PR Landscape Analysis

To succeed in Public Relations, you must apply what you learned in the previous year to improve your odds in the New Year. We recommend a PR Landscape Analysis as the best way to catalog, evaluate, and improve upon your situation. The analysis answers such questions as: What is the current environment? What place do we hold within this environment? Why is this so? Is it likely to continue? What do we need to know now to improve our position? Even if you think you know the answers, the current atmosphere indicates a need for each of us to consider such an analysis to reassess our current communications environment.

What is a PR Landscape Analysis?

The PR “landscape” of which we speak reflects your business landscape. It is comprised of external actors, like your customers, competitors, shareholders, regulators, journalists, social media influencers, and politicians, as well as local community groups in cities where you conduct business. It also incorporates the changing business, cultural, and societal norms that dictate what it takes to be an admired organization and preferred brand now. The “landscape” also includes internal stakeholders such as the senior executives who allocate funding for PR and evaluate PR programs, as well as employees and peers to address in-house factors such as new developments and other marketing communications initiatives within your organization. 

A PR landscape analysis enables the communicator to:

  • Assess strengths and weaknesses versus existing objectives, competitors, and past performance
  • Detect and evaluate the viability of new PR opportunities
  • Accurately forecast potential risks and opportunities
  • Set objectives that are meaningful, reasonable, and measurable
  • Adapt strategies and tactics to markets, trends, and stakeholder priorities
  • Identify ways to differentiate your value proposition
  • Reaffirm understanding and gain direction among internal stakeholders
  • Evaluate competitors, opposition, and aspirational peers

Planning Your PR Landscape Analysis

To begin, you must fully understand your senior executives’ expectations, preferences, and values as they relate to public relations: what do they value most and least? And how do you perform against these priorities? To succeed, you must also uncover the specific metrics by which they choose to measure PR success (and yours). You must also reaffirm the professional attributes they consider most and least important, as well as how well you perform against those preferences. In a way, this may amount to initiating your annual performance evaluation early but, once you uncover their attitudes and preferences towards PR and your ability to deliver on their priorities, your path becomes very clear. 

Five Steps for A Successful PR Landscape Analysis

The PR Landscape Analysis involves research and analysis to set the stage for what comes next: objectives setting, planning, activation, and evaluation. To accelerate your PR Landscape Analysis in pursuit of a fresh start, here are five basic steps to achieve your goal:

Set Your Objectives

The first step in the PR Landscape Analysis requires you to clarify your objectives for doing it in the first place. The most essential step in any discovery process is to know the purpose of the endeavor. What do you hope to learn? What questions must you ask and among which stakeholders to achieve your goal? 

Define the Scope

The second step reflects your need to specify the scope of your analysis. Once you set your objectives for this endeavor, you must determine the breadth of your research. One meaningful factor to consider is the priorities of your organization. Does the organization aspire for some greater purpose beyond just “sales?” You must also factor in the priorities of your internal and external stakeholders. Internal stakeholders include executives with influence over PR funding and the evaluation of the PR function as well as employees and peers in adjacent departments.

The analysis should reveal the degree to which your messaging aligns with the objectives of your organization as well as the priorities of external stakeholders both domestically and internationally. What’s more, aim to gain new insights into your competitors’ activity and the extent to which they’ve succeeded or fallen short in reference to your objectives.   

Understand Your Stakeholders

The third step in the process requires you to identify what you need to know about each stakeholder. For every group, you must seek to learn what’s important and how you’re performing on what’s important. For example, with media coverage and social media activity, assess message frequency, reach, tone, and the degree to which you delivered the intended message (as well as “unintended” and critical coverage). For customers, demographic and firmographic information helps to identify the media your stakeholders favor. Media analysis, social media listening, and surveys reveal the answers to these essential questions.

Start Your Research

Step four involves “digging deeper.” Once you understand the objectives, scope, and data intelligence you need, it’s time to conduct the research and probe the data with a variety of research tools and methods to gather insights and produce the analysis. You must also answer the essential quality-related question of “what’s good enough?” The research methods you employ can vary from free conference room brainstorms and Google searches to the use of secondary research, surveys, and media analysis. With the benefit of tools and research experience, you may conduct the research yourself or, if you have the resources and expect big changes in the upcoming year, you may hire an independent communications research provider who may be more objective and experienced in the process.  

