The intelligence of media monitoring
Media monitoring has dramatically changed over the years, becoming more technologically sophisticated and in doing so, offering corporate communications professionals an array of analytical benefits
The media monitoring industry has rapidly evolved in recent years. Long gone are the cuttings services to be replaced by new technology and artificial intelligence (AI). What though, are these new technology offerings? And how can they assist corporate communication professionals?
‘If we look back over the past 20 years, our market has always been through periods of consolidation and expansion,’ says Petra Mašínová, global director for reputation intelligence at Kantar, which acquired Precise six years ago. ‘After the rush to build digital services in the early 2000s there was a shake-out in 2005, at which point a new technology – social listening – kick-started a whole new sector and so the market expanded again. The same thing happened in 2015, when consolidation was followed by the advent of AI solutions and a new wave of market entrants.’
‘Back in the day, media monitoring companies only did media monitoring and media evaluation companies only did media evaluation,’ adds Richard Bagnall, chief executive of Carma, and chairman of global evaluation trade body AMEC, who in the 1990s worked for Metrica. ‘It was analogue. It was paper-based. Cuttings were put in a big envelope and the sign of success at Metrica was how big our postbag was, as that was all the clippings being fed to us by monitoring.’
This changed as digitalisation became the norm. ‘This changed the delivery mechanism and speed required,’ says Bagnall. ‘It also changed the heavy lifting, with what are called tags – where you tag some of the content, publication, circulation number, those type of things. Then came what are called entity extractions: the ability of software to understand key terms, topics, names, places and people.’
In this way media monitoring has traditionally been used to measure the communication performance of one’s own company or that of competitors, notes Tom Marshall, UK managing director at Unicepta. ‘Today, media monitoring and listening not only tracks media coverage and your own communication performance but helps you to act smarter and faster,’ he says.
Real-time media monitoring and intelligence enables organisations to understand where reputational risk can come from and then determine how and when to engage for maximum impact
The rapid transformation we are seeing is largely driven by convergence between PR and communications and the broader marketing sector, says Joanna Arnold, chief executive of Access Intelligence. ‘It is led by the rise of influencer and content marketing ‘earned media’ tactics that have much more in common with traditional PR and are starting to outperform ‘paid media’. It’s highlighting the need for communicators to have tools and insight into the broad range of audiences that now engage with any organisation.’
‘Insight has become the new sexy word in the industry,’ adds Bagnall. ‘People are saying of evaluation Can you help me gain some insights and gain something I do not know from the content? and Help me be more strategic in my decision making?’
So what does this offer corporate communications professionals? ‘If we step into the shoes of our clients, the challenge for PR and communications is to handle vast information flows and to keep pace with a media environment which is changing by the second,’ says Mašínová. And while the media landscape may be wider than ever, she adds: ‘It is also more fragmented which creates additional pressure to ensure all relevant media activity is identified, analysed and responded to.’
‘Real-time media monitoring and intelligence enables organisations to understand where reputational risk can come from and then determine how and when to engage for maximum impact,’ notes Arnold. ‘This is vital for all corporate communications and IR professionals who increasingly are aware of the direct impact of reputation on share value.’
‘Corporate communicators need precise insights into the global media buzz around their company, brand, competitors and critical topics – and the intelligence to react quickly,’ observes Marshall.
‘Media monitoring helps marketers, PR professionals and brand custodians get in-depth insight into their consumers, the competition, and the performance of their marketing efforts,’ says Wesley Mathew, head of marketing UKI & India at Meltwater. ‘Media monitoring, in this instance, refers to how we gain insight into the hearts and minds of our consumers, perceptions about our brand, topics and conversations related to the work we do or the services we provide and how our brand exists and performs in relation to the competition.’
But Mathew also believes that many companies do not yet use media monitoring to its full potential, sometimes out of fear or resistance to invest or even a lack of understanding. ‘Brands can learn more about their customer wants and needs, helping to strategise future campaigns and messaging,’ advises Mathew. ‘As well as this, [they can] set up alerts for social media coverage to know when a crisis hits and how to handle it. Media monitoring offers brands a bird’s-eye view of their coverage across all media channels meaning they can maintain control of reputation management and crisis comms.
The changing nature of the media landscape, the crisis of trust in the media and the expansion of influencers into earned media strategy means technology is here to stay for communications professionals.’
Like much else, technology is driving change in media monitoring. ‘Client benefit is the key consideration for us when deciding which projects to progress,’ notes Mašínová. ‘There is an enormous amount we could do with technology, so our development path must be rooted in the needs of our clients. Technology is important, as it allows us to keep pace with changes in our clients’ media environment.’ This is particularly pertinent today with borders between national media markets breaking down. ‘Language is an important consideration here,’ she adds. ‘Within the monitoring sector there is an inconsistent approach to the processing of multi-language data. Some technologies need to use automated translations into English, which creates the potential for error. Kantar’s international network means we can process in [the] native language. We believe this delivers benefits to clients in terms of the quality of our media intelligence reporting and analytics.’
‘Technology is becoming imperative to a communicator’s day-to-day life,’ notes Jeffrey Vanderby, senior manager of product marketing at Cision, which has brought together industry stalwarts Gorkana Group, Vocus and Trendkite in recent years. ‘Ten years ago, you might have survived on spreadsheets and Google alerts. However, the changing nature of the media landscape, the crisis of trust in the media and the expansion of influencers into earned media strategy means technology is here to stay for communications professionals.’
