How to monitor new media was the subject troubling speakers and delegates alike at PRWeek's latest PR and The Media conference last Tuesday. Both were concerned about how to more accurately measure the channels emerging from new media's ‘big bang'. Although there were no definitive solutions to the problems posed, the consensus was that traditional monitoring values should be adhered to across the media spectrum.
During one lively panel discussion, three PR chiefs were asked how the accuracy of their monitoring was faring given the rapidly increasing number of channels. For all of them, the issue of information overload was a real problem. ‘I have Google alerts popping up all day long on my PC.
There are so many stories, so much information, it's impossible to know their provenance,' said Ruth Settle, controller of comms at ITV.
‘I'm struggling to find a way to evaluate traditional and new media in a way that is tangible,' agreed Paul Ormond (pictured below, right), Honda's head of corporate press and PR. He argued that monitoring and evaluation were no longer useful: ‘I used to monitor Honda's share of voice across the newspapers and then compare this with that of our competitors. It was a waste of money. My gut reaction is far more valuable.'
Just when you thought clients could not get more frank, Lorna Perrin (pictured, far left) head of comms at French Connection, topped them both: ‘I spend nothing on monitoring or evaluation.'
But PROs such as Perrin are not burying their heads in the sand when it comes to evaluation.
Perhaps the more realistic solution is to steer away from attempting to monitor all coverage, and instead focus on those channels that have the most influence. As Nick Hindle, V-P of comms at McDonald's, argued: ‘We are all now under threat of death by a thousand cuts. What we need to focus on is how to plot the tipping point of a news story, from its "low point" to when it becomes a real threat.'
One big problem highlighted by many of the speakers was the greater ‘longevity' of stories caused by the growth of digital outlets - such as when a TV programme is put online after its initial broadcast. Ben Cordle, marketing manager at FHM, said this makes measuring, for example, viewership figures for a TV show almost impossible. We used to say that yesterday's news is tomorrow's fish and chips wrapper. But viewers can now find content weeks later, and it's still relevant.'
Kevin Marsh, editor at the BBC's College of Journalism, agreed: ‘We are losing control over the destination of our programmes. It is not just the number of showings in the long term, but the fact that consumers have a greater amount of choice of ways to view content - across platforms, such as on a mobile phone - at whatever time suits them.'
‘Push' and ‘pull'
One suggestion from Marsh could have much wider monitoring ramifications. He claimed that content that is deliberately ‘pulled' (or downloaded) by the public is far more compelling than that which is ‘pushed' to them, when they are more passive consumers.
This being the case, Marsh argued that monitoring firms should weigh up the influence of channels.
Romeike senior analyst Paul Miller said such ‘weighing up' would be difficult because there is too much information to analyse. ‘There are almost too many metrics,' he explained. ‘Hits, traffic, volume of viewers. We are trying to marry it up as "trans-media" by linking web traffic to circulation figures in traditional media.'
So, what tips did PR people take home with them? James Montgomery, editor of FT.com, said: ‘Technology makes the brand matter more and media matter less. But you must still focus on monitoring impact - the quality of the journalist is still vital.'
But perhaps VisitLondon comms director Ken Kelling gave the best advice of the conference: ‘Don't let over-measurement spoil the creativity of your feature articles.'