Metrics needed for online content

In attending a recent event sponsored by The Newsmarket, a provider of online video content for journalists, I was treated to insights on integrating print and online editorial content by the likes of Forbes.com, the AP, NYTimes.com, the Financial Times, and Jeff Jarvis, so-called power blogger and the mind behind BuzzMachine.com.

In attending a recent event sponsored by The Newsmarket, a provider of online video content for journalists, I was treated to insights on integrating print and online editorial content by the likes of Forbes.com, the AP, NYTimes.com, the Financial Times, and Jeff Jarvis, so-called power blogger and the mind behind BuzzMachine.com.

As a PR pro and ex-journalist, one troubling thing quickly became clear: Experts, traditional and online, seem to put more stock into their online editorial offerings than many of our clients do.

Our b-to-b PR firm works with some very sophisticated and bright technologists. Yet time and again, we see that many tech executives and marketers still believe a media hit in an online outlet isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

For example, one client with a Web-based business himself was nonplussed to be featured in a recent column on Forbes.com, the top online business site. He was disappointed the piece would not appear in Forbes' print edition.

We tried the "anecdotal" response: A Web article has a much longer shelf life than a print story, can dramatically improve online search returns, can drive traffic to your Web site, and can engender higher re-readability through electronic forwarding of the story.

We tried the "math" response: Forbes.com reaches four times as many readers as the print edition, delivering more readers more likely to make a buying decision.

I posed the question to Jim Spanfeller, president and CEO of Forbes.com. After a long pause, his response was a troubled, "This guy works for a tech company?"

Add one more obstacle to PR's best efforts to measure and quantify editorial results for our clients.

Clearly, journalism is in the midst of a revolution. Print media is fading, while online outlets and the ad revenue they bring in are rising. If you thought the separation between advertising and editorial was already blurry, consider how now citizen bloggers command nearly the same audience as media outlets, obfuscating the lines between what a "journalist" is today.

Yet while journalists and the outlets they work for navigate the online world's rocky terrain, many readers may not yet grasp the real value of their work. It isn't necessarily clear to the journalists themselves, who bring different views on how to treat their online outlets.

Forbes.com, for example, has a separate editorial staff to provide original content for the Web site, treating it as a separate-but-equal entity. FT has taken another path and is working toward a model of having one, unified team, equally committed to online and paper. Regardless of the strategy they use, their commitment to the electronic word is resolute.

PR is very much an inexact science. While measurement has achieved a certain modicum of acceptance in theory, in practice it lacks serious teeth without a commitment from PR pros to include all media in the mix, and to better inform clients about the value multiple forms of media can have in driving business goals forward.

It is incumbent upon the PR industry to create and build in the appropriate metrics to educate our clients about the journalistic integrity, reach, and importance of Web-based content.

Laura Grimmer is president and CEO of Articulate Communications.

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