ad rates for industries because they're available in ad platforms
  • MRV (Memo Readership Value) assigns industry-specific ad rates to article readership based on how each reader discovered that article, providing a paid-media value for the engagement that was earned by PR/Comms.
Memo MRV slide 5: MRV assigns a dollar value to earned media

This method doesn’t capture the full value of earned media. It doesn’t account for the deep engagement on an article (80 seconds on average!) or the halo effect of a great story.

But this method evens the playing field between PR and Marketing measurement, making it easier to translate earned results into tangible numbers.

Memo MRV slide #6

This method, “Memo Readership Value” (MRV), is how Memo assigns a paid-media dollar value to earned readership. Doing so allows Comms teams to defend PR budgets, justify and grow headcount, and finally put earned and paid measurement on an even playing field.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Memo can harness readership for your organization, schedule a demo to learn more.

PR measurement takeaway #2: PR/Comms can no longer be siloed from Marketing, in planning or measurement

Capital One’s Julia Schroeder set the tone when she kicked off the summit keynote emphasizing that Comms KPIs should be grounded in marketing goals. 

In a panel titled “State of PR Measurement & 2023 Trend Preview,” Ketchum’s Mary Elizabeth Germaine noted that the expectation from clients is that PR data is included in the broader marketing mix, and Dan Roberti added that ADL’s Comms and Marketing results are presented in a single, combined report. 

Gaetan Akinrolabu demoed the integrated dashboard Mirati uses that combines the company’s owned, earned, social, and paid metrics – all pulled in from various teams’ tooling.

And no one spelled it out more bluntly than measurement consultant Katie Paine:  “Don’t be in a situation where marketing is perceived as more valuable than earned because they have better measurement.”

Fortunately, as Karlie said, accurate metrics like readership and MRV put earned and paid measurement on an even playing field. Marketing can report 20M website visits, Comms can report 20M article readers, and the results of the two functions can be evaluated fairly.

PR measurement takeaway #3: AVE is long dead, but the industry hasn’t figured out what to do with impressions

AVE (Ad Value Equivalency) was barely mentioned during the summit. When it was, it was as a “nonsensical” attempt to assign value to earned media – another reason why Karlie’s walkthrough of MRV (Memo Readership Value) was so refreshing. 

The role that impressions/potential reach/UVMs should play in PR measurement, however, was more ambiguous.

One team at the summit said they only use impressions as a proxy for publication authority. Most admitted to including them in reporting, but not giving them much credence. And one team monitored impressions regularly, dividing them by 30 in search of a more “accurate” daily view. 

Parting thoughts: If PR/Comms needs to work with marketing, it also needs to measure like marketing

No matter how you slice it, any PR measurement that incorporates impressions will be incredibly misleading. Article readership varies widely within a publication. A uniform metric like impressions masks the major wins and opportunities of a PR program. And it makes it impossible to translate earned-media performance into numbers aligned with marketing reporting.

Everyone agreed last Thursday that PR and Communications should have a seat at the table with Marketing. But in 2022, when readership is readily available and much more insightful, we need to break free of the inertia that keeps PR and Communications measurement so siloed.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Memo can harness readership for your organization, schedule a demo to learn more.

Why social media has broken social listening, and how to fill the gaps

Key takeaways:

  • Social platforms that once served up a silver platter of data on earned-media engagement have deprioritized news articles.
  • With often <10% of article traffic originating from social media – and little correlation between the two – social listening is a misleading proxy for article readership.
  • It’s time to rethink the role of social listening for Comms and Marketing, and find new data sources to fill the gaps.

23% of U.S. adults use Twitter.

And among them, just 10% are responsible for 92% of Tweets.

It’s a surprising finding coming from the Pew Research Center, but should I be so shocked given my own habits? I have a Twitter account that I use for some aggressive lurking, but never Tweeting. When I want to share an article I found on Facebook, I usually copy the link and fire it off in group texts or Slack channels. I might like the occasional post from a brand on Instagram, but I’m acutely aware of the activity my friends, family, and ex-boyfriends can see on the platform. While I wouldn’t go so far to call myself the norm, that Pew study suggests I’m not an exception either. 

With so much engagement on brand content happening outside of social channels – and with the engagement inside those channels driven by the vocal minority – what role does social listening serve for Comms and Marketing teams? To understand where social listening can continue to provide valuable intel, we first need to dissect where it’s no longer relevant in 2022:

The days of measuring earned media performance with social are waning.

There was a time when the only datapoint we had for quantifying article performance was potential impressions (i.e. the publication’s unique monthly visitors). So when news content exploded on Facebook and Twitter, it’s no surprise that PR & Comms teams flocked to social listening tools to report actual engagement with articles posted to feeds – finally a more tangible metric!