Analyze Your Data

Step five involves synthesizing and analyzing the data to uncover insights and explore implications. To generate additional insights, consider engaging colleagues from marketing and human resources before finalizing since they target similar audiences and may be working toward the same business outcomes as you. Only after thoughtful vetting, you should present to senior leadership to discuss findings and recommendations along with implications. Your leadership’s buy-in enables you and your communications team to proceed with minimal risk. Catalog any conclusions drawn from the PR Landscape Analysis meetings with top executives and get final authorization before executing the recommended steps. 

PR Landscape Analysis for Better Communications

We operate in challenging times, but research and evaluation equip us to make better decisions under difficult circumstances.

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Mark Weiner is Chief Insights Officer for PublicRelay and the author of “PR Technology, Data and Insights: Igniting a Positive Return on Your Communications Investment.”

Originally published in PRNEWS January 2021 issue.

Editor’s Note: At PublicRelay, our quarterly Benchmark report conducts an in-depth analysis of the communications of some of the world’s leading brands. Check out our Communications in Context series for insights into the PR landscape and a sample of the key insights from our latest Benchmark report!

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Editor’s Note: As our Chief Insights Officer, Mark Weiner, explains below, no PR measurement program is complete without benchmarking. But for truly relevant insights, you need a benchmark built around communicators. That’s why we launched the PublicRelay Benchmark so you can evaluate your PR performance against the world’s best communications. Preview a few of the media trends and insights from our Q1 Benchmark report now!

Media content analysis continues to be one of the most popular forms of PR research and evaluation. This approach involves the deconstruction of traditional and social media content to convert text, video, and audio content into actionable data representing individual messages as well as the names of spokespeople, opinion leaders, and influencers. Once converted to data, the researcher seeks to detect trends, uncover insights, and propose future action.

Thorough media analysis includes each of the following: quantitative analysis (frequency and reach); qualitative analysis (tone/sentiment and message delivery); comparative analysis (your performance versus other measures); and business impact (PR’s effect on revenue generation, efficiency, and cost avoidance). In this column, we focus on comparative analysis, commonly known as “benchmarking.”

Why Benchmarking Matters

Smart communicators use benchmarking to assess their environment, gain perspective, and refine for better results. Without the context of comparative analysis, one can pursue what seems like a proper PR plan by setting measurable objectives, developing data-informed strategy and tactics, and evaluating performance… and get everything absolutely wrong.

Imagine this scenario: a communicator sets an objective to improve by 20% over the previous period by generating 500 positive stories per month, 80% of which contain one or more key messages, and 20% of which appear in top-tier media. Sounds good. Even if they achieve all their objectives, they may hit their numbers and fail miserably. Why? Because their competitors aren’t idle: they may have generated 1000 positive stories per month, 90% of which contain three key messages and 40% of which appear in top-tier media. In the absence of competitive benchmarks, your program can only be partially informed and your advice to leadership will be inaccurate or irrelevant. 

The Best Benchmarking Metrics

Benchmarking adds insights when done right. The best comparisons to include are:

  • Performance versus objectives: Assuming you set measurable objectives at the start, good objectives answer “the what” (what are you measuring), “the when” (the period of activation), the “among whom” (the intended audience), and the “by how much” (the level of improvement). If among your objectives you see, “generate significant buzz,” “break through the media clutter,” or “raise media awareness,” you’re in trouble because they aren’t measurable.
  • Performance versus competitors: One of the most compelling measures to management is whether (and the degree to which) you beat competitors. Even if you have many competitors, focus on those that matter most: the market-share leader, the most innovative, and the one that keeps the CEO up at night.
  • Performance versus aspirational peers: There are times when your traditional competitive set may not provide the insights you need. Being the best performer among losers is no great distinction. In such cases, you may choose to add an “aspirational peer.” For example, nowadays almost every company competes for talent. Many companies compete for ESG investors regardless of sector. So even if you’re in financial services, you may want to benchmark against Salesforce; widely recognized as a top ESG company and innovator. Benchmarking against aspirational peers enables you to pursue “the best of the best.”
  • Performance over time: If you set measurable objectives in the prior period, you can measure the degree to which you improved performance since then. Senior executives may not understand PR or the media, but they recognize continuous improvement. One wrinkle: the state of the media business portends great difficulty if you focus solely on quantitative measures: circulations are down and the emergence of “news deserts,” content sharing through common ownership, and bottom-line struggles for media around the world reveal fewer opportunities for media placements.

