The rise of digital media has dramatically changed what companies need and demand from their public relations teams: round-theclock monitoring of a brand’s reputation across all mediums, regular insights about how well the company and its industry are performing and proof that the money spent on public relations is a wise investment.
ROI in public relations? Say it isn’t so! Doesn’t a front page story in The Wall Street Journal speak for itself? Isn’t a mention on the “Today” show pure gold? Can anyone really put a price tag on publicity and goodwill? Can’t we just chat about the campaign over drinks and dinner?
Sharing industry gossip and schmoozing aren’t dead. But public relations professionals who think they’re enough may find themselves displaced by agencies that are providing solid proof of their effectiveness. Now that accurate monitoring tools are available, brands place greater trust in carefully acquired statistics that demonstrate impact above and beyond mere mentions.
Monetary Value of Monitoring Tools
Research and metrics-driven public relations agencies rise above the rest. Global public relations agencies such as Weber Shandwick and Edelman Berland grab headlines because of their stellar client lists and creative campaigns (Weber Shandwick landed Barbie on Sports Illustrated’s 55th anniversary cover on behalf of client Mattel), but both companies say they owe part of their success to monitoring tools and the analytics they produce for clients.
Weber, ranked #4 on Advertising Age’s 2015 Agency A-List, attributed much of its 30% increase in digital revenue in 2014 to content from its digital publishing group and heavy investment in data and analytics, according to a January 2015 article in Ad Age.1
“Certainly the content play put us in the consideration set for lots of business with new and existing clients,” Andy Polansky, CEO of Weber Shandwick, told Ad Age, in explaining how it added new assignments from 17 of its top 30 clients and won two-thirds of its new-business pitches.
Novartis, for example, hired Weber a few years ago to tackle traditional PR functions, but in 2013 expanded Weber’s duties to include digital content and social media for Excedrin.
“The thing I was impressed most with was their analytics,” Ernesto Levy, vice president of marketing for Novartis Americas, told Ad Age. “The promise of digital is I’m able to execute something and within a week I read what’s working and what’s not and optimize on the fly.” Levy credited Weber with a “drastic” increase in website traffic and higher search engine results for Excedrin.
Monitoring tools also helped Weber prove that its controversial Sports Illustrated cover paid off for Mattel—Barbie sales rose for the first time in 33 weeks and swimsuit-clad Barbies sold out in a week.
Edelman Berland similarly used research and monitoring tools to predict and measure the success of a marriage awareness campaign for the government of Singapore. A funny video of a woman’s eulogy for her husband was inspired by research showing that Singaporeans were not so much reluctant to marry as they were hoping to find the perfect mate. Monitoring tools proved that the message was well-received, according to Johnson Hui, a senior research manager at Edelman Berland.
“Research is no longer a nice to have value-added to brands, but an indispensable component of any successful communications campaign,” he wrote on the Edelman blog.2
Cost Effective Monitoring Tools Give Competitive Edge
The growing need for comprehensive and reliable analytics presents both a challenge—and opportunity—for smaller PR agencies. It’s virtually impossible for them to monitor traditional, digital, social and emerging media for multiple clients with their own resources. And it’s cost prohibitive to develop an in-house software system and hire staff to operate and pull meaningful metrics from them.
Nature of the coverage
Drivers behind positive and negative coverage
Exclusivity of coverage
Breakdown of media types
Media monitoring tools developed and managed by outside companies can help small and mid-size public relations agencies compete with larger competitors. Software can handle such mundane tasks as producing earned media reports to providing comprehensive analytics of a PR campaign. They identify placements so PR pros don’t waste time flipping through newspapers or annoying reporters with “Is it published yet?” phone calls.
More important, monitoring tools can run 24/7 to track metrics, from tonality or outlet prominence, to mentions or the drivers behind positive and negative coverage. And the best monitoring tools cover media of all types, including newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, online and social media.
Media monitoring tools can also be customized to analyze and address the specific needs of individual clients. For example, one client may consider anything less than The New York Times a secondtier placement, another is more concerned about placements in the regional daily where her company is based, and another values articles in trade publications more highly than those in mainstream media. Tools can rank by publication prestige, circulation or client preference.
Tools Help PR Agencies Collaborate with Marketers or Expand Their Own Services
Monitoring tools amass very detailed analysis of digitally published pieces—and reader behavior. They quickly and accurately answer such questions as:
Was the article an exclusive, a mention, a review or a feature?
Where was the article placed?
What were key message pickups?
Was a company spokesperson quoted? Noted?
Were competitors quoted?
Was the overall tone positive or negative?
How did coverage align with key messages of the PR campaign?
How successful was the campaign?
“Monitoring tools quantify success in ways clients easily understand,” said Tom Layer; divisional vice president of sales, customer engagement team for PR Newswire. “If you can say, 82% of coverage came from top-tier publications, 62% used direct quotes, only 50% of publications picked up most of the campaign messages…these are numbers that have meaning to a client’s marketing and sales departments.”3
Monitoring tools—and the data derived from them—can help PR agencies create alliances with their clients’ marketing and advertising departments. With early alerts as to who is picking up stories, marketers can find out how many readers click to a company’s website from a placed article and track behavior on its site.
