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The complete guide to media monitoring

The complete guide to media monitoring

Everything we’ve learned over the past 15 years about media monitoring, from why you need it, to how it works, what to pay for it, and the golden rules to follow when building your solution.


What is media monitoring?

There’s nothing new about the concept of media monitoring. Since written newssheets were first produced in 16th century Italy, people have competed to be the first in the know. The earliest clippings services emerged in London in 1852, in response to artists’ demand to read their own reviews. L’Argus de la presse, founded in Paris by Alfred Cherie three decades later, made an industry out of locating newspaper mentions for clients.

Since those days, organisations from businesses and governments to charities have embraced the idea. They use media monitoring to understand what their customers, constituents, and donors – past, present, and future – think about them. The principle being, if you know what’s being said you can join, and influence, the conversation.

Media monitoring allows you to track mentions of your brand, products, and services across all media outlets, including print media, online news, broadcast, blogs, forums and social networks. It empowers communications professionals with the tools to understand how far their press release has travelled, what earned media they’ve generated as well as any critical voices that may pose a risk to positive brand awareness.

A comprehensive media monitoring tool can trawl for any content relevant to you, your company, industry, and competition, keeping you one step ahead of the news flow and preventing you and your boss from any nasty surprises.

What is media monitoring?

The 21st century has birthed an altogether more sophisticated approach than those early scrap books full of cuttings. Media monitoring software can now deliver a holistic view of media mentions, encompassing artificial intelligence, machine learning and sentiment and image analysis. All of which makes for a service companies can use to enhance, or defend, their brand reputation.

Media monitoring can achieve this in a number of ways. Better understanding of target audiences enables agile PR solutions and the creation of positive earned media. Identifying each critical mention means these may be diverted or rebutted, and the commentator won over. Social media monitoring flags and maps casual mentions and trending stories from online conversations. Establishing sympathetic media contacts allows organisations to feed positive stories into the mix.

At its most efficient, media monitoring and analysis helps organisations identify potentially damaging issues. It can predict where and when they might occur, and the length of the negative news cycle. This allows agile businesses to avert, or at least contain, the effects of any bad press.

The result: proactive, rather than reactive, communications strategies. The holy grail for any PR professional.

Why is media monitoring important?

Knowledge is power – or at least, influence. Public relations isn’t just about what you are saying to your target audience. The clue’s in the name – it’s a relationship, a two-way street, and any PR pro worth their salary will want to know what is being said about their organisation, by whom, and in what context.

Media monitoring is important because it gives you an ear to listen into the conversation. The most comprehensive monitoring services will also tell you what your competition is doing and saying, and where your sector as a whole is heading. Are there trends you want to tie yourself to, or disasters you’d rather be distanced from? If you don’t know about them, then you can’t react, and will find that industry commentators, rather than your communications team, is setting the agenda for your organisation.

Media monitoring is important because without it, your brand reputation is out of your hands. Media monitoring also has value in measuring the true value of your communications strategy. Without tracking the reactions to their output, the PR team can’t know how effective individual campaigns are. They can’t see where the successes lie, or learn from their mistakes.

Why you need a media monitoring service

In a world where every quote can become a headline in moments, effective media monitoring lets you stay on top of the news cycle, and manage your reaction to it. In a world where your stakeholders are hyper-connected, the number of channels through which they are influenced and their opinions expressed grows with each new blog or Twitter feed. Handling that volume of content would take all – and more – of even the best-staffed communications team’s resources.

Enter media monitoring tools. These can sift through the noise to target relevant content and present it in an easy to digest format. The resulting report can be tailored to departments, and even individuals within your organisation. Media monitoring tools can scan print journalism, from front page news to columnists’ opinions; sift through blogs and online news sites; follow every relevant social media feed, and use voice-to-text applications to turn TV and radio into digestible bullet points. Media analysis applications enable volume and sentiment tracking, share of voice analysis, key message penetration and many more media metrics.

If you need to know what’s being said about your organisation – and we’ve established that you should do – then you need a media monitoring service. In addition, it will allow you to respond to stakeholders in a considered, authentic way that will connect with their specific priorities. It should, therefore, form part of your reputation management activities.

Why you need a media monitoring service

Media monitoring can also help you mitigate risk by getting in front of a bad news storm before it becomes overwhelming. If you are aware of the media mentions your suppliers, customers and competitors receive, you’re in a better position to mitigate risks relating to them, and understand external perceptions of them too.

In short, media monitoring supports everything from sales to the PR and comms function, risk management, marketing strategy and crisis management.

In short, media monitoring gives you oversight of the full range of media coverage accrued by a business.

