In the “old days” when media analysis required a lot of manual work to clip, cull, characterize, and count every story, communications teams relied on a focused list of target publications to keep the scope (and cost) manageable. Today, with the advent of media monitoring software, automated sentiment analysis, and other tools, many organizations now “measure” every mention.
Unfortunately, this approach can deliver misleading results unless paired with Target Audience Match (TAM) metrics. Those smaller media lists that were developed in earlier eras still should play a role in your media measurement efforts. Although running an analysis of all earned media coverage can still be useful, it’s important to drill down into how well your coverage aligns with your targeted markets.
For example, at CustomScoop we serve several different markets. Public relations professionals represent our bread-and-butter, but we also ably serve marketers and other communicators. For us, then, coverage in PR-centric publications holds greater value than a mention in a comparably sized marketing outlet. That doesn’t mean we don’t like the marketing mentions — we do! — but as we assess our earned media coverage we want to emphasize our efforts in the target market that we know provides the best match for our sales team.
It’s not just us. I currently volunteer as the President of the American University Alumni Association. As a large higher education institution, AU garners lots of media coverage for a wide variety of reasons. As an institution, every mention matters to one degree or another. But for an organization that large, the measurement needs to be focused on specific purposes to hold real value.
In 2014, for example, the absolute volume of media coverage for AU is likely to be larger, in no small part due to the appearance of the AU Men’s Basketball team in the NCAA Tournament. Since that’s not an annual occurrence, that volume doesn’t get baked into annual metrics. While it certainly expands total potential reach and other absolute metrics, the nature of that coverage (largely on sports pages) indicates that it may be good for general awareness and undergraduate admissions, but perhaps not as well targeted when trying to influence higher ed colleagues who may be more focused on their own institutions’ March Madness progress. Conversely, a mention in the Chronicle of Higher Education should help with reaching those colleagues, but likely has little to no impact on high school guidance counselors.
That’s why Target Audience Match matters. The simplest way to achieve this is to work from a list of targeted publications. Of course, that relies on starting with a comprehensive list — something much more challenging to achieve when everyone can be a publisher. The alternative is to code all of your stories/sources based on how well they match the audience you’re trying to reach with your media relations efforts. This latter approach may require more work, but it also allows you to cast a wider net and potentially improve your overall analysis. For example, at CustomScoop we might have tiers within our TAM assessment with PR publications at the top, marketing a rung down the ladder, other business publications one more step down, and general media coverage below that.
As with most media measurement approaches, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. What works for smaller companies like CustomScoop may not be a good model for Coca-Cola. How you define and use your Target Audience Match metrics must be tailored to your own needs, but it needs to be incorporated in some form to keep your communications program on track.