PR 'reach': Did this campaign really get in front of 9 billion people?

1 August 2023 | 5 min read | PR
James Gwinnett
James Gwinnett

The Clearly team was recently privileged to work on a major campaign that is set to change the way we look at mental health. After gaining full charity status in May this year, the Baton of Hope set itself the bold mission of becoming ‘the biggest suicide prevention initiative the UK has ever seen’. 

A campaign was launched at the Houses of Parliament, with an event attended by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, no less, and the Baton – the charity’s physical symbol – subsequently embarked on a nationwide tour. Think 2012’s Olympic Torch Relay but with the added inspiration of the stories of those carrying the Baton, all of whom were either bereaved by suicide or had experienced mental ill health. 

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak also showed the Government’s support for the campaign (click image to play):

These stories were tragic and compelling, and, from a PR perspective, exceptionally powerful in allowing us to communicate the charity’s objectives through national and regional media.

Indeed, the bearers’ bravery and openness about a subject that gets such woefully little coverage (given suicide is the biggest killer of young people) meant the media coverage was nothing short of sensational. Even if we do say so ourselves. 

BBC News, BBC Breakfast, Radio 2, Radio 5, Sky News, Channel 5 News, and a stream of regional news is just a snapshot of some of the broadcast pieces secured during the 12-day tour of 12 UK cities. And that’s without counting 100s of print and online results, and a myriad of social media engagements.

Through the tour, we were supported by a partner PR agency that is highly respected globally. Imagine our surprise then, when they came to share the results of the campaign, saying the ‘reach’ was “over 9 billion”. 

Even if we ignore the fact that the theoretical nature of this number, of people that could have seen the campaign, renders it immediately useless, there are currently just shy of 8 billion on the planet.

So, are we supposed to believe that life on other planets has also been made aware of Baton of Hope’s vision of ultimately achieving a zero suicide society? Of course not – even if there were 9 billion people in the world, they wouldn’t have all seen the media coverage about the Baton of Hope’s tour.  

To put things into further context, the most watched sporting events in the world are the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. It’s estimated that just over 3 billion people tuned it to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, while last year’s World Cup Final scored (sorry, bad pun) around 1.5 bn viewers worldwide. 

But many across the PR industry are still engaged in archaic practices that are an inaccurate reflection of the work being done and often have no bearing on client objectives. 

Another long out-of-date metric is AVE – just writing the acronym sends shivers down my spine – so much so that more than five years ago, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) announced it was supporting a ‘commitment to eradicate’ its use.

Advertising Value Equivalent was an utterly misleading metric that involved measuring the area in cm2 – with a ruler, if you can believe it – of an article in a magazine or newspaper, and finding out how much it would cost to take out an equivalent-sized advert. 

“Many across the PR industry are still engaged in archaic practices that are an inaccurate reflection of the work being done and often have no bearing on client objectives.”

If that idea isn’t ludicrous enough, some bright PR spark then concocted ‘PR value’, fabricating the fact that coverage was three (or sometimes even four) times as valuable when written in an article, than in an advert. Raconteur’s rate card price is £48,000 for a single page. That meant that even if your company was mentioned only once in a full-page article, the PR value would be £144,000. What nonsense. 

The trouble the PR industry has always had is quantifying its worth, resulting in outlandish measurement metrics and fluffy terms like ‘awareness’. And there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach as different organisation have different objectives.

But, as marketing teams have become savvier to business goals, and with the advent of a multitude of digital tools (not just a ruler), it’s possible to measure the value of a piece of content, in terms of how many people have seen it, who they are and the actions they take. 

That’s why Clearly uses various dashboards, including CoverageBook, whose constantly evolving algorithm estimates ‘views’, not potential ‘reach’, and Brand24, a social analytics platform, to give clients as accurate an indication as possible as to how PR and digital campaigns are matching up against their expectations. 

“Clearly uses various dashboards to give clients as accurate an indication as possible as to how PR and digital campaigns are matching up against their expectations.”

The complexity and variety of PR means that there will always be a bit of guesswork, but when it comes to showing how we’ve made an impact on your business, we don’t pull the wool over our clients’ eyes with overinflated, meaningless figures. You’ll just get the value of what we deliver in real terms.

Contact me today to chat about how we can bring this value to your organisation.