FOCUS: INFORMATION SERVICES - Keeping on the cutting edge/Keeping track of what is being said about your clients no longer means just clipping press cuttings. As digital TV and radio looks set to provide an explosion of new outlets companies are turning t

With the imminent introduction of digital technology, it is predicted that hundreds of new television and radio stations will appear virtually overnight. Keeping track of what appears on these new media would seem to be an enormous task. So just how are those in the business of monitoring the media preparing for the onslaught?

With the imminent introduction of digital technology, it is

predicted that hundreds of new television and radio stations will appear

virtually overnight. Keeping track of what appears on these new media

would seem to be an enormous task. So just how are those in the business

of monitoring the media preparing for the onslaught?



’There may be a large increase in the number of stations, but the amount

of commercially viable, interesting news content won’t increase in the

same proportion,’ says David Clarke, divisional manager of Broadcast

Monitoring Company, part of the Financial Times Electronic Publishing

Group.



Dean Wading, sales manager at Parker Bishop, the broadcast monitoring

company agrees. ’Assuming that out of 100 new stations, 90 per cent of

them will be re-running olds soaps and second-rate American chat shows,

it may be only 10 per cent which have a rolling news service or are

aimed at a specific industry that will have to be monitored.



’However,’ he adds, ’the introduction of digital television will

certainly create greater opportunities for our clients to generate more

stories and this will have a knock-on effect for the monitoring

industry.’



These opinions are based on research carried out into the industry, but

also on the experiences of cable television monitoring. Even with the

current number of radio and TV stations in Europe, a huge amount of news

is simply syndicated to the different stations, without anything new

being added.



Judith Hickling, director of operations at Tellex Monitors points out

that it is already necessary to prepare each month for the numerous new

radio stations, as new licences are granted.



’We will be applying the same evaluation process to digital television

and radio stations as we do at present,’ she says. This means it will

evaluate the quality and provide what cover clients want.



Monitoring is very much a client-led industry, and Clarke points to the

fact that clients are now far more discerning than they were 10 years

ago, when they wanted a copy of every transcript of every broadcast that

mentioned them.



’We are monitoring more, but delivering less. Clients want to know when

and where they have received quality coverage, rather than the fact

they’ve been mentioned a thousand times,’ says Clarke.



And although it is possible to monitor a huge range of media, clients

are focusing on national and regional television and radio stations.

After all, they are still interested in what the public is actually

hearing and seeing about their company, not in what’s available to be

seen.



Ask those involved in press monitoring about new technological

developments and the response is ambivalent.



The latest technology to hit the industry means it is possible to scan

entire newspapers into a scanner and use Optical Character Recognition

(OCR) software to convert newsprint to text, which is then downloaded to

a computer from which one can perform a key word search.



Speak to different people in the industry and you’ll get a differing

opinion on the penetration of this scanning/ OCR technology - some

estimate that everyone is already using the technology but keeping

quiet. Others say that anyone who claims to be using this technology

already is exaggerating.



One problem that is putting-off some from embracing new technology is

the word search problem. A search is indiscriminate, it will pull up any

article that mentions, for example, the client’s name, but will miss out

on finding an article about other issues that are relevant to a client,

but don’t mention it by name.



While Martin Knight, director of Precise Press Cuttings agrees that new

technology won’t be able to replace a human reader, he says that the

word search problem isn’t a problem at all.



’It’s up to a client to ensure that they tell the agency exactly what

areas they want covered. It won’t replace an intelligent reader, but it

will ensure that there are less missed articles and improve the service

overall.’



One area where technology really is affecting the monitoring industry -

both broadcast and press - is in the way clients receive their cuttings

and transcripts. But along with other technological developments, this

is seen as something of a double-edged sword by many in the

industry.



It’s possible, of course, to both notify a client of coverage

electronically (as opposed to leaving messages by telephone) and e-mail

transcripts or cuttings directly to them. However, at the moment it

costs twice as much to transmit the information digitally as it does by

the old-fashioned, hard-copy, hand-delivered method.



