Media monitoring has changed substantially from when I first started doing public affairs work. When I worked as a legislative aide in a state senator’s office in Missouri, we’d receive a packet of photocopied articles every morning—a team of early risers stashed somewhere in a basement office at the capitol building would pore over the morning editions of the state’s newspapers and painstakingly cut out articles, tape them to photocopy paper, and then distribute them to Senate offices.
It was a laborious process, and depending on how much news there was on any given day, the clips would arrive anywhere from around 9 a.m., to much later in the day. These were the days of Compuserve and dial-up connections, and the internet was not yet a household word. Google did not yet exist (!), and if you wanted to visit a website, you had to know exactly what the URL was.
Within a few years, the internet had exploded in size, it was easier to access and search made it possible to find articles you never would have even known about—or found out about too late—previously.
Search and Online Monitoring
To say that search and online monitoring changed how PR professionals do their jobs is an understatement. It radically redefined almost every aspect of a PR pro’s toolbox: you had to know how to use search effectively to find articles, but you also needed to understand search to write and pitch pieces that would be found.
Online monitoring meant that articles could be found in a more timely fashion, meaning you found articles while they were still news and not yet part of the historical record (this is only slightly snarky, as it was not uncommon to receive clips in clip packets that were a week or more old). There isn’t much you can do in the way of “rapid response” when you’re reacting to something that happened more than a week ago. Although online monitoring also meant that news spread more quickly, the volume sometimes made relevant information difficult to find.
Media monitoring services designed to find news quickly and efficiently then came on the scene, enabling PR professionals to have the information they need delivered to them—with one exception.
There are still some publications that are either completely print-only, or they carry different versions and content on their online properties versus their print publications, or their online content is paywalled and not likely to appear elsewhere (some industry-specific publications and trade or medical journals, for example). While print-only publications are not that common, they can be of particular importance for some clients.
Furthermore, print continues to play an important role internationally, as there are still a lot of publications that aren’t fully online. Any company that is looking to expand overseas, has employees or clients who are abroad, or PR firms that represent interests in multiple locations should investigate and be aware of the role that print media plays in each of their target markets.
Whenever a PR firm is in the happy position of working with a new client and media monitoring is part of the equation, it’s wise to spend some time on a publication audit. Learning which publications are important to the client before a monitoring service is selected is a good idea—it can be time consuming and potentially expensive to sign on to a monitoring service on behalf of a client, only to discover that the service doesn’t search a particular publication important to the client. It’s even worse to discover that the publication does have an online presence, but the service doesn’t search them nor can it be added—which means you’ll need to manually review that content every day to avoid missing something important.
For some clients, particularly those in niche fields like medical and pharmaceutical, it’s unlikely that supplemental monitoring of print will ever go completely away. Along with the international considerations outlined above, you may need to have a print monitoring budget as well as an automated, and determine how you will translate this data for quick and consistent measurement. This is why it’s critical to determine at the beginning of a monitoring program if online only will be sufficient to meet client needs—and if not, to what extent additional print monitoring will be necessary.