Advocacy organizations typically face several challenges when setting up media monitoring and analysis programs. The first challenge is, as with many organizations that rely to some extent on fundraising, is how to purchase the most cost-effective monitoring solution without cutting too many corners. The next challenge is setting up a monitoring and analysis program that is sufficiently broad that it captures what is needed—but doesn’t become a burden by bringing in too much irrelevant content. The third challenge is finding the time to do the content review, analysis, and if possible also the measurement work that is necessary to benchmark activity from one year to the next.
Advocacy organizations sometimes find themselves on similar footing as nonprofit organizations. Whenever an organization receives donations to fund activities, there’s an implicit agreement made with donors that money contributed will be spent to further the cause, whether that cause is getting legislation passed or medicine to sick children. Donors don’t like to see huge sums of money going to “overhead,” which means any spending that doesn’t directly affect fundraising or meeting the needs of the cause is under scrutiny.
The key to making the right choice for a monitoring tool for any organization is to make a list of “must-haves” first, and then select the tool that best meets those needs. Free and low-cost monitoring tools are only a wise choice if they can deliver what you need; if they can’t you’re going to end up investing too much time trying to fill in the tool’s gaps in other ways—and in an advocacy organization, as a bill is moving through the legislative process is not when you want to be spending tons of time doing manual Google News searches to find articles that mention your organization or bolster your case.
So, right off the bat, make a list of what you must have in a monitoring tool. Include publications that are must-reviews, such as industry journals and governmental or policy websites. If your advocacy organization covers an industry that is based heavily in certain metropolitan areas, make sure the daily newspapers from those cities are on the list—for example, a tech industry trade association would be wise to make sure the local papers of the Bay area and Seattle are included. After you’ve listed publications, list the features that will make your life easier: things like easy-to-use templates for creating a daily briefing document, charts that show progress, and the ability to set up email news alerts are examples of capabilities you might want in a monitoring tool.
Now, armed with this list, test out and price solutions.
The “just-right” setup
Once you’ve selected a monitoring tool that has the features and benefits that you need, you’ll need to establish your searching parameters to bring in the articles and news that you need to review.
This can be a lot harder than it sounds, particularly for advocacy organizations. Considerations include determining what the balance is between monitoring for industry topics versus tracking companies that are members of an advocacy organization—this can be particularly challenging for trade associations with business members, particularly if there are a number of large companies that are members. A good way to adjust for this is to monitor for those large member companies, but tie the search queries to the issues that your advocacy group is focusing on; this will help restrict the amount of content brought in, but will also allow you to keep track of how your member companies are being mentioned on these issues independent of your organization’s efforts.
You’ll likely also need to keep track of legislative efforts that impact your advocacy organization, either within a state or across the country. And, no matter what issues your organization advocates on behalf of, there are almost always studies, industry conferences, or survey results that are published that could impact your success. You’ll need to track all of this news.
The amount that needs to be monitored by an advocacy organization is easily one of the more misunderstood aspects of advocacy work. Even if an organization’s scope is fairly narrow, there are so many different things to consider that have a direct effect on how everything from legislative work to membership recruitment can be implemented.
Content review and dissemination
With the breadth and scope of everything that should be monitored by an advocacy organization, processing this information on a daily basis can be daunting. This is particularly true if you are the individual tasked with reviewing the content and delivering a morning briefing document on it, distilling all of this information into a short and easily digestible synopsis.
With the right tool, this doesn’t have to be a Sisyphean task.
First, prioritize by topic—ask what news must be in the briefing document? During times when legislatures are in session, this might mean prioritizing the progress of bills your organization is watching, or the state or federal budget talks. Some tools provide for filtering out “simple mentions”—this allows news articles with greater keyword density to be viewed first, so that you can see the articles with the most substance first.
Next, you can also often sort by a publication’s subscription numbers or other priority filtering techniques. If there are certain keywords that are more important, articles caught mentioning those words can be reviewed first.
You should also take advantage of things like saved or custom searches that allow you to “batch” or “group” certain keywords or key phrases together. Any ways that you can easily sort and sift your results to show you the most important content first will help you to review content more quickly.
Finally, having the ability to create your briefing document within the monitoring tool can save you time too. While some organizations may want to use the internal template they have designed for branding reasons, it doesn’t hurt to ask your monitoring tool vendor if there is a way to create a customized template that can mimic an internal document—if they have the capacity to do this, it could save you valuable time when pulling together a morning report.
Storing these reports, and running quarterly summary reports with charts and other measurement will also provide benchmarking that allows an advocacy organization to chart its progress, or identify key legislative sticking points over time. This sort of ongoing measurement can be helpful in mapping out annual strategies, or providing background information when talking to members and donors.
Advocacy organizations have a lot to consider when selecting a monitoring tool, but choosing the right one can mean better information, streamlined processes, and historical benchmarking, all of which will serve the organization in the end.