But news content just doesn’t have the same prominence it did a decade ago on social media. When analyzing our users’ press, Memo’s Insights team often finds that social referred less than 10% of an article’s traffic (organic search, email, aggregators, and the publication’s own website are more common traffic drivers).

Most articles about these brands received less than 10% of their traffic from social media channels over a 28-day period.

With Facebook and Instagram emphasizing creator content over posts from your followers, and with Meta further confirming it will no longer pay publications for content in the News tab, the decline in news readership from social media is likely to continue.

Social engagement on an article isn’t even directionally indicative of readership.

Measuring the performance of news content via social engagement is incredibly misleading: the number of likes/shares/comments an article receives is not directional to how many people actually read that article. 

To illustrate, take the below mapping of social engagement (vertical axis) against article readership (horizontal axis) for 600 articles about a large fast food restaurant. There is no discernible trend that defines the relationship between how much engagement an article receives on social media and how many times that article is actually read. (Technically the correlation coefficient here is 0.18, so a very weak positive relationship.)

Many highly read articles have low social engagement – not surprising given how little traffic social often refers to articles.

Conversely, some articles have high social engagement but relatively low readership – also not surprising given that users share articles without reading them (usually on hot-button issues) and the proliferation of spam bots.

This unpredictability in how users interact with news content on social media is also driven by changes to the platforms themselves – changes that have implications to marketing more broadly. 

Beyond PR, platform changes have also made social listening a less valuable signal for marketers.

The social media landscape is undergoing a seismic shift. “TikTok says it’s an ‘entertainment platform.’ Snapchat calls itself a ‘camera company.’ Meta says it’s a ‘metaverse’ company. The era in which social networking served as most users’ primary experience of the internet is moving behind us,” to quote Axios’ Sara Fischer, who was in turn summarizing Scott Rosenberg’s article “Sunset of the social network.”

Platforms that once served up a silver platter of data on consumer trends, brand relevance, and news engagement are moving away from the user experiences that facilitated this centralized measurement. Public news feeds are giving way to private groups and messaging channels; posts authored by connections are being supplanted by creator content; and short-form videos are the future.

Even Twitter, the most accessible platform to social listening tools, is in flux: it has yet to find a sustainable business model and is one acquisition away from an overhaul of its own. Until then, discourse is skewed to a minority of users (the 10% of power Tweeters), and politically biased (over two-thirds of those users identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents). 

This isn’t to say social listening doesn’t have value; we just need to acknowledge its gaps.  

We need to be more judicious about what we rely on social for, and where we supplement gaps with other data. I’ve already discussed the shortcomings of using social listening to measure earned-media engagement, so let’s take another use case:

Using Twitter as a barometer for brand health, for example, can easily over-index on the negative. Among the 90% of infrequent Tweeters, how many emerge only to @ an airline for missing luggage or air some other grievance in hope of rectification? If Twitter is for complaining, it can certainly help measure threats to brand health, but it will overlook the engagement happening outside the platform with more positive brand stories.

And we need other data sources to reveal the trends that social listening can no longer surface.

There’s a trove of content about brands that people engage with everyday online: articles in the press. And unlike social platforms – where most activity is public to at least a group of followers – engagement with articles is often private. Readership is free of participation bias, virtue signaling, and algorithm manipulation. It’s an honest signal for the stories and brands that consumers are interested in and, for the first time, it’s finally measurable.

How to roll out readership in your Comms org: 9 tactics from Memo customers

“Data like readership is for the Comms team of the future. A change not for the unambitious – and a challenge to the status quo that has eclipsed PR for decades.” –CCO, Fortune 500 company


How can I convince the data skeptics in our group to track readership? How do we send campaign reports with thousands of readers when executives are used to millions of impressions? How have other customers introduced this new metric?

You’re not alone. We’ve heard it all. From the most data-hungry communications teams to groups just getting their measurement practice off the ground, all Memo customers share the same challenge: adopting a metric of earned-media measurement for which there is no organizational precedent or historical context.

But change is the only constant in life, as the adage goes, and PR measurement is definitely changing. It would be disingenuous to pretend that widely adopting readership is as easy as flipping a switch; most of our customers are global corporations with a complex network of Comms groups and stakeholders to navigate. 

Yet time and time again, we’ve seen our users grow from a core group of early adopters at a brand to an organization-wide audience. Here are 9 ways we’ve seen these customers successfully introduce and report out readership, often in combination with each other. 

