ad equivalencyRecently, a Cook + Schmid client asked us about the value of story placement and ad equivalency as a way to measure ROI for public relations programs. Ad equivalency in particular has been a controversial topic in our industry – and a constantly moving target as the media evolves. Our answer was two-fold:


Return on investment for marketing and public relations programs is difficult to evaluate. However, reputation and corporate image are widely accepted as having a direct impact on an organization’s success. In fact, a study by the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation found that more than a third of the information used to justify large scale investment decisions is nonfinancial, including intangibles like management reputations, innovation, execution of strategy, etc. While your company might not have traded shares, these principles could still apply to you. And according to Charles Fombrun in his book titled Repuation, Realizing Value from Corporate Image (Harvard Business School Press, 1996), “Generating press is the sine qua non of reputation building.”

Despite all the buzz about social media, traditional media is still one of the most cost-effective and powerful ways to reach large numbers of people, including key influencers, and to communicate an organization’s unique positioning. That’s because the media still has credibility. In fact, Al and Laura Ries, in their book The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR (Harper Business, 2002), contend that PR is the only way to launch a brand because advertising is seen simply as self-serving. Advertising definitely has its place in an integrated campaign, but media coverage is a more valuable indicator and is definitely worth tracking to show ROI.


Counting the number of articles and comparing that with the cost to purchase equal space for advertising is a common starting point in measuring results for an outreach campaign. Correspondingly, articles written by journalists and published by independent news organizations cannot be purchased like an ad, and as a result, are more credible with audiences. Therefore, it is customary to multiply the ad equivalency by a factor ranging from 3 to 8 times to account for the increased value due to the level of credibility.

Cook + Schmid Recommendations

While story counts and ad equivalencies are a starting point and definitely have value, further research can shed more light on your reputation in the media. What follows are some recommendations for next steps:

  • Story count over time. This can measure how your organization has fared from year to year in terms of media coverage. Has there been an increase or decrease?
  • Competitive study. This gets to the concept of “share of voice.” In other words, how are you faring compared to your competitors in terms of garnering media coverage?
  • Content analysis. Beyond counting stories, a content analysis can give you information on the nature of the coverage. Were the stories positive? Negative?  Neutral? How credible is the source? Were they brief mentions or in-depth profiles? Were your key messages communicated through the stories? Where in the publication did the story appear? On the front page? Were photos or other graphics included that increase readership? These are all factors you want to take into account when analyzing your media clips.
  • Media Analysis. In trying to establish the relative value of a story, it’s important to consider each publication’s profile. For example, was the story published in a top-tier international news publication or a niche industry journal? For some organizations, an article in a focused industry publication would be more valuable than something in a general news outlet. Do the publication’s subscribers pay for their subscriptions or are they free (controlled)? Paid (qualified) subscribers are generally viewed as having more value as they chose to pay for and receive the publication, which means they have a stronger commitment to the content and even the credibility of the publication. Another metric might be the number of people reached, which could also include the publication’s pass-along rate (how many others read the magazine). This is typically meaningful for trade/industry publications with high credibility. This kind of data is readily available from publications audited by organizations like the Audit Bureau of Circulations or BPA Worldwide.

Are there any additional factors that you take into account when evaluating media coverage? Sound off in comments!

Image via Matt Ceniceros