Helping consumers get the message

Software that helps with message management has fast evolved.

Software that helps with message management has fast evolved.

The rise of blogs, social networking sites, and other non-traditional media is triggering real excitement in the tech and PR worlds, but with it comes fear within many established consumer product companies.

"I was talking with a client, an outdoor clothing manufacturer, who noted he was more concerned than ever of being literate with his customers five years from now," says Barry Reicherter, Porter Novelli SVP for persuasive technologies. "There is a real fear they could end up not connecting with their customer if they don't ramp up on this."

Fear can be a great motivator and right now it's pushing both internal and external clients to demand more from PR than ever before. That includes tools that go beyond tracking keywords and media placements and toward facilitating true message management.

"Traditionally, PR has focused on media relations - getting a story into the appropriate outlet," notes Jim Nail, chief strategy and marketing officer at Cymfony, which makes the Orchestra PR software suite. "But people are realizing that if your target audience didn't read that publication, it does not matter. So now PR firms and clients want tools that make it easier to monitor that ultimate message receptor - the target audience."

Nail adds this does not mean current software solutions have proved wanting. Rather, he suggests many firms and corporate communications departments have grown emboldened by the arrival of this generation of PR software and now want to exploit all it can do. "They want to dig a little deeper and track not just how a campaign or press release had been tracking, but also what is the reaction to those messages," he adds.

Vocus CMO Bill Wagner adds message management also involves developing a framework that lets you compare traditional media hits with non-traditional placement.
"One of the reasons we recently acquired PRWeb was the realization that consumer-generated media now has to be a part of that PR mix," he says. "News [will] be more difficult to track going forward. If you don't have a central way of managing your news and messages - especially as things like social media take off - you'll be out of the loop."

Tools that enable you to truly manage messages - rather than simply track results - are still in their infancy. But Daniel Gallagher, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide's VP of research, notes they're already impacting some campaigns. Gallagher was a 20-year veteran of the advertising world before joining WE to help the agency develop its own PR measurement tool, the Narrative Network.

"Keyword searching has been around for a while, but take it to the next step of finding out what other words are most linked to those keywords," he explains. "We also weight those words, so if they're in the same sentence, they get a higher score than if they're in the same paragraph or article."

Gallagher says this provides actionable data that better enables companies to tweak and manage messages on the fly.

"We did a search for a major consumer electronics firm and noted a lot of links with the word 'Korea,'" he says. "Even though it was headquartered in Korea, it wanted to be known more as a global manufacturer, so we pushed the fact that it had factories in the US instead of Korea."

Of course, the introduction of new features eventually ends up whetting the appetite for even more improvements. PN's Reicherter says the real holy grail for message management may be tools that measure, in real time, the relative importance of one blog or MySpace posting versus another.

"What's still missing is the understanding of who the influencers out there are and what impact they are having," he says.

Even with all these tools, TEKgroup marketing director Ibrey Woodall says some message management still comes down to PR pros and their instincts and knowledge.

"These tools enable you to stay even more on-message," she says. "But I don't think they'll replace the human element. Instead, they'll end up being enhancements."

Technique tips

Use tools for more than keyword tracking. Many PR software suites can enable real message management

Stress the importance of non-traditional media and the need for near real-time monitoring of those outlets

Look for integrated solutions that enable you to begin measuring from start to end

Make it just about numbers. PR is as much about qualitative measurement as it is quantitative

Forget the human element. These tools don't replace PR pros, they enhance them

Take no for an answer. Start getting your clients to at least consider software- measurement tools

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