Here are 5 of the most important reasons why you need a media monitoring service

  1. Media monitoring connects you to target audiences: Different stakeholder groups are accessible via different media channels and some voices are more important than others. Social media monitoring will give you a grasp of what consumers and potential customers feel about the business. Shareholders will be more interested in reporting by the financial press. Broadcast media is likely to reach the wider community. All channels need to be monitored to understand how all its stakeholders feel about an organisation.
  2. Media monitoring builds better communications strategies: By giving you oversight of the response to public relations and communications, media monitoring enables you to measure their effectiveness. When you are able to see in real time how your target audience, and potential customers, are reacting to your posts and press releases, it enables you to emphasise successful messaging, and also to amend and redirect those not hitting the mark.
  3. Media monitoring aids crisis avoidance and management: Tracking the news cycle surrounding your organisation can give you an important insight into impending crises – allowing you to avoid or at least mitigate the fallout. With real time media monitoring in place, the comms team can see whether the business or industry as a whole is heading for a PR crisis.
  4. Media monitoring lets you track your competitors: Tracking media mentions for the industry will help you to understand what other organisations are doing in terms of marketing, product, and service development, and staying ahead of their own competitors – including you. It can track what competitors’ clients are saying, giving you the edge in offering better solutions for their needs.
  5. Media monitoring supports your reputation: Reputation and internal reality can often be miles apart, and without media monitoring, it’s hard for businesses to understand how they are perceived outside the walls of their HQ. Using tools including social listening, businesses can pick up on levels of brand awareness and the sentiment surrounding their products or behaviours, which in turn feeds into their brand or company reputation.

So how does media monitoring work?

Today’s media monitoring software has travelled light years beyond cut-and-paste clip gathering. The ideal is to cut through the noise, discard the irrelevant and retain anything of worth pertaining to your organisation.

The latest generation of media monitoring software has the capacity to audit millions of pieces of content, making it equal to scanning the 24/7 news cycle in addition to constant social scrolling.

Using natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI), all types of content can be scanned to pinpoint specific issues.

Speech-to-text technology, for example, is used to translate audio broadcasts into written text, allowing for digitisation. This level of rigour ensures that no meaningful mention of a topic or brand is missed.

The most advanced media monitoring services use artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to trawl for and analyse relevant coverage. Semantic analysis and natural language processing pinpoint keywords. Sentiment analysis and machine translation meanwhile, can identify tone of voice. Specific imagery can also be identified. Real-time insight into an organisation’s media coverage, as well as on demand analytics of emerging stories, are the realm of AI.

So how does media monitoring work?

The application of machine learning has greatly advanced the capacity of media monitoring to offer a nuanced understanding of the content being scanned. Social listening is only useful if the programme can translate the text-speak shorthand it’s being required to digest. Language pattern matching is used to help the programme to identify and categorise the words and phrases it comes across. It has freed media monitoring from reliance on complicated strings of Boolean logic.

Machine learning is also employed to help the programme understand which types of articles are most relevant to both the business and user that is receiving the service. This steps away from rules-based selection and introduces a more fluid, training-based comprehension, to create a less binary, more ‘human’ interpretation of the content. The result is greater relevance and customisation of content to an individual’s unique preference, rather than a one-size-fits-all company-level solution.

However, one of the key differentiators between competing media monitoring solutions is the human factor. The use of advanced technology and AI does not obviate the need for human involvement, and the most accurate and useful services will include the input of living industry experts who can verify and translate the findings to make them meaningful for the client. This represents the difference between an off-the-shelf, machine-only product, and one that is designed with the user’s needs held front of mind.

A comprehensive media monitoring tool includes close contact between the human editors and the end user – a concierge service that helps to tailor the output to the client’s needs. This ensures an agile, relevant and internally nuanced solution, which is kept current with the client’s evolving needs.

The human element also means someone being contactable 24/7 – to discuss what content is expected to come up, how it should be handled and who should receive it. It’s the reassurance of knowing that someone who has written about an industry for 15 years is responsible for conveying the nuance of an article when summarising it and when the end recipient will be senior management.

What does a media monitoring service cost?

As with any service in today’s economy, media monitoring comes in a range of, increasingly expensive, options. There are free or low-cost applications (such as Google Alerts) that use a broad brush to highlight news stories mentioning your organisation.

Then come the paid-for tools which the comms team can use to monitor the news cycle with varying degrees of sophistication and highlight anything you might need to know.

And then there are premium services, which offer not just media monitoring, but in-depth analysis and real-time reporting. These can deliver exactly what you need to know, when you need to know it – and also explain why you need to know it.