The takeaway: Rolling readership out incrementally, leading with insights, and reporting in a way that is aligned with but enhances existing practices is the best way to garner buy-in and adoption.

Introduce readership incrementally (#1-3)

Instead of overhauling their PR reporting from the outset, most teams find success rolling out readership incrementally. This means a select group of people have access to Memo’s platform, and they selectively loop in new team members through various reports. Over time, stakeholders get accustomed to seeing readership regularly and begin to proactively request readership in additional reporting.

Here are the Memo tools we’ve seen leveraged to slowly but steadily disseminate readership: 

#1: Circulate top-read press via daily Readership Emails 

These daily reports of the three top-read headline and non-headline mentions are an easy way to start distributing readership data throughout an organization. There’s no limit on the number of recipients, and we’ve seen these emails balloon from a group of four people in a measurement team to dozens of Comms employees, all the way up to the CCO.

#2: Isolate readership with campaign-specific Flash Reports

Many customers use Flash Reports, which are on-demand readership summaries of specific campaigns or news cycles, as a stepping stone to reporting out readership more broadly.

Flash Reports answer questions that are top-of-mind for a team running a campaign – e.g. How many people did we reach? Which outlets had the biggest impact? How did interest in this news cycle play out over time? – without making them sift through data on coverage that’s not relevant to them.

#3: Dazzle executives with MRV summaries

To combat the common fear that “trading millions of impressions for thousands of readers” will make communicators look worse (it won’t, we promise!), presenting MRV (Memo Readership Value) alongside readership to executives is a great entry point to reframing the value of a reader.

We write more about MRV here, but in brief, it’s a methodology to assign a dollar value to earned readership using paid-media rates in a way made possible with accurate article readership and traffic source data.

Lead with insights (#4-6)

Many customers generate buy-in for readership by showing how easily it lifts the veil on long-held questions and takes the guesswork out of campaign planning. Leading with insights over metrics will help connect the dots between readership and how it can be actioned. Here are some ways to surface these insights:

#4: Report aggregate readership at the outlet level

Definitively answering which outlets and reporters perform best for your campaigns is nothing short of a superpower – and fortunately this intel is readily available in your Memo dashboard. 

Next time you’re tasked with providing strategic guidance on media outreach, filter your coverage for topics related to that campaign and you’ll have a clear view into the most impactful sources:

#5: Share findings and takeaways from Insights Reports

Insights Reports are custom analyses designed to answer key questions on earned-media performance and strategy, and readership has taken these insights to a whole new level (see 10 PR strategy questions finally answered with Insights Reports). 

We’ve witnessed multiple customers get Comms groups hooked on readership by introducing it through insights reporting. Typically, our primary contacts monitor for opportune moments to support analyses and planning with readership. They’ll tell their Memo rep the questions they’re hoping to answer with readership, and our Insights team gets to work. 

#6: Introduce readership within a Reporter Database

Memo’s Reporter Database isn’t just a list of names with the coverage they’ve authored; it’s an entirely new way of helping Media Relations teams prioritize relationship building and outreach. It includes readership on reporters’ articles, tags for frequently covered topics, and summary stats for easy comparison.

Enhance existing reporting (#7-9)

Finally, customers often treat readership as additive in the early days, using it to enhance existing measurement while they allow time to understand the best way to phase out legacy practices.  

#7: Report readership alongside other metrics

One large corporation was not ready to eliminate UVMs from their global reporting, but still wanted to include readership in campaign summaries. So in a global campaign recap, they reported their usual metrics – clip counts, UVMs, social engagement – and introduced a new metric: “verified readers from our new partner, Memo.” 

#8: Report relative performance instead of absolute values

For groups that are anchored on massive impression numbers, it can take time to make readership palatable, especially if those audiences aren’t privy to the insights and context of longtime Memo users. Ways we’ve seen customers report out readership results without readership itself include:

  • % of your brand’s readership driven by a specific article/publication/topic (e.g. “this placement is responsible for 58% of our announcement’s readership”)
  • An article’s readership percentile (e.g. “this placement’s performance is in the 90th percentile for our historical coverage”) 
  • The % of readership your brand received on an outlet relative to competitors (e.g. “Acme Corp had over 2x more readership on Fortune last month than competitors”)

#9: Add “share of readership” to SOV reports

Related to the above, monitoring share of readership amongst competitors, especially when contrasted with share of coverage volume, reveals who is generating meaningful engagement with their press – and is a powerful way to demonstrate why readership provides a more accurate view of media performance.

There’s no silver bullet to transforming a measurement practice overnight, but Memo provides multiple tools (and some wonderful customer success reps) to help you steadily introduce readership and prove the value of more accurate measurement.