With monitoring firms struggling to prioritise media outlets, perhaps they should focus less on ‘type' of channel, and more on factors such as users' age or lifestyle.
The advertising industry's media planners have for many years used market research to exactly determine consumers' media consumption habits in order to tailor campaigns accordingly. And PROs are increasingly using similar strategies to pinpoint the most relevant media for their campaigns.
Gerry Tissier, head of media at the NSPCC, is one PR practitioner using this approach. He says: ‘What we are doing is looking at our audience - parents, kids and professionals in the children's sector - as well as our core donors, and trying to find the best channels through which to reach them.'
He explains that media monitoring is crucial to the NSPCC reaching its target audience. The charity uses Magenta to monitor online content and Romeike to research national newspapers and regional press. For the NSPCC's recent Don't Hide It child abuse campaign, both companies were used - to determine strategy, as well as to measure its success. The pre-campaign information helped Tissier to identify the media that children consume in their bedroom - including teen magazines such as Sugar, youth-oriented radio shows, and networking sites. Subsequent monitoring then informed the charity of the success of its campaign in terms of coverage.
Tissier says: ‘It became clear that children were looking at our campaign through much more media than we expected, and our task now is to determine the dominance of each outlet.'
PR consultancies are also turning their attention to monitoring according to groups. Consolidated Communications planning director Dominic Payling says: ‘Whereas previously we would look at getting something in The Guardian or The Sun, now we are looking more closely at the consumer.
‘I look at the consumer, the markets and the channel. I look at how the consumer builds a relationship with the media and use that information to help clients and colleagues better plan campaigns. In essence, my job is to get into the consumer's head, to find out what makes them tick and how they behave.'
Payling predicts that monitoring firms will have to offer demographic analysis services. ‘Consumer digital media are a growing area in terms of planning,' he says. ‘Now press releases can appear on blogs as well as mainstream news sites, and you can't afford to be platform-agnostic. Meanwhile, in user-generated circles, it is difficult to get paid-for advertising. There is a much better chance for PROs to get messages across if they have the right knowledge about who to target.'
Media monitoring firms are aware that PR professionals are beginning to act more like media planners when preparing for their campaigns, and have begun to offer new products.
Advertising monitoring specialist Thomson Intermedia, for example, last year set up its first PR monitoring service under its Newsmetrics brand, offering PR and advertising clients historical coverage of a story, so they can see how different media report the message. It is useful research for clients, who can get an idea of how similar announcements in the future might be reported by certain media.
Thomson Intermedia commercial director Andy Pearch says: ‘The lines between PR and advertising are becoming increasingly blurred. Clients will have to present content to the different channels by mirroring more accurately how the public consume media. When consumers see an advert or read an article about, say, Tesco, they register the name of the brand first and foremost. They are not always making the distinction about whether they saw it as an advert or a news article.'
However, while there is detailed audience data available for traditional media such as TV and print, one stumbling block for monitoring firms is the lack of information about online users.
Too little information
James Kelliher, managing director of technology PR agency Whiteoaks, says: ‘The lack of information coming from online sources is a challenge. Some sites, such as bbc.co.uk and Times Online, are very good at getting independent audited data, but for others you always have to be suspicious.'
According to New Media Intelligence, there are only 100 websites with an electronic ABC (ABCe). The good news though, is that some of the most newly certified websites will be of interest to PR professionals. They include findaproperty.com, and Monkey - the world's first weekly digital men's magazine.