Why Media Evaluation is Too Expensive and Often Wrong

Our analysis of online and broadcast PR-generated content over the last couple of years has demonstrated time after time that volume of clippings is not the most important indicator of PR driving business success. Rather, it is the audiences that coverage reaches which really matter and in almost every case these are driven by just 20% to 30% of the coverage achieved. Any articles analysed beyond that are in the ‘long tail’ – a list of publications with limited audience or reach that do little, if anything to impact business results. In real terms, this means 70% to 80% of costs associated with traditional media evaluation are wasted.

If you think that is bad, however, it gets worse. Unless media evaluation is broken out, first, by audience and then by reach*, any results will be skewed towards the 70% to 80% of media that have little genuine business impact. Not only are organisations therefore paying for information they don’t need, they’re also paying for information that might easily be wrong in terms of driving business impact.

Far too often, the majority of clippings evaluated by traditional media evaluation deliver nothing of value to an organisation – no financial return on investment, miniscule engaged audience and consequently ineffective key message delivery.   Of course, they still make money for the evaluation company. You can draw your own conclusions about why such a flawed approach remains so popular among them.

The crucial point is to define target audiences and the media most likely to reach them at the outset. For instance, while it might seem counter-intuitive, some media with low reach can generate coverage that appears in top Google search results and therefore deliver more of an engaged audience than their audited numbers might suggest. Conversely, some media that have always been at the top of traditional target lists might generate coverage that appears well down Google search results and achieve lower audience numbers overall.

In addition, the 20% to 30% of coverage that delivers the strongest audience and reach can vary significantly depending on industry sector, organisation and the topic under discussion. The good news is that detailed reporting, which differentiates between those top 20% to 30% of media that achieve maximum business impact while also including analysis for the long tail, can now be purchased at a far lower price point than traditional evaluation services.

How can that be the case? Well, the media evaluation industry initially undertook the task of coding newsprint manually and it is easy to understand why this would cost more given the amount of human labour involved. The biggest problem for clients today is that the industry hasn’t altered its fee structure, so clients are still paying through the nose for coverage that is being analysed. A further problem is that in order to reduce human labour costs a lot of this analysis is now done offshore where culture, business and consumer issues are totally different from the country in which the coverage appeared.

Clearly, it is in the interests of the industry to drag every last piece of coverage out of the dark, dank recesses of print and online content, ostensibly showing how effective PR has been at generating coverage by evaluating large volumes of clippings because they exist, rather than because they deliver business impact.

While the evaluation industry perpetuates the view that it’s important to find and review every clipping, clients will not get true value for money. Companies looking for better value from their media evaluation should ask how to identify the impactful and influential pieces of coverage and focus on deriving true insight from those.

*Audience refers to the people most likely to be interested in a product or service. Reach refers to the number of people in an audience.

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