Such progress makes legacy metrics, such as advertising value equivalent and potential impressions, that communications professionals once relied upon, increasingly redundant. ‘The new technology for measurement and engagement that is available today is needed to address these issues. The good thing is innovation tends to be viral,’ says Vanderby, adding: ‘Cision provides an integrated communications platform for comms and PR professionals to manage their influencer identification and outreach, engage audiences across multiple channels and measure and attribute value to their earned media programmes.
‘We’ve also integrated with leading ad and marketing technologies to further align comms campaigns with partners in marketing. But we understand that technology can only solve so much. So, in addition to our technology, we offer expert consultative services through our media and audience analysis solutions.’
The nature of innovation is that it advances fastest in areas where new technology is fit for purpose. ‘In the monitoring space, the processing power of automated systems offers immediate advantages in terms of scale and speed of delivery. Integration between different media datasets – mainstream news, social media – is also benefitting from technology which can identify how news stories are shared across social networks,’ says Mašínová. Another perspective suggests technology has not progressed fast enough in this area. ‘Customers tell us that the older legacy incumbents have not focused on innovation of platform and as such the product and value proposition has suffered,’ says John Paul Murphy, UK business lead at Streem, an Australian-based real-time media intelligence platform now moving into the UK market.
Within the technology narrative, artificial intelligence (AI) is very much the zeitgeist, and has a major role to play within media monitoring and intelligence, but within reason. ‘In terms of the market’s understanding of the potential of new technology, I think there is a risk that we expect too much from AI, at least in the short-term,’ warns Mašínová. ‘We’re talking about machine-learning here, so the technology needs time to learn and to adapt to the demands of the media intelligence market. There is a lot of nuance in our space – media can have different meanings depending on context or how a message is expressed or received – so we need to be sure that the technology can interpret information accurately.’
And one should not ignore the human element in this development. ‘It’s worth remembering that pure-play automated solutions and SaaS (software as service) platforms have been available for at least 20 years, yet client demand still dictates that technology is harnessed by expert human curation,’ she adds. ‘I think we can agree that the technology will improve over time and AI will deliver more sophisticated solutions beyond the current focus on automated heavy-lifting. The combination of the processing power of AI and the skill of our media analysts offers the best of both worlds – we can do more and we can deliver faster whilst preserving the quality and accuracy on which our clients depend.’
Automating analysis through adaptive sentiment and contextual analysis and finally delivering more accurate alerts that can identify unusual activity to alert to a crisis or emerging issue
The big tech players such as Google, Facebook and IBM are innovating rapidly and are providing AI building blocks with services such as TensorFlow. But Arnold warns: ‘The media monitoring market has been slow to adopt these types of technology, but by leveraging their expertise we’ve found we’ve been able to move from concept to deployment of AI initiatives rapidly.
One of the cornerstones for developing AI, has been to reduce the burden that the human worker faces, argues David Benigson, co-founder and chief executive of Signal AI. ‘Our vision is to transform work through augmented intelligence: AI that assists humans rather than replaces them. We can create a bespoke version of the platform for clients, tailored to what they need, in order to reduce these burdens they are faced with.’
Expanding on this theme, he adds: ‘I expect augmented intelligence to eclipse artificial intelligence. By augmenting the work experience, rather than replacing it, you can better prepare people for the future of enterprise AI tools and the future of work. As a result, augmented intelligence allows businesses to gain valuable insights from functions like qualitative data, digital sound, social media, and online content.’
AI can also be used to offer practical media monitoring results. ‘AI can be used to improve results sets,’ says Vanderby. The classic example here is differentiating between Apple the fruit and Apple the computer company. ‘Automating analysis through adaptive sentiment and contextual analysis and finally delivering more accurate alerts that can identify unusual activity to alert to a crisis or emerging issue,’ adds Arnold. ‘As well as dealing with the huge volumes of content produced and providing more relevant insights, AI is also enabling us to monitor brand reputation in images and video.’
Enthusiasm for the power and opportunity offered by artificial intelligence is not shared by everyone. ‘We believe in good technology, not jargon like AI. It is an unfortunately overused and misused term, used as a marketing gimmick to excite customers,’ says Murphy. ‘Since day one, we have strongly believed in the power of combining great technology and engineering power with great local people who can work with the customer to ensure speed, accuracy and reliability of service.’
So what type of services offer the biggest growth in this space? ‘As more PR and communications professionals are executing coordinated and integrated campaigns with their partners in marketing, we see terrific growth potential in helping marketing teams leverage the earned media audiences generated by PR and communications,’ says Vanderby.
‘Concurrent with that we want to develop a tech stack specifically for communications professionals to drive efficiencies the way ‘martech’ has done for marketing departments. I know ‘data-driven’ has become a bit of an over-used buzzword, but we do really feel that there are many opportunities to implement data in communications strategy.’
The innovation found in media monitoring and media intelligence will continue to evolve as the nature of messaging morphs into something quite different. ‘The ongoing consolidation of media, the further integration of campaigns between communications and marketing, and streamlined ‘bottom line’ reporting to the business means that communications ‘the old way’ is dying fast, and the new way – much like the transition that occurred in marketing ten years ago – will mean improved efficacy, consolidation of vendors and business value measurement,’ says Vanderby. ‘We see opportunity here to help our clients understand and leverage this new way of communications.’
It is clear that media monitoring and intelligence is constantly changing in ways that can significantly help corporate communicators. It is down to them to embrace the opportunities on offer.