PUBLIC RELATIONS: On the right track - Tracking media coverage can tell you a lot about your company and brand, writes Andy Fry

Clients are starting to realise that the most important aspect of their marketing function may be the one they have least control over - the opinions of the media. But new technology that enables them to track and evaluate their media coverage may be the answer to their problems.

Clients are starting to realise that the most important aspect of

their marketing function may be the one they have least control over -

the opinions of the media. But new technology that enables them to track

and evaluate their media coverage may be the answer to their


Paul Georgiou, managing director of media analyst Impacon, which deals

with clients such as the BBC, BUPA and the Halifax, says: ’For some

companies, the impact of editorial can be higher than advertising, so

it’s ironic that vast sums are spent on advertising and not on PR.’

Georgiou says the issue is not simply about creating effective PR. ’We

don’t just do message tracking. The PR function only influences 20%-30%

of coverage.’

Media Track offers a similar service to clients that include British

Airways, BT, Visa and Midland Bank. Managing director Nicholas Grant

says: ’The essential purpose is to determine the strengths and

weaknesses in a client’s coverage. All of our research is customised

according to client specifications, which we help them construct. There

is no good or reliable off-the-peg data in this business.’

While powerful computer software is making the business ever more

sophisticated, clients still seem hesitant about media evaluation’s

value as a marketing tool.

At CARMA International, another international media analyst, managing

director, Europe, Sandra Macleod, says: ’Our figures show that 86% of

companies say they believe evaluation is necessary yet less than 15%

commit themselves to it. This gulf needs to be bridged.’

Lack of commitment

Macleod talks of a ’widespread lack of understanding of the benefits of

media evaluation’, which is a ’major factor in the reluctance to commit

budget to it’.

CARMA combats the resistance to media evaluation by inviting clients to

’start small and see what you get out of it. We will evaluate a campaign

review or the response to an AGM. Once started, we find that brand

managers lap up our information’.

Georgiou says the media is the most difficult area to evaluate, which is

why it was the last to be analysed. ’A myriad of factors from

journalists’ idiosyncratic sentence structures to political bias don’t

lend themselves to formal analysis.’ This complexity is exacerbated by

what he describes as the poor quality work which is often presented by

companies as media analysis.

Grant agrees: ’Media evaluation can give fantastic results but there are

a lot of cowboys around. Clients are right to exhibit a degree of

sensible and well-placed scepticism.’

Having quick access to relevant media is a crucial requirement, so

finding an evaluation company linked to a news gathering organisation

may be an advantage. The Broadcast Monitoring Company, which is part of

FT Information, can access a global online news database.

Given the right tools, media evaluation can be very enlightening.

Impacon, for example, conducted a joint media analysis/market research

study with BMRB which looked at how closely public perceptions of BT

matched media judgements found in 6000 articles published over a two- to

three-year period. ’The correlation between what the media and the

public were saying was 70%,’ says Georgiou. ’We were astonished when you

consider that at that time they were spending a lot on advertising as


A matter of opinion

Macleod, whose clients at CARMA include American Express, IBM,

McDonald’s and United Distillers, cites similar examples. CARMA’s

research has shown that favourability of media comment drives share

price. In the specific case of Tesco, CARMA’s media analysis showed how

persistent media criticism of Tesco’s managerial strategy in the early

90s led to loss of confidence and a plummeting share price.

Currently, there are around half a dozen media analysis companies which

offer clients a sophisticated evaluation service. These companies take

news, opinion and PR-driven materials from broadcast and print media and

build a comprehensive database of information.

They take into account the positioning of a story, its headline, the

accompanying photo and its timing as they attempt to link the

information - and how it is perceived - with the target audience. They

can monitor the performance of competitors and build up a picture of

which publications are not writing about which clients.

They can also evaluate the effectiveness of a particular sponsorship by

the amount of coverage it receives.

’We are tearing apart the anatomy of a medium,’ says Macleod. ’But the

trick for us is not to drown clients with data. The challenge is to give

them a focused summary, not information overload.’

Sainsbury’s corporate communications director Dominic Fry receives a

quarterly report from CARMA, which he describes as ’invaluable for

telling me who is talking about us. I need to know which audiences are

getting which messages, which journalists are talking to which analysts

and who is favourably or ill-disposed to us’.

According to Fry, CARMA ’is our radar screen for emerging issues when I

sit down with the marketing, retail and trading directors. If there is a

correlation of indicators which points to a trend then I can look at

putting resources there’.

CMS:Precis is another company specialising in media analysis for blue

chip clients such as British Gas, Boots, The Association of British

Insurers, the automotive industry and government departments. The

company, founded four years ago, has built its evaluation service around

a piece of software called Precis.

According to CMS:Precis director Pauline Draper, it is critical that the

media analysis is fed back into the planning process. ’We always look to

provide a holistic approach to market analysis. Editorial coverage is

part of the communications mix which can’t be taken in isolation from

advertising or attitudinal awareness.’

The CMS service is reinforced by a joint venture with market research

group Millward Brown to pool data that can identify cause and effect

within a sector.

’We want to use the data in a living way to make companies do the job

better,’ says Draper.

As for CMS’s work with PR consultancies, Draper says: ’Media evaluation

should be seen as a chance to improve what they do. It’s not a way of

hauling them over the coals for not getting it right.’

Sue Youngman, director of PR consultant Millbank, has used CMS and

admits there is a tendency with some clients to see evaluation

techniques ’as a stick to beat us with’. But she welcomes what she

describes as a serious marketing tool. As long as the client is clear

about its objectives, says Youngman, ’evaluation enables the PR

consultant or client to prioritise messages and track their


Fry says sceptical clients need to wake up. ’I’m a complete convert.

There have been times in my career when I felt like the poor relation to

the marketing director with all their science. But this gives me

credible evaluation at my fingertips.’