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.

10 PR strategy questions finally answered with Insights Reports

The Insights Team at Memo helps Comms groups answer their most pressing PR measurement and strategy questions with custom, on-demand reporting. These are questions that – prior to readership data – had few quantifiable answers beyond potential reach estimates and social-engagement extrapolation. Now with just a prompt and a little context from the customer, our team can provide definitive answers and strategic guidance grounded in an accurate, straightforward metric.

Below are just 10 out of the hundreds of questions we’ve helped answer with readership over the past year. (To protect our customers’ privacy, I’ve purposefully kept these anonymous and light on any industry-specific details.) I hope these questions inspire new and existing Memo customers to see what’s possible with better PR measurement.


Question #1: We are launching a product in a space that our PR team has little experience with. Can you help us understand the news landscape for this industry?

By rolling up article-level readership data by brand, topic, and publication, Memo is able to identify new opportunities and help guide communications plans for product launches in markets outside of our clients’ expertise. In this case, we did a deep dive into a specific industry to find the themes consumers are most interested in, what outlets and authors drive the highest readership in the space, and what brands are currently owning the conversation.

Question #2: This reporter/this outlet is always covering us negatively. Should we be worried?

Our customers know that impressions are wildly inaccurate: an outlet’s number of unique monthly visitors is a poor indicator of how many people read an individual article. And because readership varies so widely across articles, it can be difficult to tell when negative press is picking up steam versus stalling out before it’s too late. We did a deep dive into a particular reporter and outlet to help our client determine if their coverage was a cause for concern based on readership trends.

Question #3: What publications drive high readership for corporate ESG and DE&I campaigns?

Building awareness of their companies’ ESG and diversity initiatives is an ongoing goal for many customers, who (thanks to readership reporting) know that press volume does not always correlate with awareness. We partnered with our client to help make their ESG and DE&I campaigns more efficient by identifying the outlets and reporters getting the highest readership on these themes. We also called out the angles of ESG and DE&I stories that generated high readership for key industry players in the past.

Question #4: What press is causing consumer mistrust in our industry?

With negative press, social listening on its own makes it difficult to separate the stories generating passive engagement (a like here, a retweet there) from the stories consumers care deeply about. Our team analyzed readership by topic on articles critical of our customer and their competitors. We identified which negative themes had a high readership – an indication that these were issues consumers felt strongly enough about to read a full article – versus which negative press received relatively low reader interest. 

Question #5: What are consumers reading about regarding the future of work?

The largest corporations in the world are dictating what the future of work will look like for all of us. Recognizing their impact, one such corporation turned to readership data to help best communicate their own return-to-work decisions. In this analysis, our team looked at the entire future of work discussion online, helped our client understand the industries and brands generating the highest readership, identified the sub-topics that resonated the most, and highlighted top-read outlets and authors in the space.

Question #6: We know an outlet is about to publish an exposé on us. What can we expect the impact to be?

Memo helped one Comms group estimate the impact of an upcoming negative report by analyzing readership trends from similar situations in the past. We did a deep dive into the durations of past negative news cycles to give our client a sense of how long the story would capture readers’ attention. We also analyzed the effect that the publication had on the duration of the news cycle and the amount of additional readership from outlets that picked up the story.

Question #7: Our products are about to go on sale, and we want our customers to know. What can we do to improve the media coverage of the event?

Upstart brands can’t always afford to learn by trial and error, so we help them learn from established competitors. In this case, we analyzed the readership of a large competitor’s sale-event coverage to give our client insight into which outlets, topics, and authors would drive the best outcome for their media campaign.  

Question #8: How did readership and tone change from similar news cycles in the past?

News events can be recurring and even cyclical/predictable, but readership isn’t always consistent. Our team compared readership and brand sentiment on a more recent news cycle to identify changes in how coverage performed from previous rounds, including the highly-read articles, publications, and angles positively shifting the conversation.

Question #9: Our company just announced a new policy on a politically charged topic. How is it resonating?

Just three days after this announcement, Memo helped our customer identify the articles receiving the highest pick-up and readership. With real-time insights, we helped our clients determine which outlets to focus on for allocating spokespeople and other follow-up messaging.

