By Todd Murphy | August 9th, 2021
Let it be said, at least by me, that the technical advances of the past few years have made PR measurement much faster. AI, machine learning, and algorithms of all types have alleviated much of the heavy lifting that was previously handled by data analysts and media monitoring personnel. Technology has also increased the amount of data that can be considered and analyzed. This allows a media measurement team to more quickly crunch more data, and ultimately deliver more reliable meaning and insight with increased confidence. But the technology really only lets the professional analysts deliver more insight more quickly.
The nuanced insights needed to answer the question of, “So what does this all mean,” is still best defined by a trained analyst. The professional faces of PR measurement are still the ones creating truly actionable insights. I’m going to introduce you to a few of those faces and the real value they represent.
How PR Measurement Has Changed
Measuring the effectiveness of organizational communication and public relations has emerged as a primary element of public relations. An effective communication plan must include research, planning, objectives, content, channels, and ultimately a measurable outcome, just to name a few pieces. But instead of viewing the PR journey as a linear event, with a beginning and an end, it must be viewed as a circle. Basically, today’s PR strategy can be summed up in three basic steps.
1 Pre-campaign research and planning
2 Monitoring and measurement
3 Review insights, then reload
These are very broad steps, with each having many pieces of its own. But if there was a fourth instruction, it would read, “No really, repeat step 1 and start again.” In other words, after reviewing, you begin the cycle again in order to ever improve the outcomes and effectiveness of your effort. Your PR measurement team will equip you to reload and sustain your efforts more accurately.
The Power of Planning
This year at the AMEC Global Measurement and Evaluation Summit, the trend toward recognizing the value of pre-campaign planning came to the forefront. As Deepshikha Dharmaraj, CEO of Genesis BCW, put it, “You really must start at the end so you can define the ‘why.'” Referring to their five-year communications plan for the sport of Kabaddi, she said, “It was really the use of data and analytics that [helped] us arrive at the insights … this helped us build creative ideas year-on-year.” Simply put, they knew why they were embarking on this journey, then planned their way to reach that goal. The use of data and insights infused the creativity they needed to sustain their plan. Their team of strategists and analysts let the technology do some heavy lifting, but it was the creativity and understanding of the goal that allowed them to be successful.
Dharmaraj’s communication program spotlights how if one is to fully embrace a successful communications plan, the planning phase is the critical starting point. Gather your initial data, then plan. Although PR measurement has existed since the time of counting press clippings, most organizations have now passed through the digital transformation and are data driven with information never before seen. With this data you can plan. When you plan, you achieve greater success.
The Importance of Clean and Accurate Media Monitoring
Once you have a plan, you are ready to start monitoring your efforts. Two points can be made here.
- You need reliable data to understand the meaning and insights from your communications effort.
- The data generated by your media monitoring and measurement service, on your behalf, must be valid and comprehensive in order to have statistical confidence.
Cheril Lewis, Media Insights Director for Universal Information Services, explains, “If you’re just looking at social media and web content. but not broadcast or print results, you’re truly only getting part of the story. The types of conversations people have about your brand and communication efforts can look very different between online and offline mentions.”
Recently, Universal Information Services had the rare opportunity to compare our media measurement data against the data of a competing service, a Software-as-a-Service vendor (SaaS). This competitor mostly aggregates media feeds, and only offers automated measurement for that data. Cheril Lewis reminds her clients that, “Charts and graphs are only as useful as the data they contain.” What we found in our comparison between our results and the SaaS company’s results underscores Cheril’s point.
On the surface, both reports were to reflect the impact from all media (print, broadcast, web, and social).
- Universal found substantially more valid mentions from social media, newspapers, and online news outlets. (Later I will expand on why we believe this occurred.)
- The competitor counted more mentions of the keywords in broadcast media, but upon examination of their results, they found stories from fewer TV and radio outlets. Additionally, they also appeared to be counting multiple mentions within a single news story, rather than counting all keywords mentioned within a single story as one story. Just because the reporter says your name three times in the story doesn’t mean you netted three “hits.”
In the calculation for Opportunities to be Seen (views/audience/circulation/impressions), our measure was considerably lower, and on the surface a more “reasonable” number. We calculated almost 266 million opportunities compared to almost 3 billion from the competitor.
- Audience calculations can vary widely, but proper media measurement knows how to account for variables like sub-pages vs. primary domain metrics or even over counting broadcast hits within a single news story, as mentioned above.
- Audience metrics assigned to “all mentions” can greatly inflate what you see as impressions, if the analyst doesn’t, or the software can’t, account for this within the media monitoring results.
