In my last article, I made an unflattering reference to the Spice Girls and expected to be flamed in the comments section from Spice Girls fans. Or at least by David Beckham. Oh, wait. There aren’t any Spice Girls fans anymore.
But back to my point. In my prior article, Part One, a “For Immediate Release” podcast (and call-in) discussion got me thinking about “what I really, really want” out of a monitoring service. There are many good ones out there who will capture information – the sort of information that lies under rocks, and a few will actually pre-sort the wheat from the chaff and provide useful information. But in 15 years in the public relations agency side, one and a half on the client side and a nascent consulting business, I have never, EVER seen anyone do measurement right.
I bow at the Altar of Katie Payne, who to me, figured out the public relations answers long before any of us knew the questions. What is the burr under my monitoring saddle is the fact that most agencies continue to digest and regurgitate the worst possible statistic: “impressions.”
What are “impressions,” you might ask?
- At one agency, we said that it was circulation times 2.9, accounting for “pass alongs.”
- At another agency, I was told that their measuring stick was 2.5. It just was.
- At another, impressions were circulation statistics.
Know what? Like all of the Spice Girls, the above just STINK.
The first rule of managing up in any job is that you never offer up a problem without a solution, so here you go: If you want to know what you “really, really want,” it’s not impressions, it is “messages communicated.”
Again, this is attributed to Katie Paine, but she are I are in violent agreement about this topic. When an agency measures impressions and presents them proudly “You garnered 73 million impressions last quarter,” I pull out my knife. What impressions does NOT measure is:
- Was your article on A1 above the fold, or right across from the obituaries?
- Were your key messages in the article?
- Where did your key messages appear in the article? In the headline, the sub-head or the first paragraph? Otherwise, the chances that they were read and understood decrease by 50 percent.
What Doesn’t Stink
Again, I encourage everyone who reads this to pick up a copy of Katie’s book, “Measuring Public Relationships,” about measuring messages received in a much more powerful statistic – and one that very few technologies or agencies provide.
Here’s the deal. Usually a human being, and less often, a piece of software, need to read the article, determine how many pre-defined messages appear in the article and give weight to each. For example, let’s say that you are analyzing a piece that has messages from your point of view and those opposing you. Fair and balanced, right?
Not so much. I wish I could have counted the number of times that I have been called by the press for the “obligatory quote,” the one that usually appears at the bottom of the article that says “Mark Story, a spokesperson for Company XYZ, said that all of the above is crap.”
That quote, although it is a message communicated, is not equal to those that appear above it. So if your agency is measuring messages communicated, the score might be Them = 3, Us = 1. BUT – and this is a big BUT – if your competing messages appear higher in the article and are more favorable to the other point of view, they count more. People don’t read entire articles anymore.
I have often wondered by more organizations don’t use this golden statistic of messages communicated – and even better cost per messages communicated – but I don’t want to steal too much of Katie Paine’s gems. The best analogy that I can leave you with is window-shopping vs. buying. Can you imagine this conversation?
Retail store boss: Yo – Schmendrick! How many of those dresses in the display window did you sell today?
Retail store flunkie: We didn’t sell any, boss, but the great news is that 547 people walked past, saw it and MAY have considered purchasing the dress!
Sound ridiculous? The equivalent of this happens every day in thousands of companies when touching on media measurement.
“Messages communicated.” It’s what I want. What I really, really, want.
Mark Story is a part-time, adjunct professor at Georgetown University, Director of New Media at the SEC in Washington, D.C and writes the “Intersection of Online and Offline” blog. Coincidentally, he hates crappy measurement. Prior to the government, Mark worked for 15 years in some of the largest online public relations shops in the world. Follow him on Twitter at mstory123.