Question #10: One of our competitors had a major labor issue. What was the total impact of their crisis?

One customer turned to readership to better understand the effects of a controversy on a competitor. Our team analyzed readership over time to understand the longevity of the conversation and identify when interest in the topic began to wane. We also analyzed readership on the competitor’s response to understand the types of coverage piqued reader interest most – all intel that could help our client better contextualize and prepare for their own strategic responses.


I hope these examples begin to illustrate some of the exciting, innovative work our team supports every day. If you’re a Memo customer and haven’t taken advantage of custom reporting, reach out to your customer success manager or email success@memo.co to get started. (And if you’re not a customer, book a demo below to learn more about Insights Reports and all the other new measurement tools enabled by readership data.)

3 ways brands can use Macro Readership Trends to guide PR strategy

How does our readership compare to other news stories? What events might be drawing attention to (or diverting attention away from) our press? Are there trending topics we should leverage in campaigns?

These were the questions from customers that prompted our team to launch Memo’s first-ever Macro Readership Trends report, a broad look at the stories driving news readership each quarter, with deep-dives into the most impactful articles, outlets, and reporters for each news cycle.

Topics analyzed in Q1 2022 range from tentpole events like the Super Bowl and Oscars, to evolving themes like the future of work and the US economy. As newsworthy stories broke, our team added them to the list to build out an analysis of 15 widely-read topics from January through March across a representative sample of 77 national, lifestyle, business, and sports outlets.* 

Below we highlight some learnings from last quarter’s Macro Readership Trends report and go over three ways PR teams can action this intel. This report is available to all Memo customers, and to anyone who books a demo of Memo’s readership tracking and insights platform.

Use Case #1: Spot the next wave of readership for upcoming PR campaigns

Readership on the topic of inflation was accelerating by the end of March 2022, with the average readership on an article increasing 150% from March 1 to March 31.

Because a large part of this coverage included rising gas prices, one Memo customer proposed incorporating inflation into how it positioned its environmental initiatives. 

Pegging their company’s corporate ESG announcement to a data-proven popular topic in the sustainability sphere could boost interest in what can often be a notoriously difficult subject for brands to garner readership on. 

Use Case #2: Time campaigns for recurring events around peak readership

Coverage of 2022’s NFL playoffs and Super Bowl peaked 12 days before the big game, on February 1. While total readership peaked on this day too, we found that average readership peaked on articles published the day after the Super Bowl, February 14.

High reader interest relative to the number of articles published right after game day presents a huge opportunity next year for brands to roll out final pieces of Super Bowl-related campaign content. Imagine a surprise epilogue on the Budweiser Clydesdale’s annual journey that gets released Monday, when millions of people are actively searching for articles on “Super Bowl ads.”

Understanding how readership plays out over the course of a recurring event – and optimizing campaign timing around days with diminishing article volume but sustained reader interest – can give brands a leg up in the race for attention.

Use Case #3: Get outlet and reporter readership intel from relevant news cycles

The future of work has been an ongoing theme in pandemic- and business-related coverage; our team compiled several Insights reports over the past year to help brands monitor readership trends for their own thought leadership in the space. 

Since the Macro Readership Trends report breaks out the top publications and journalists within each topic tracked, PR teams can see the sources driving readership around WFH policy announcements, the Great Resignation, workplace DE&I, and more – and prioritize media outreach accordingly.

The next quarter’s report is already well underway and will include readership trends on the Grammy Awards, Elon Musk’s Twitter bid, and the Metaverse. Book a demo to receive a copy of the most recent report, and learn more about brand-specific and industry-wide readership intelligence on Memo.


Macro Readership Trends methodology: Memo monitored media coverage of anticipated news cycles (e.g. the Super Bowl, the Oscars), ongoing stories (Covid, inflation, future of work), and notable events (the federal government distributing Covid test kits, celebrity deaths). Queries were built to ensure articles had a strong focus on the topic. Readership for all articles was tracked for the first seven days of publication. Articles were monitored across the same 77 national, business, lifestyle, and sports outlets for all topics.