Friday, September 12, 2008

PR Measurement is giving me a headache...

I've spent most of my career in marketing and lately have been concentrating on PR, which I manage for a publicly-traded company.

To say that PR and the media business have changed in the last few years is a bit like saying Bill Gates is comfortably well-off, or Neil Armstrong is a seasoned traveler, or Sarah Palin is low key; it's really hard to overstate the turmoil in the media business, and as a consequence the upheavals in PR (for a great take on how this has impacted tech publishing, see Tom Steinert-Thelkeld's blog).

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the media measurement business. I'm old enough to remember when clips really were clips: pieces of newsprint cut-out from a magazine or newspaper by some exceedingly patient, far-off reader, then painstakingly collated, annotated and mailed to me in a big bulging brown envelope. Today, almost all the news is online and much of it doesn't come from a traditional news outlet, yet most media metrics and coverage monitoring still function as if in an ink-smudged era.

For sure there's a bunch of new companies that have addressed the new media reality, and focused on social networks and brand management: Biz360, Cymfony, BuzzLogic, Vocus and RatePoint are some examples. They all essentially follow the same formula of aggregating digital news using some kind of search and filter system (you can still get the pieces of paper if you need them, but each little clip will cost you more than the newsstand price of the whole publication). The algorithms at the heart of these systems are usually based on fixed keywords (company name, ticker symbol, product names, etc.) then some additional processing based on either rudimentary rules of grammar and syntax or or a series of logical operations, and is often called natural language processing (NLP), since it tries to emulate how humans read and understand text. The results, based on my limited experiences, range from the amazing to the bizarre, and most systems need human intervention to get at subtle things like tone.

In an attempt to add value and differentiate themselves from free services like Google News, these companies also have a vast array of reports and dashboards that slice and dice data to show share-of-voice, on target messaging, competitive coverage, salience and on and on. Again, result may vary from those advertised...

Pricing does not seem to vary much: all cater to a similar audience of complex multinationals, usually in the financial services, pharma, or legal businesses, and costs are high. Or at least they seem high to me.

This complexity has spawned a lot of blogs. K.D. Paines is excellent on PR measurement, although recent posts suggest a level of complexity in getting truly comprehensive metrics that is daunting and might account for the high costs. Ed Moed has a lot of good stuff to say, too (although Ed, I think “What's so funny...” was written by Nick Lowe), and intelligent measurement has a lot to say about social media.

But at the end of the day I get a headache. It should be easy. It should be straightforward. It should be inexpensive. And it isn't. If anyone has ideas on how to crack the PR measurement problem, let me know.


Marcel LeBrun said...

I agree 100% that this should be easy, straightforward and inexpensive AND it certainly shouldn't function as if in an ink-smudged era. I'd be happy to help you with the headache, if you like.

Richard said...

Hi Ian,

What a great post clearly explaining the issues facing the PR and measurement industries.

I couldn't agree more with you, I've been in the PR profession for 20 years now, spending the first 5 or 6 working in house and at an agency and the last 14 or so running Metrica, which has now grown to become one of the world’s largest public relations and media evaluation specialist agencies.

In that time we have seen tremendous change to our industry and the demands of our clients, and we've seen a lot of new competitors like the ones that you list.

All claim to have systems that find all the coverage and then analyse it accurately. In our experience, as you point out, this is never the case.

In fact, I believe that these new companies are largely responsible for the ever increasing confusion in the PR industry on how to measure its media work.

At Metrica, we believe that online and social media are nothing to be afraid of, and in fact are just new 'media types' which should be normalised and measured in an integrated manner.

At the end of the day, when boiled down to its very basics, PR is about getting the right message to the right audience (at the right time and via the right channels). Digital media is therefore just abother channel to be embraced by the profession.

This simplified approach is the one that we take to our clients, and we keep to the front of our minds at all times that our clients are specialist communicators, not statisticians so we present the findings in easy to understand ways.

One other area of concern that is worth pointing out is the rise of companies that still do human based analysis, but outsource this work to large centres in the middle or far east and Eastern Europe. We have investigated some of these media clearing houses and found that it is impossible for their staff to understand the media coverage as well as people on the ground in the country where the coverage was generated, who are analysing it in their mother tongue. Just a thought, and another area for you to check with your vendors.

We post regularly about all areas to do with media analysis, media evaluation and social media measurement at our blog, Measurement Matters, where we would be pleased to see you. The URL is

Keep up the good work!

Best, Richard

KDPaine said...

Ian, take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning :) Seriously, I'm sorry if my blogs makes measurement sound more daunting than it is. In reality, when you've done it as long as I have (22 years) it's pretty simple, and I'd be happy to show you just how simple ( and cheap) it has become. The answer isn't automation, it's prioritizing what data you really need, and then figuring out how to get that data in the most cost-effective way possible.

Ian Bruce said...

Thanks everyone for the comments and offers of help.