Public relations is a speedy business these days. Every aspect of the industry - from sending out press releases by email, to the superquick response required to handle a crisis on the other side of the world - is moving faster thanks to digital technology. It's no surprise then that as communications whip around the world at the speed of light, waiting 24 hours to see what's been said about a company in the papers is increasingly not an option.
Although there are plenty of PR managers and account execs who still want a package of paper cuttings delivered by post the day after publication, media monitoring services are increasingly encouraging their clients to switch over to electronic delivery for rapid, up-to-the-minute knowledge of what's been said and where.
All the leading players in the monitoring sector now offer a variety of ways of receiving cuttings other than hard copy, particularly email alerts throughout the day and access to dedicated password-protected websites.
All report this to be the fastest growing part of their business.
But is electronic delivery pushing speed at the expense of accuracy?
After all, how useful is it to have a list of cuttings on email waiting for you when you get into the office at 7am if one significant mention that you have seen for yourself that morning isn't there?
The media monitoring companies PRWeek spoke to all claim that using new search and scan technology alongside skilled human readers means that accuracy of their cuttings services - measured by omissions and overcutting - has actually shot up in recent years. There's now apparently very little to choose between them on accuracy, with rates of between 95 per cent and 99 per cent claimed across the industry. A few service providers, including Durrants and Romeike, even test their own accuracy against their competitors by using independent researchers to 'mystery shop' for them. A brief is given to a selection of monitoring companies, with even the commissioning company not being aware of which brief is a test.
Whether PR agencies and in-house teams are more interested in speed or accuracy, however, depends on the circumstances. ICI chief press officer John Edgar uses Durrants to cover the broader media and has switched to electronic delivery.
'Bike couriers were subject to the vagaries of weather and traffic; electronic cuttings are a more reliable method of distribution,' Edgar says. 'We get cuttings at about 7.30am because I like to know what's happening as soon as I get in. But accuracy is very important and I know from my own reading of the nationals that Durrants doesn't seem to miss much on the straightforward service we have.'
Golin Harris director Leigh-Ann Wilson is trialling two electronic services but says most clients want to see cuttings at the end of the month, so accuracy is more important than speed. She points out, however, that all that changes in a crisis: 'When we know a crisis is about to break, speed becomes more important, and we will alert our agencies to get us whatever they've got by 7.30am.'
Fast delivery is paramount for many of Four Communications' corporate clients, explains partner Nan Williams, who claims that speed has a direct bearing on the consultancy's communications strategy: 'In crisis, early cuttings are essential. As soon as we get the cuttings in, depending on what is being said, it will really affect what we are doing the next day.' She adds that the new electronic services are more useful than hard copy: 'Web delivery is expensive but it is so much better and very flexible - plus we're not cutting down trees the whole time. You can filter cuttings more easily and search depending on your priorities.'
So how much are clients prepared to pay for media monitoring? Wilson says clients can baulk at clippings costing more than £1, but points out that if used well, press cuttings can work hard for their money. 'We blow up really good cuttings for our clients' reception areas as part of their internal communications - it has an enormous effect on staff understanding what PR is when they see their product in Heat, for instance, and helps to get internal buy-in to PR.'
Visit London head of corporate affairs Ken Kelling says cost is a factor in choosing monitoring services: 'We'd rather not miss something than get it quickly, and need to look at whether the extra costs are worth faster delivery.'
Visit London uses Romeike's standard press cuttings service and broadcast specialist TNS for ad hoc projects when big campaigns, such as the recent One Amazing Week and New Year's Eve tourism drives, are underway.
Kelling still cuts the nationals himself every morning: 'However, we monitor the nationals and the Evening Standard because what we are looking for is wider than a few key words would indicate.
'Tourism has so many strands - we're interested in the economy and business and what's on the news agenda - anything that relates to London - and it would be impossible to give a brief that provides us with exactly what we want to see.'
Kelling reckons good relationships are the key to getting exactly what you want from your media monitoring service: 'You have to develop a relationship with the cuttings agency, and some readers, so they have an understanding of your business and can be clever in the way they read for you, beyond just looking for key words. Keeping them well briefed is a real challenge.'
Media monitoring companies tend to encourage open communication between account managers, readers and clients so they can tailor the best possible service for clients.
There's no easy answer to the question of whether speed or accuracy is more important: it depends on how the cuttings are being used. And, despite the immediacy and flexibility of electronic cuttings, some clients will always be paper people.
WHAT THE SUPPLIERS OFFER
- Durrants Electronic: Delivery via dedicated website or email every ten minutes throughout the day, starting at midnight. Overnight hard copy delivery by fax or courier by 6am, or next-day postal delivery. Claims accuracy for all services of 95 to 97 per cent. Broadcast clips from main channels can be streamed to PC within ten minutes of broadcast. Clients' average monthly spend is £240
- TNS Media: Intelligence Broadcast specialist, as well as press and online monitoring. Delivery to suit client, from 4.30am. Most popular service is delivery by email, website or fax by 6am the same day. Also offers next-day postal delivery. Claims accuracy of 97 per cent for all services including broadcast and internet monitoring. Delivery via dedicated More Than News website costs from £250 a month
- Romeike: Next-day postal delivery as standard. Electronic delivery at times to suit client during the day. Express service of cuttings from key titles can be delivered on hard copy by courier to the City or electronically by 7am. Expects 97 per cent accuracy rate across all services. Services start at £65 a month and £1.02 per clipping, tailored to meet clients' requirements
- Precise Media: Monitoring Tailored to suit client, with no set services or costs. Claims accuracy is 99 per cent. Charges monthly fee and fee per cutting, depending on means and times of delivery
- Press Index: Press and internet monitoring, not broadcast in the UK. The company set up six years ago using new technology, so all clients receive clippings via email. Service starts at 6am for national newspapers. Strategically important titles for clients delivered same morning. Claims accuracy of 97 per cent. Service costs from £70 a month
- Moreover: Dedicated online monitoring service offering four products, starting from £3,500 for pre-built online news feeds to £60,000 for bespoke systems. Uses up to 25 pieces of metadata per online clipping to ensure high levels of accuracy.