As Jonathan Shepherd marketing director of press cuttings agency

Durrants points out: ’Even if cuttings are delivered electronically, the

first thing a client would want to do is print it out.’ This incurs

another charge.



’The technology is there to transmit articles and transcripts by

e-mail,’ says Shepherd, ’however the licence that is required is

expensive and administratively prohibitive.



One way that monitoring agencies are avoiding this issue, and helping

their clients at the same time, is by offering what is variously

described as a precis, an abstract or, more simply, a summary.



The advantage of this method is that it avoids the copyright issue since

a summary is the intellectual property of the monitoring company. It

also means that clients can receive a lot more diverse information

without having to trawl through pages of coverage.



So how does themonitoring industry expect to move forward and keep pace

with technological advances? The industry is anticipating a change but

as Hickling says: ’It is an exciting time for the monitoring sector, but

it’s too early to tell where it will all lead.’



ON-LINE MONITORING: TARGETING ELECTRONIC AUDIENCES



Question most people about on-line monitoring and there’s not much

enthusiasm. Yet as Robert Silver, manager of net.cut, the internet

monitoring arm of Romeike and Curtice says: ’If you really want to know

what is being said about you, you need to look at the internet.’



A number of crises have begun from stories that have broken on-line -

for example last month ecology activists destroyed a field of

genetically-engineered research crops in Gloucestershire after

information about the farm was posted on the Friends of the Earth web

site.



So can all on-line information be monitored? Not everything can be

covered, says Seattle-based Robert Grupe, associate director of Text

100. ’For example, anyone can create a chat channel. But established

chat channels can be monitored as can bulletin boards on web sites.’



However it is possible to target news groups, e-zines (on-line

magazines), chat channels and other focus groups that you know are

likely to be talking about you. It’s good to know what’s being said

about you.



IQ Information Services (recently acquired by the Word Group) offers

such a service, sending out ’intelligence agents’ to search out where

companies are being discussed. They can be ’trained’ as to the type of

reference they pick up, so over time an increasingly accurate tracking

service develops. June Dawson, managing director of the Word Group,

explains the company was bought because of the importance of access to

timely, acurate information. ’Quality information is an incredibly

powerful tool in PR.’



Text 100 offers on-line services as part of its overall PR package, and

the on-line team is responsible for both disseminating information and

monitoring what is being said about its clients. Information is gathered

by targeting certain news groups, using established search engines and

monitoring points, such as focus groups or chat channels.



The net.cut service is purely a gathering one-as well as targeting

e-zines, it uses web-crawler software to search the internet for

stories.



Clients are e-mailed material twice a day, but Silver insists that

everything is quality checked before it’s passed.



One of the features of monitoring on-line coverage is that the client is

able to participate in the news as it’s being put out-misinformation can

be corrected on the spot. But Grupe warns against getting too involved

in what’s being said about your company. ’Technically you may be able to

monitor on-line,’ he says, ’but you need to understand the on-line

community.’



So how easy is it to persuade clients of the importance of on-line

monitoring?



Grupe admits that establishing a crisis management strategy, especially

one which involves on-line monitoring, is still difficult. And yet, he

argues, ’The on-line community may be a relatively small one, but it’s

made up of industry influencers, and they are discussing issues in

real-time.’



Certain industries, such as IT and financial sectors are particularly

interested in information on-line as it can affect their whole

evaluation of a situation, and they will happily troll for

information.



Compared to newspaper and broadcast reach, in terms of raw numbers it

may not be as many but, as Grupe says, it’s an influential

community.



NATIONWIDE: KEEPING AHEAD OF THE CARPET-BAGGERS



On July 23 this year, members of the Nationwide Building Society will

again vote on whether to remain a mutual society.



Since last year’s AGM, where members voted against demutualisation, the

society has been thrust into the media spotlight.



