How to Create a PR Scorecard for Your Earned Media and Content Marketing

By Ann Fabens-Lassen May 8th, 2015

Coming from a traditional public relations background, I’ll confess that it took me an embarrassingly long time to understand content marketing. Eventually the lightbulb turned off: Content marketing is almost the exact same thing as public relations. Let’s look at the similarities and differences.

Any PR professional has written a plan with goals similar to:

  • Fostering positive relationships between the brand and target audiences.
  • Highlighting the brand as an industry leader.
  • Emphasizing brand executives as industry leaders.

Sound familiar? These goals are probably like the ones you have for your brand’s content strategy.

The biggest similarity is the #1 rule the two fields share: You can’t push products without telling your audience something newsworthy. The difference between PR and content marketing, of course, is the source of the story. In PR, reporters and editors will tell you that your pitch is garbage and to please never call them again. With content marketing, on the other hand, you have to police yourself or risk losing your credibility.

This emphasis on building relationships rather than pushing products is what makes measuring content marketing and PR difficult. Ad value—what you would have paid to place an ad—has historically been considered a key metric in measuring PR impact, despite being widely acknowledged as insufficient.

In 2010, leading PR professionals came together to create the Barcelona Principles, denouncing the pure reliance on ad value in favor of a holistic approach that measures the quality of media coverage, among other things. It’s not the easiest task. While content marketers who publish their own content have a treasure trove of data about who reads their content, in traditional media relations you’re largely left in the dark, which adds a level of subjectivity to scoring. The key is to create a formula that is specific to your brand and to measure your media coverage as consistently as possible. And that’s what we’ve sought to do here at Contently. Drawing from the Barcelona Principles, we developed our own PR scorecard to measure the earned media generated by the newsworthy content we create, thought leadership of our employees, and successes of our company.

Step 1: Create a score for “Quality”

Quality = Prominence + Competitor

Quality is a calculated by scoring where you’re featured in the article, minus where your competitor appears. Prioritize what is important to your brand. For example, if you’re interested in increasing viewership of your YouTube channel, a link to your YouTube channel could count for an extra point. If you’re a controversial company, you’ll want to factor tone into your quality score. Here’s how we break it down for Contently:


  • 10 = headline, byline, feature, product/company update
  • 8 = lead sentence, original research cited in first 5 paragraphs
  • 7 = image or chart, digital publication cited in first 5 paragraphs
  • 4 = quote in first 5 paragraphs/digital publication cited after first 5 paragraphs
  • 2 = mention in first 5 paragraphs/quote after first 5 paragraphs
  • 1 = mention after first 5 paragraphs


  • –9 = headline
  • –7 = lead sentence
  • –6 = quote in first 5 paragraphs, image or chart
  • –2 = mention in first 5 paragraphs/quote after first 5 paragraphs
  • –1 = mention after first 5 paragraphs
  • 0 = no mention

Step 2: Create a score for “Visibility”

Tier your media outlets in order of size and importance, and be sure to consider your target audiences. If you’re a health food store and one of your goals is to be the go-to brand for gourmet chefs, Chef Magazine may be Tier 1, despite the fact its audience is significantly smaller than a mainstream publication.

Tier 1 = 10: Your ultimate wish list, which generally includes top national mainstream media outlets, national industry publications read by key audiences, and media in your local market.

Tier 2 = 7: Slightly lesser national publications, both mainstream and industry-specific. It may include industry analysts or other brand-specific publications.

Tier 3 = 5: Top industry blogs, local media in priority markets, and industry publications that are peripherally related to your priority industry.

Tier 4 = 3: Local coverage in non-priority markets, smaller industry blogs, or other publications that aren’t related to your company.

Note: Visibility scores should vary based on your goals. If you’re looking to expand your business to a new vertical, you may classify publications from the industry to which you want to transition as Tier 1.

Step 3: Quality + Visibility

The simplest approach is to set the maximum score for quality and visibility at 10 each, with a maximum total score of 20.

Let’s put this into action. Imagine that you lead communications for the outdoor gear store REI and you just scored a big feature in Bloomberg Business: “REI’s Crunchy Business Model Is Crushing Retail Competitors.”

  • Prominence: 10 (This is a headline, feature, and company update.)
  • Competitor: –1 (Columbia, Patagonia, L.L.Bean, and North Face are mentioned in the 8th paragraph.)
  • Quality: 10 – 1 = 9
  • Visibility: 10 (While REI wants to reach outdoorsy travelers, current and potential investors are also an important audience to reach through the business media.)
  • Total Score: 19

A PR scorecard is not a fix-all, and dozens of variations can make it more specific to your brand. The point is to set goals and determine if you met them—and hey, if it helps you impress your boss, all the better.

Image by Brian A. Jackson