The short answer: Maybe soon, but the solution won’t come from a measurement company.

Cision has teamed up with a company called LiveRamp in an attempt to provide perfect attribution for earned media. Supposedly, they will be able to track a press release to a published story, then to an individual reader, and then to the website the reader clicks on.

They are living in a measurement fairy tale. Here’s why:

First of all, privacy. The notion that you can track reading and purchase behavior smacks of privacy invasion on a grand scale. Cision’s investors won’t have the stomach for the legal fight that will ensue. Even if the U.S. has given up on the concept of privacy, the EU has not (and not many customers would settle for a U.S.-only solution.) Also, it’s one thing to—maybe—track an adult’s reading and purchase behavior, but regulators will balk at doing the same to the under-18 crowd.

Then there’s the issue of the ongoing slow-burn backlash against technology. Doctors and sociologists have been raising the alarm for years about negative health impacts of social media. Silicon Valley is at last taking these seriously, and Washington is heeding the alarm. The Russian election-tampering uproar is the perfect lead-in to an even bigger uproar over the overall deleterious impact of new technologies on society and individual human beings. Identity-tracking technology will not flourish in this newly-cautious environment.

On top of these concerns, I reject the underlying assumption that the “goal” of all PR campaigns must be web traffic or online purchases. The people I talk to these days far more frequently articulate goals like building brand loyalty, increasing trust, preventing a crisis, or growing preference and consideration. None of which would be correctly measured by the Cision system.

Finally, Cision is seeking a false equivalency between advertising reach and PR impressions. Reach is frequently used as a synonym for impressions, which it is not. Reach is an indicator of being seen by your target audience. Impressions are meaningless clicks.

Nonetheless, reach has become a shorthand replacement for AVE, as it’s the easiest way PR people have to compare their activities to advertising. But it’s a false comparison. We’ve written endless articles about how impressions are worthless and have offered better alternatives. Nonetheless Cision is playing into this addiction. (Read “Why Targeting Your Measurement Is More Important than Impressions and Reach Combined.”)

While I’m certain that a better definition of reach is in our future—and perhaps even as soon as 2018—it will be more likely to come from the likes of Google, Yahoo, or Bing. They have deeper pockets and are much broader (and better-funded) than the world of PR. ∞

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