To build the Agency of the Future, measure like a media company

Firms can learn a thing or two from sophisticated media organizations that are using analytics to measure all facets of how their audiences engage with coverage, says Zach Silber, chief innovation officer and MD of Kivvit.

The Agency of the Future is often spoken about like a mythical creature. There are scores of alleged sightings and tales of supernatural powers, like its ability to tear down expertise silos, nimbly adopt fast-changing technologies and cultivate new skill sets — all while driving profitability. The stuff of legends. 

But for innovators like me charged with building that Agency of the Future today, there are proven, real-life models already in the marketplace that we can emulate. Some of the most impactful of these paradigms are coming from inside media companies, due in large part to the existential crisis that has befallen the news industry, forcing publishers to adapt or perish.

My career started in media, working at — and eventually running — political news start-ups at a time when a “measure or die” mentality was taking hold. I remember when a large television was first installed in our newsroom to display live readership stats for all to see. 

Today, sophisticated media organizations are using analytics to measure all facets of how their audiences engage with coverage. In April, for instance, Kivvit teamed with NJ.com to use readership metrics to understand the behavior of Garden State residents during the pandemic.  

This kind of agency-publisher convergence is being driven by the very tools that helped newsrooms evolve and survive over the past decade. Newswhip, Parse.ly and Memo, all tools that draw on technology created for publishers, have found tremendous application in the agency world, largely because they enable firms to think more like newsrooms when it comes to measuring the impact of news cycles.  

  • Founded in 2011 and backed by the Associated Press, Newswhip began with a specific focus of helping editorial teams identify trending content opportunities. Today Newswhip is becoming for savvy agencies what the Bloomberg terminal is for finance, providing real-time “market” insights and analytics that predict the trajectory of online news.

  • Parse.ly is best known as “the Google Analytics for major news organizations,” measuring the performance of news coverage for publishers such as NBC News, Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. The company was founded in 2009 with a distinct clientele of newsrooms and in 2018 launched its Currents product to provide agencies a unique view of macro readership trends across the Parse.ly client base.

  • Memo was launched in 2019 by the cofounder of SimpleReach, an analytics tool created in 2010 that helped publishers provide better sponsored content analytics to advertisers. Memo lifts the curtain for agencies by providing actual readership numbers on individual stories for a variety of blue chip publications. 

Beyond supplying insights and data, these newsroom-first tools are equipping Agencies of the Future to differentiate culturally and operationally from legacy oligarch agencies in two significant ways. 

First, by measuring the true impact of earned media, agencies are forced to embrace transparency. That means contending with the reality that widely shared stories on social media typically garner fewer readers. Or that when readers do click, they often spend less than one minute reading articles, typically not enough time to make it to the end.

This transparency will be a rude awakening for legacy practitioners who feed at the trough of impressions, equivalent advertising value and other metrics that are great fodder for PowerPoint slides but mean little in terms of actual results.

Second, the Agency of the Future not only embraces this transparency, it is structured to seamlessly act on it. Future-facing firms know the earned media process starts when a story posts and are poised to devise a paid amplification campaign that ensures the right audience sees earned content and extends an otherwise one-day story into an ongoing narrative.  

In a legacy agency org chart, this work would transcend three different teams, including PR, analytics and digital. In contrast, teams at the Agency of the Future are nimble and integrated and capable of quickly executing a strategy that calls for amplifying good news to reach target audiences, intercepting audiences exposed to bad news or letting a news cycle organically run its course.

For these reasons, the Agency of the Future may seem mythical to some. But I can tell you firsthand from building it that it not only exists, it can be described as a breed of agency that is nimble, innovative, accountable and equipped with the measurement capability of a media company. 

Zach Silber is chief innovation officer and MD of Kivvit.

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