November 20, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Putting the pieces together: “synthesists” vs “analysts”

Putting the pieces together: “synthesists” vs “analysts”

One of the most fundamentally valuable roles that a human analyst plays in the media intelligence world is that of synthesizing disparate bits of information into a cohesive whole.

Putting my Word Nerd cap on, it’s helpful to look at the dictionary definitions of “analysis” and “synthesis” to see what I’m getting at here:

Analysis is defined as: “1. the separating of any material or abstract entity into its constituent elements; 2. this process as a method of studying the nature of something or of determining its essential features and their relations; 3. a presentation, usually in writing, of the results of this process.”

Synthesis is defined as: “1. the combining of the constituent elements of separate material or abstract entities into a single or unified entity; 2. a complex whole formed by combining.”

The Gathering Process

Most of the gathering process in modern media monitoring is done by computers. A monitoring tool scours an array of accessible content and delivers it to a platform or dashboard for your review. These programs also can layer additional information on top of the raw data: automated sentiment, for example, along with any other additional information it can parse or glean from the originating source.

A monitoring platform can often provide data on where a particular news item or blog post originated (by country or state), what the readership or viewership of a news or television outlet is, and can even provide the approximate gender mix of an audience on a social platform. All of these pieces of information may be valuable to the end user in and of themselves. And, taking the above definition of analysis, “separating” this media material “into its constituent elements” is exactly what is being done. A mass of collected data is being parsed into chunks of information.

Reporting and the human value-add

When clients decide to retain human analysts in addition to subscribing to a software platform, they are usually looking for something more than the direct data that a platform provides. Either they are looking for someone who can make editorial decisions on what is important, or they are looking for someone who can take separate elements and present a bigger picture with insight added.

Editorial judgment

Taking raw data and making editorial choices, such as deciding which articles to highlight, saves time. This is the primary function that drives the decisions in an executive news briefing. A human reviews a larger volume of content, and then determines which items to include based on a sometimes complex list of criteria. When reviewing the content, the analyst is making judgment calls on each piece included. He or she knows what is important for the end user to see and read on a daily or weekly basis, and importantly, the analyst makes calls like “this journalist normally writes critical pieces about the client, but this one is positive,” or simply understanding that “this piece highlights the client’s CSR efforts—which they decided to push at the last shareholder meeting, so this should figure prominently in the briefing document.”

Synthesizing data for reports

Analysts can and often do go deeper than making editorial calls, particularly subject matter experts with deep industry knowledge. When analysts review media content through the lens of an industry specialist, they can make connections between what they are reviewing, what they know about the industry as a whole, and other pieces of information. When these pieces of data are pulled together and the additional information is layered in, valuable insights emerge.

It is the pulling together, or synthesis of the information, that is valuable to the client. At this level, a client is receiving information that really is more than the sum of its separate parts.

For example, an analyst who specializes in the energy industry can take a series of news articles about regional exploration activities, review it, and then place a layer of historical context over the discussion—say, by adding references to issues raised previously, or if the economic conditions in a country had any bearing on the ability to get permits to explore. The analyst can then also note any social media activity surrounding the issue, and provide further context as to how that might impact media coverage, and again provide historical context—was social media a factor in this particular country previously, for example—and so on. The client is receiving the benefit of having a human combine current and historical data with an understanding of the industry.

The ability to look forwards and backwards and provide insight into the raw media content that is collected is where human analysts really shine.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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