What is a Media Impression?

Media impressions are the most important and broadly accepted way to measure the impact of PR. In an age driven by data and technology, it’s important for brands to be able to quantify the impact of their marketing dollars. A newspaper article or a Facebook post are worthless if they don’t attract readers.

Enter media impressions, which measure the number of times a piece of content — be it a newspaper article a billboard, a Facebook post, an ad, or a blog post — is consumed. Impressions are frequently mistaken for reach, which indicates the number of unique people who consumed a piece of content. If a person reads a news article 10 times, the impression count on the article is 10, while its reach is one.

Though impressions are absolutely essential when it comes to measuring your applied PR efforts, it is also vital to have set follow up steps in order to continue to build brand awareness. Impressions don’t directly translate into a product or service purchase, but when done correctly, they do help in driving a sale.

How media impressions work

  1. They're different for different types of media

    Media impressions are measured differently for online, print, radio, and TV. Online impressions are the easiest to measure due to the plethora of tools that can measure monthly readership, which is frequently used as a proxy for impressions. Circulation numbers are used to capture impressions for print publications — if a local newspaper is physically distributed to 30,000 people, we assume that an article in that newspaper generates 30,000 impressions.
    Radio and TV impressions are a more elusive measure, since the “impressions” happen completely offline. Nielsen offers industry-leading tools to measure broadcast impressions based on the percentage of people in a media market who listen to a particular radio station or watch a particular TV channel.

  2. There's more than one way to approach media impressions

    When it comes to online news articles — the bread and butter of today’s PR campaigns — the industry standard is to report 30-day impressions (i.e. monthly readership, or the estimated number of times a piece of content was consumed in a 30-day period). However, content rarely “lives” online longer than five to seven days — for example, an article in Buzzfeed is usually archived after a few days, after which the number of people reading it drastically declines. For that reason, some companies report “realized” impressions — a more realistic figure that captures the number of times content was consumed over a five- to seven-day period.

  3. They're not an exact science

    There are two types of media impressions: active and passive. Someone standing in line at the grocery store might see the front page of The New York Times in the newsstand but not actually read it — that’s a passive impression. Someone else might read the whole article during their morning commute — that’s an active impression. Brands are only interested in active impressions, because only active impressions can lead to conversions. The problem is that it’s virtually impossible to determine which impressions are active and which are passive.

  4. They're a directional metric

    If your impression count is stuck at zero, then the rest of your PR and marketing metrics can't get off the ground either. When working hard to gain publicity on a product, service, story, or idea, it's important to be able to have something to show to go along with it. Impressions create the path between your targeted audience, the world, and your PR and marketing funnel.

  5. They create the context for everything that follows

    Media Impressions help to set up the the bigger picture, adding the prior details to needed in order to completely discern audience understanding. Because of this, it's important to emphasize the significance of analyzing media impressions to your clients.

  6. Reach and engagement are not synonymous with impressions

    While at first glance, media impressions, reach, and engagement might all seem like different ways to approach the same topic, they all mean something entirely different. Reach is the number of people who digest your content, engagement refers to the number of interactions people had with your content — such as comments, shares, and likes — while impressions refer to the number of times your content is displayed. So, though your content might have 30 impressions, if it was looked at by the same person, it will only have a reach of one.

Why media impressions matter

  1. They are the industry standard

    Despite their shortcomings, media impressions are the lingua franca of PR and marketing. Brands use them as a baseline for gauging impact, and all PR agencies report them to their clients. In many cases, impressions are used in formulas to calculate other PR metrics, such as ad equivalency.

  2. They are used in a variety of disciplines

    Professionals across the marketing, advertising, and PR industries use media impressions to communicate value and impact. In the past, PR was siloed from the rest of the marketing discipline because it was considered unquantifiable. Impressions have built a bridge between the two — making it possible for marketers to understand publicists, and vice versa.

  3. They are easy to understand

    The concept of impressions is simple to explain and understand — no background in marketing or PR is required. All brands understand and appreciate the ability to quantify the influence of a particular newspaper, blog, social media platform, magazine, TV show, or radio station.

  4. They promote brand awareness

    Driving impressions ultimately leads to brand success. Boosting your impressions leads to a boost in engagement and community, proving the relevance of social media as a tool. However, in order for social media to be used as a tool, consumers first need to know that your brand exists.

  5. It's a two-way communication channel

    Not only do impressions allow you to see how many times your audience interacts with your content, it also serves as a way to analyze what content people like and what content they don't. This helps to create a channel of communication between the brand and the consumer.