Here are some of the questions which you should consider when scoping your monitoring service:

  1. Which sources do I need?: Despite the increased proliferation of paywalled sites, online coverage is generally good value for money. It provides a good blanket reach of the majority of stories if you’re not looking for exhaustive coverage. If you need print monitoring and broadcast monitoring, these will often result in higher costs, but with a greater guarantee of comprehensiveness.
    It’s important to reflect on this price-comprehensiveness trade-off. Likewise, certain titles – like the Wall Street Journal – are only available from a small pool of officially licensed providers such as alva. So if you have key titles, make sure you ask your provider if they are covered.
  2. Local or international?: Linked to the above, multi-country, multi-language services will frequently result in higher costs. This is especially so in regions where there is a single supplier that can charge a premium.
    Here you should seek your media monitoring provider’s advice on the media landscape in each market. They should help you assess whether there is a good online coverage which can be more cost-effectively incorporated into the service rather than paying for additional print and broadcast monitoring.
  3. Who and what am I tracking?: While most monitoring services will start with the client company or brand, there are a number of additional entities that can be invaluable to track. For example, key competitor activity, evolving industry issues (especially risks) and journalist or NGO activity.
    Each of these entities can have different thresholds sets to ensure coverage is manageable and cost-effective.
  4. Have I factored in licensing costs?: There are a number of different copyright providers operating in individual markets, and each has a different approach to licensing and copyright costs.
    By and large, the responsibility (and cost) of the licensing sits with the end user (the client). It’s therefore important that this is factored into the budget to avoid unwelcome surprises. Again, a good media monitoring provider should be able to guide and advise you.
  5. Push or pull?: Self-serviced automated monitoring platforms abound and are generally a cheaper option. Many of these will have allow PR professionals to read and share content from the platforms or to set up automated alerts. If you or your team has the time, this can be a good entry level solution, enabling you to compile your own morning digests and share with the rest of the company.
    For larger, higher volume and more complex briefs this can be too much work. Managed editorial summary services are available to take the hassle out of putting together the morning newsletter and to save time.
  6. Who’s my audience?: Automated services are a good value option if the objective is for the communications team to be alerted to new coverage.
    For many of alva’s clients, there is also the need for the clippings service to be shared across the wider business, including senior leadership. Here, the morning monitoring service also acts as a shop window onto the work on the comms team. It is therefore vital that the solution is timely and accurate, reflecting the quality of the team that has commissioned it. In this instance, it is worth considering paying for a fully editorial managed service to ensure that these high standards are met 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  7. What’s the provider’s pricing model?: It’s not always a case of you get what you pay for, however. We’d strongly recommend a single, negotiated fee for your media monitoring service.
    Paying by the clip can result in spiralling costs during heavy news days – increasing the pain of every critical mention and taking the shine of all positive reporting. Pay-as-you-clip services also encourage unscrupulous providers to include less relevant mentions in order to charge the client more, even when the story is largely useless from a PR perspective


Choosing your media monitoring provider: the golden rules

Once you’ve realised that you can’t afford to be without a media monitoring service, aim to engage the best provider you can afford – bearing in mind that ‘best’ doesn’t have to mean ‘most expensive’. Each organisation’s needs are different, but when choosing between media monitoring companies, follow these seven golden rules:

  1. Make your provider accountable: Your business has KPIs, and so should your media monitoring service. Hold your provider to account on whether the content is delivered on time – and in time, in the case of breaking stories. Make sure important clips aren’t being missed. Quantify the relevance of selected stories and the accuracy of summaries.
  2. Have a flexible brief: Your monitoring requirements will change depending on given events and coverage, and your brief should be equally flexible. Maintain an ongoing dialogue with your provider on what works for you. And demand a ‘concierge service’ which tailors itself to the demands of the day.
  3. Fix the fee: Variable pricing is an industry sting, meaning ‘double punishment’ on a bad news day and penalties for positive coverage. Fixed pricing allows you to amend your service without counting the cost.
  4. Consolidate channels: Don’t view individual channels as content silos and monitor them separately. Digitisation has made monitoring in a single stream easy. It also helps you understand how each channel feeds into the conversation.
  5. Get real-time alerts: You need the news as it breaks, so ask for more than a daily round-up. Real-time can have a broad definition so be clear on what your provider can actually offer.
  6. Filter the noise: When the news is always on, content overload is unavoidable. Ask your service provider to surface the fraction that matters to you, and to present it in a digestible format.
  7. Identify the audience: Use interactive monitoring and content filtering to customise content for departments and individual users. This gives everyone tailored content as they need it.

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