PR TECHNIQUE PRESS CLIPPINGS - Get off my back; or, putting press clippings into perspective - With so much in public relations riding on evaluation, pros are being more exacting about how they analyze that old standby, the press clip. Sherri Deatherage G

Call it clip sorting. Call it media content analysis. Call it what you want, but please call the intern.

Call it clip sorting. Call it media content analysis. Call it what you want, but please call the intern.

Call it clip sorting. Call it media content analysis. Call it what

you want, but please call the intern.

Sitting before a desk piled high with newspaper clippings can leave your

fingers black and your mind numb. Is this really what I went to college

for, PR pros often ask themselves? So the person assigned to conquer

that mountain of newsprint becomes the summer intern who hasn’t yet

questioned his career choice or the new hire expected to pay her


Clip analysis may not get the respect afforded other forms of


But with only 3% of corporate PR budgets devoted to research (see

PRWeek, Feb. 28), news measurement is the only tool many companies use

to gauge how well their messages are communicated. Even those that do

use more advanced methods include clip analysis in the mix. Surveying

consumers to find out if your message affected buying habits is useless

unless you know they saw it in the first place.

Despite the paperless promise of the technological age, the demise of

hard-copy clippings has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, most

customers still use physical clips alone or in conjunction with online

text. ’The majority of our (clipping) accounts still want that hard-copy

report,’ says Michael Bux- baum, business development director for

Bacon’s Information.

Not all publications produce online editions and many don’t post full

text. Some say news can be harvested faster through the Internet. On the

other hand, Delahaye Medialink president Katie Paine points out that

many magazines hit newsstands long before their text hits the Web.

Placement and photo accompaniment can’t be gauged using Web-gathered

text, either.

Then there’s the human factor. ’No computer can make the intuitive

judgment calls that a real reader can,’ says Drew Crandall, president of

Keep in Touch, a Connecticut-based research firm. No matter how well

written the program or how carefully defined the key word list, you

can’t teach news sense to a collection of wires and circuits. And Albert

Barr, president and CEO of CARMA International, notes that Web surfing

can be as time consuming and expensive as reviewing hard copy.

So with a heavy sigh of exasperation, you return again to that pile of

clips. The good news is you don’t have to go it alone. Granted, some

level of analysis undoubtedly occurs in-house at every company. But

clipping services and research firms can do most of the grunt work and

varying levels of analysis, depending on your budget. To what extent you

should rely on outside sources is open for debate. The argument hinges

on the inherent subjectivity of the process.

Some say media analysis companies are best used to collect quantitative

data - measurements of volume, column inches and geographic

distribution, for example. They contend in-house personnel can more

effectively address qualitative issues since they are more familiar with

the company and its industry. ’It should be a top person in PR that goes

through them,’ opines John McCombs, president of Allen’s Press Clipping

Bureau, a large regional service in San Francisco.

Others claim in-house people, and even the PR firms they hire, may be

too close to the issues or have too much at stake. ’If you have a vested

interest in the program, it’s really hard to be objective,’ says Donna

Coletti, worldwide media relations director at Texas Instruments. ’If

you don’t have a high degree of objectivity in the analysis, it’s not


Experts compare clipping analysis to survey research. If you don’t ask

the right questions, you won’t get meaningful answers. ’Getting it right

on the back end depends on getting it right at the front end,’ says

Steven Einhorn, a research director for Burson-Marsteller. ’Think

through what you want and pretest, just like you would with a


Defining your search may be the trickiest part of designing an analysis

matrix. Most clipping services charge by the article, so casting your

net too widely can be expensive; focus too narrowly and you may miss

important information. Communication is the key to striking the right


’Talk person-to-person,’ advises PR consultant Richard Weiner, who

represents Luce Press Clippings.

Slant or tone also can be hard to pin down, and outside firms may bring

different perspectives. ’Clients usually provide a brief as to what is

’good,’ ’bad’ or ’ugly,’ says Jacqui Walford, international SVP for

Echo, a European research group that is establishing a US presence.

Einhorn works with clients to select model articles that reflect

different degrees of slant, while CARMA applies a 100-point favorability

scale. Delahaye Medialink hires readers from its clients’ target

audiences who judge slant based on whether an article would make them

more or less likely to do business with the companies in question.

Researchers generally loath ad value equivalency - what the coverage

would have cost in advertising - as subjective and irrelevant, but it

frequently is calculated simply because CEOs understand dollars and


Geographic reach, placements in targeted publications and message

integrity may be more important elements to measure. Burrelle’s

Information Services recently did work related to an auto show; Ed

Harrington, SVP for PR evaluation services, points out that many

newspapers put editorial content about cars on the cover of the

classifieds. Thomas Martin, SVP of corporate relations at ITT

Industries, places special emphasis on ’share of voice,’ or the amount

and quality of media attention his company receives compared to


Clip analysis is a chore that always will be with us. The stack on your

desk might justify your job, reveal emerging market trends or provide

intelligence on the competition. And as much as you would like to

convince yourself otherwise, making sense of it probably requires more

expertise than the intern has accumulated in his short life.



1. Be as specific as possible when developing key words.

2. Revise your analysis matrix as issues and circumstances change.

3. Make clip analysis part of a broader research program.

4. Determine whether your company needs to archive clips and research

the best storage mechanisms.

5. Consider staff time when comparing analysis options.


1. Define your search so narrowly that you miss important articles.

2. Expect your outside firm to work effectively without frequent input

from you.

3. Expect news articles to tell you everything you need to know about

the success of your PR efforts.

4. Assume outside analysis is more expensive than internal review.

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