Did readers of an article in The New York Times stay on site and visit more pages than readers who visited fromThe Wall Street Journal? Did readers of a tech blog make more purchases than readers of general interest publications? Did a tweet from Guy Kawasaki or an infographic shared on a client’s Facebook page produce more website traffic? Insights such as these can influence marketing efforts and PR campaigns.
Monitoring Tools Ease Crisis Management
No public relations agency, no matter how powerful, can control a brand’s message. Once upon a time, PR professionals could wine and dine or provide exclusive interviews to build relationships and influence reporters, editors, publishers and producers. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it worked a lot of the time. Today, anyone with a significant number of social media followers can help or harm a brand’s reputation.
Speed matters in handling a crisis, says Jay Baer, author of The New York Times bestselling book Youtility. The marketing consultant says that a company that can’t get a video of its CEO up within four hours of a crisis isn’t properly prepared.4
Monitoring tools can help speed response to issues by acting as an early warning system. Whether a calamitous event was first reported on TV, radio or Instagram, it can swiftly expand in social media.5 Social media monitoring can be used to avoid issues that might, sooner or later, turn into a crisis. When a PR agency knows that talk about its client has turned negative, it can take control of the situation on the client’s platforms.
“Let people vent on a venue you control,” Baer advised. “Whether it’s your Facebook page, blog, forum or comments section on your Crisis FAQ microsite, you want ire to accumulate on your turf.”6
Pfizer is an example of a company that uses social media primarily for reputation management so that when a crisis arises—and something always does in the pharmaceutical industry—they have a receptive audience for their side of the story.
“Reputation is based on what you do and how you talk about it,” Brenna Robinson, director of global reputation, media relations and digital strategy at Pfizer, said in a January 2015 interview with Forbes.com. She said Pfizer pitches no products in social media.
“We’re able to reach people in a new and different way.”7
“Listening” Tools Help PR Agencies Identify Issues— and Opportunities
It’s critical in today’s hyper-paced media climate for a PR agency to know what’s being said about their clients. Did Conan make fun of a company in his monologue (and was it good-natured or biting?) How many newspapers picked up that somewhat snarky article about a CEO? How did radio station callers react when a morning drive-time DJ blamed a restaurant for his dangerously high cholesterol levels? And are people talking about these issues in social media?
Monitoring, or listening, tools pick up all of these types of mentions and assess their importance. Bad press about a client’s competitor may also affect a client’s reputation. If subjects in a scientific study on childhood obesity drank a specific soft drink, the results of the study could impact any soft drink brand. But perhaps the study said good things about sugary drinks but was unlikely to get publicity because it was published in a minor journal. Tools could give a PR agency (and its client) a heads-up about the study so they could deftly manage media attention to it.
Monitoring Tools Help Public Relations Professionals Prove True Worth to Brands
Companies expect more from their PR agencies and more easily terminate those that under-perform. In 1984, the average clientagency relationship lasted 7.2 years. This shrunk to 5.3 years in 1997 and is less than 3 years today, according to the American Association of Advertising Agencies.8
Tools help distinguish between perceived and actual influencers. The influence of traditional media has declined in each of the past three years, according to research by the Institute of Public Relations.9 Maybe a client doesn’t need The Wall Street Journal placement he covets. For another, it might cement his brand reputation in a way no other form of media could.
Properly used, monitoring tools can help a public relations agency educate their clients and themselves, and strengthen an agency’s ties with its clients. They can bolster an agency’s claims or help them recover from missteps. An agency can stop spending money on the effort to gain coverage that doesn’t align with client needs. A well-informed PR agency can prove it both understands—and concretely supports—a client’s bottom line.
“The promise of digital is I’m able to execute something and within a week I read what’s working and what’s not and optimize on the fly.”
— ERNESTO LEVY
VICE PRESIDENT OF MARKETING NOVARTIS AMERICAS
Monitoring tools—and the data derived from them—can help PR agencies create alliances with their clients’ marketing and advertising departments.
“Let people vent on a venue you control,” Baer advised. “Whether it’s your Facebook page, blog, forum or comments section on your Crisis FAQ microsite, you want ire to accumulate on your turf.”
— Jay Baer, author of Youtility
Monitoring tools can help a public relations agency educate their clients and themselves, and strengthen an agency’s ties with its clients.
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1. Ad Age, “Ad Age’s 2015 Agency A-List,” January 26, 2015
2. Edelman, “How I See PR Through a Research Lens,” April 22, 2014
3. Tom Layer, Divisional Vice President Sales, Customer Engagement Team, PR Newswire, interview, January 27, 2015
4. Jay Baer, author of Youtility, interview, February 2, 2015
5. Brand Watch, “5 Reasons Why Social Media Monitoring is Essential From a PR Perspective,” Ruxandra Mindruta, July 22, 2013
7. Forbes.com, “Reputation Management With Digital And Social Media,” Jason Bloomberg, January 29, 2015
8. American Association of Advertising Agencies, Survey of Client-Agency Relationship, 2013
9. Institute of Public Relations, Examining How Social and Other Emerging Media Are Being Used in Public Relations, Donald K. Wright and Michelle Hinson, July 22, 2014