With the explosion of media in print, online, and elsewhere, “scalability” is the key word in monitoring.
“In the past, we've had clients that [say], ‘Because of changes to our business, we'd like to do the monitoring internally,'” says Kurt Paquin, SVP of operations and process management at Cision. “Certainly trying to subscribe to 10, 15, or 20,000 publications, you can't do that, so you have to scale it down. When you scale it down, you're not getting the coverage that a professional company can.”
But even monitoring pros can't keep track of the vast amount of media out there. As such, objectives for both monitoring companies and their clients have shifted.
“Our goals of, say, 10 years ago were to have a very thorough and comprehensive coverage,” says Paquin. “We have found that there are clients who are less concerned in widespread coverage if they can get something that's very fast and very accurate.”
The proliferation of new media sources, such as blogs, has also forced monitoring providers to focus on quality of results, rather than just a strict quantity.
“The amount of blogs has grown dramatically [in the past two years],” says Valerie Combs, VP of corporate communications at BuzzLogic. “Even more than that, the number of people reading them [has grown]. One of the key challenges is not just pinpointing the places where to listen, but to determine at the outset why you're listening.”
While things like content scanning, digital feeds, and other technologies have allowed the monitoring sector to keep pace (even in real time) with the ever-growing scope of the Internet age, it's still a sector that relies on old-fashioned manpower.
“We use human beings in a number of ways, and the first and most important way is in content acquisition” to strike copyright deals with sources, says Terry Foster, EVP and COO of BurrellesLuce. “Second is understanding what's important to our clients and making sure that we're ‘spidering' those content sources as quickly as possible. And third... we'll put the content in front of a human being, and we'll make sure that even [in] the most sophisticated of searches, the right information gets put in front of the end user.”
Not only do humans find what's most applicable, they also catch errors that technology can't avoid, especially broadcast.
“Although we've had the advent of some great new technology – closed captioning, speech-to-text to capture radio – that technology is still limited in its abilities because speech-to-text is probably about 60% accurate,” says Peter Wengryn, CEO of VMS. “There's a lot of misspelled and garbled words, and it's really not actionable for clients. Closed captioning – the same thing.”
Monitoring is also very much about analysis. Looking toward the future, that analytical capability will only become more important.
“What's critical is [clients] want us to do quantitative analysis so that [information is] more actionable going forward,” says Wengryn. “More and more, CMOs are responsible for the PR and the advertising budgets. We need to be able to support those CMOs now. Part of that is to provide clients with the ability to look at PR spend versus advertising spend, how one impacts the other and how they both impact what the client is mostly looking for – business outcomes. That's where we need to go as an industry.”
Measurement in PR
Ten years ago, PR measurement could be summed up in two words: clip book. As measurement has evolved, the metrics used to assess the effectiveness of a PR campaign have become much more precise.
“We've become more sophisticated in recognizing it isn't the quantity and the size of the clip book,” says David Rockland, partner and MD at Ketchum. “It's if those clips include the right messages. Did they reach the right target audience? Did they motivate attitude change [and] behavior change?”
To that end, measurement has been transformed from simply counting the number of media mentions to calculating ROI.
“The primary motivation for doing measurement... is to help PR people demonstrate and generate a positive return on the organization's investment in [PR],” says Mark Weiner, North American CEO for PRIME Research. “That means giving PR people the data they need to communicate in the language of business,” such as driving sales, revenue, and even avoiding costs, “which is definitely a subject for these days.”
Measurement has progressed to the point that some, like Rockland, feel that we can now implement standard measurement practices, such as market-mix analysis.
“I think it's a very important standard to adopt in terms of the effects of public relations on sales,” he says. “A good market-mix model shows you how much sales you can attribute to PR activities. I think it's a question that a great deal of marketers are asking every day.”
Weiner believes that the standard should be set at truth and ethics, principles that, he says, are betrayed by systems like using multipliers for ad value and other “unsubstantiated multipliers” that produce “flawed and inflated measures.”
“It's a fair question to ask [that] if someone is willing to provide inflated data,” he adds, “then what else are they willing to do?”
One reason some might be tempted to employ these unsupported metrics is the pressure to use measurement to show positive results, instead of as “a learning tool.”
“The biggest evolution is the one that suggests that research and measurement should function as a tutor, rather than a report card,” Weiner explains.
That said, there is still progress to be made in measurement space. Just as technology has made it possible to measure and analyze more data faster, it has added to the amount of media to be measured. Blogs and other forms of social media are the latest frontier for measurement to conquer. But in taking the first steps toward quantifying these online influencers and communities, Katie Paine, CEO of KDPaine & Partners, suggests we are measuring trust and relationships as much as behavior.
“It is appalling... to me the extent to which people are still talking about eyeballs and how many hits and impressions they're making,” she says. “Who cares how many eyeballs you reach? Don't you want to know how many people will actually buy your product as a result? We're a long way from solving that one.”
But the measurement sector is progressing in areas like identifying online influencers and tracking things like tone and the transmission of key messaging in all media.
According to Jim Nail, chief strategy and marketing officer for TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony, the goals of PR metrics have stayed the same, but the data and technology used has changed in order to gather the most meaningful information.
“Regardless of the medium, at a high level the goal of PR measurement hasn't changed,” he says. “It's how effective are we telling our brand or company's story and what impact is that having. Now you can compare yourself to competitors... getting a bit deeper into not just how many times were you mentioned, but what was said about [you].
Nail adds, “Where we are going is: ‘How do we link all that to... all of those high-level business indicators that senior management cares about on a daily basis?'”