’With the ever increasing variety of media and the need to deal with

news in real-time, we need to have an advanced approach to keep on the

ball,’ says the Nationwide’s head of external affairs, Paul

Atkinson.



’It’s no longer a case of browsing through yesterday’s press cuttings

the next morning.’



The society has a comprehensive system of information gathering

services-press cuttings are delivered early each morning, it has a

real-time broadcast monitoring service, on-line news agency services and

the press office does its own internet monitoring.



Atkinson emphasises the team effort that goes into monitoring - for

example, the Treasury will inform the corporate communications team very

quickly of any changes in base rates from the Bank of England so that

the first it hears about it is not from a journalist asking how it will

affect interest rates.



Because Nationwide is a member-led organisation, the communications team

are conscious that its cuttings are ordered by reach to the mass market,

not to financial analysts. Therefore there is a strong focus on

broadcast coverage, and a product mention in the Sun, for example, will

be placed above an in-depth story about interest rates in the Financial

Times.



The company is also active in evaluating its public perception. Since

1993 it has been analysing how the organisation’s messages are getting

across to the public and the strength of message in the national media

as well as tracking key competitors.



As the Nationwide board is arguing against the demutualisation, saying

that long-term gains will outweigh the short-term windfall, it is

important to monitor what the opposition is saying. The board is aware

of user-groups on the internet, ’carpet-bagger’ coversations, their

campaiging tools and media lobbying, and can counteract.



Perhaps some communications teams dream of having the budget to cover

all these bases, but as Atkinson says: ’For Nationwide, it is important

to keep the balance right. It is members’ funds which are being spent,

but as the media and other opinion formers have an increasing effect on

the success, or otherwise of businesses, its public reputation is

critical. We must make the investment in monitoring information.’



KODAK: KEEPING ITSELF IN THE DIGITAL PICTURE



In an industry where the challenge is to keep pace monitoring is

imperative.



Digital imaging - the area which covers digital cameras, CD media and

images on computers, as opposed to film - is one such industry. PR

manager for Kodak digital and applied imaging, Joanna Goodwin, says: ’We

launch new products every four months. Competitors in the market have

increased six-fold since the end of 1996 and this has resulted in a

burgeoning PC media community.’



As a result, Goodwin-whose remit covers Europe, the Middle East and

Africa-finds that it is imperative to monitor and evaluate the media

coverage of her key markets. Without a huge PR team, it is necessary for

the evaluation to be outsourced.



Since January 1997 Mantra has handled media evaluation for Goodwin,

evaluating coverage and translating any European coverage in-house,

presenting the data in a quarterly report.



Goodwin finds Mantra’s monitoring is necessary for several reasons. It

is vital that all the coverage received in both the well-established

media and in the newer, niche titles is analysed to see how well the

Kodak message has been put forward.



But it is also important that media evaluation has enabled Goodwin to

prove the value of PR. She says that while Kodak is a forward-thinking

company that takes PR seriously, she had to prove the credibility of PR

before winning large budgets. However, evaluation has helped her do

that.



She says: ’In 1997 a PR budget of USdollars 1 million was invested and

at the end of the year I was able to prove that the PR programme had

given a return of USdollars 6 million in terms of positive PR

value.’



Like other PR professionals, Goodwin sees evaluation of coverage as an

important PR tool for planning strategy. Mantra’s quarterly reports are

circulated by Goodwin to other staff, both in the UK and in the US, and

are sometimes used to give tips on product pricing and perception.



However, it’s not just the good news about Kodak’s publicity that

Goodwin is interested in. It is important, she says, to find out what

the media has actually said, rather than what the PR team hoped they

would say.



Goodwin is pragmatic about ’bad’ cuttings, and says that the public

relations industry could do itself many favours by admitting when a

campaign isn’t working.



If evaluation indicates that messages were not favourable, Goodwin says

it is important to share this information internally. ’Bad hits can be

related back to product development and other issues,’ she argues. ’Bad

coverage is not necessarily a bad reflection on a PR person.’



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