Perhaps the most concerning difference between our measurement report and the competitor’s automated report was the major stories they missed. Some of the most impactful stories from the entire event, key influencers and placements, were not found within the competitor’s report.
- A tweet by the lead global organization for this activity. This tweet was from a profile that has 5.9 million followers, reached over 650,000 people, and included a video from the event.
- A New York Times article that yielded more than 1.8 million opportunities to be seen.
- A tweet from a key trade profile with 106,000 followers, of which 99.7% viewed the post. That is a highly engaged following!
Finally, in what appeared to be a search strategy error from the competitor’s media monitoring, we found over 1,700 social media mentions compared to only 39 on the competitor’s report. Since we know the competitor does monitor social media, we can only guess that their search strategy was not well written and couldn’t account for the different style and phrasing used in social media. This is where a professional search strategist, one who is very focused on your objectives, can customize the media monitoring to maximize the results.
Search Strategy Is Critical For Reliable Results
Search strategy errors are not uncommon with services that allow the client user to create their own searches, or even leaving this task to the less trained customer support personnel. “PR professionals have many skills, but crafting Boolean logic and nested searches often aren’t among them”, according to Jeff Ketcham, search strategist with Universal Information Services. A media monitoring service must help clients create accurate searches to maximize results. A person — a professional search strategist — who knows how to do this work will better satisfy client expectations. Artificial Intelligence can do many things, but it can’t think laterally to include phrase possibilities that share very little resemblance to specific keywords. Machine learning can get better, but it still can’t account for what it doesn’t know. A search strategist is critical in order to provide monitoring results that are both wide AND deep, but most importantly, accurate.
Don’t forget to review and reload!
Unfortunately, it is far too common for communication teams to measure their output without correlating it to their outcomes and objectives. The end of a campaign isn’t to look at how many placements, retweets, or likes you gained. The end of a campaign should be when you review the outcomes relative to your goals, then modify your strategy to further improve your effectiveness on the sustained effort. Remember, communications should be viewed as a circle … a cycle that starts with a review of what happened, which lets you reload for the new and improved version of your effort. If your sustained communications effort were software, you would be developing versions 1.1, 1.2, 2.0, etc. To reload your strategy with data-influenced creativity, the measurement of your results must be truly accurate and reliable… a quality truly enhanced by professional analysts.
The Real Faces of PR Measurement
The faces of media measurement bring that understanding of methods that can’t be accounted for by software. The people behind the faces know how to watch for that anomaly that wasn’t planned for, or results that look too low or too high relative to expectations. Professional media analysts can spot something that “just doesn’t look right,” even if it meets all the technical criteria. Charity Hathaway, a Media Measurement Manager with Universal, sums up the human value by saying, “When a trained analyst reviews a story they can determine the tone and quality of that story based on the content and context as a whole. AI and machine learning struggle greatly with qualitative inferences and context of stories.”
The best insight comes from real media evaluation professionals. Potential bias excluded, I believe our measurement managers crush all fully automated measurement tools and certainly compete with the best of the other faces in the PR measurement field.
As stated near the beginning of this article, technology has truly done wonders for improving how media evaluation is performed. We can track more news from more outlets. We can instantly generate quantitative measures based on tables of current metrics. We can even instantly clean the data to provide professional analysts with the data they need to do the best analysis … but this still requires professionally trained analysts to bring reliable meaning and insights to the client.
When we compare our analysis reports to those generated by SaaS providers — or even a vendor that doesn’t follow the Barcelona Principles as outlined by the global organization for measurement, AMEC — we can see stark differences. An AMEC member will generate actionable insights for their client that:
- Shows relevance related to pre-established goals of the client.
- Identifies the outputs, outcomes, and impact of the communication strategy.
- Delivers meaning that speaks to the stakeholders or client.
- Shows real qualitative insight, in addition to quantitative measures.
- Doesn’t rely on unrelated measures, like AVEs or other vanity metrics.
- Uses a comprehensive approach to media monitoring, understanding that all media is relevant to the PR journey and each media type can impact other media.
- Incorporates the integrity and transparency of the measurement framework, allowing the client to trust and verify the legitimacy of the evaluation process.
Integrity and transparency are qualities all clients should demand from their media measurement service — qualities that “the faces” of your analysis team can replicate each time they create your insights. We love our technology, and the ability to analyze so much more data more quickly. But the value of the insight really is dependent on the people… and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. Leave a comment to add to this discussion. If you want to learn more about reliable media monitoring and measurement, give us a call or reach out by email. We love showing how we can help others.