Even if your senior leadership knows little to nothing about public relations, all you may need to show is that you beat the competition, exceeded your objectives, and improved over last year to prove that you spent the organization’s PR investment wisely.

Improve Your Communications with Benchmarking

Benchmarking provides context and learning opportunities that enable you to be – or beat – the best.  Like all communications research and evaluation, benchmarking takes place throughout the public relations cycle rather than at the end of a sequence. Benchmark early and often to guide your progress towards continuous improvement every step of the way.

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Mark Weiner is Chief Insights Officer at PublicRelay. He is the author of “Public Relations Technology, Data and Insights” which is available for preorder now. 

Originally published in PRNEWS March 2021 issue.

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Editor’s Note: Chief Insights Officer Mark Weiner’s commitment to inspiring PR teams of every size to begin measuring their communications work led to his partnership with PublicRelay. Like Mark, we strive to support communications teams at every stage of PR Measurement – from simple, entry-level evaluation to more advanced PR attribution programs. And what better way than to join forces?

One of the biggest and most pervasive myths in public relations is that good measurement must be expensive and complicated. Years ago, speaking at a public relations conference, I shared stories from a variety of Fortune 500 clients. This seemed like the best way to make an impact on the importance of communications research, after all, if the biggest PR departments invested in research, everyone should. Then, a member of the audience commented, “I know what you’re saying is right, but I don’t have a Fortune 500 budget. So, rather than doing it wrong, I choose not to measure at all.” At that moment, I realized that in promoting my position, I perpetuated the myth I’m committed to dispelling.   

In fact, research is more accessible now to more professional communicators than ever before. The Institute for Public Relations and AMEC offer all the guidance you’ll need including case studies, methodology, and instructional frameworks. What’s more, communications technology platforms are now ubiquitous and at many price points.

Start With Simple PR Measurement

Even if management isn’t demanding PR measurement, you should consider what can be done and the positive effects of simple measurement. As you’ll certainly see on the IPR and AMEC websites, the measurati speak of four types of measures:

  1. Inputs
  2. Outputs
  3. Outcomes
  4. Business Results

Inputs track your expenditure in terms of time and money. By monitoring the levels of your investment, you can show how wisely you spent your budget and the efficiency of your actions. When combined with output, outcome, and business measures, your efficiency equation will show your “Cost per ‘X’” where “X” may mean “cost-per-thousand circulation” or “cost-per-positive story” or “cost-per-percentage point of increased awareness.” It’s a good and easy way to begin.

Outputs measures what you put out, such as news coverage and social media activity. In addition to simple quantitative tabulations, you can look at qualitative measures like the tone of coverage and the presence of key messages. Keep in mind that technology alone has trouble accurately assessing quality, so be prepared to review the computer’s calculations. Finally, the technology enables competitive analysis to track share-of-voice as well as other comparative measures. 

Outcomes measure the effects of your communications on the awareness, understanding, preferences, and attitudes of your target audience. These answers reside in people’s minds. There are two ways to measure inexpensively: survey technology and social media. Low-cost survey technology allows you to ask respondents the questions that reveal the extent to which – or even if – their positions changed because of your work. Social media enables you to gauge awareness, attitudes, and behavior as evident in posts where people share their opinions about and experiences with your product or service. Social media listening is like a giant unmoderated focus group, and you can learn a lot by simply listening.  

The purpose of connecting public relations activity to business results is to demonstrate PR’s ability to affect sales, cost efficiency, and risk mitigation. While certain methods are complicated and expensive, making the “PR-to-sales connection” can happen during times when PR operates in isolation (so there’s no other way to explain the result). You can also study social media results to uncover references to purchase behavior (“I just bought the new improved detergent, and it really works!”). While linking PR with sales is sexy, the most accessible approach to PR’s effect on business outcomes is efficiency. This requires linking PR Inputs with Outcomes to show that you’re doing more with less and for less. By lowering the cost on each positive story (budget divided by positive stories), you’re improving the return of the organization’s investment in PR. Finally, avoiding catastrophic costs is a measure of your good counsel. Compare your crisis averted with a competitor’s crisis and see what it cost them by doing it wrong. Measure their stock performance, their market share, or other data, much of which is publicly available through trade associations and trade media.

Low-Cost Best Practice PR Measurement

One of the best examples of PR research I’ve seen was entered in the PRSA Silver Anvil Awards. A small town submitted an entry that quantified inputs, outputs, and behavioral results – and the campaign cost nothing! The town sought to reduce the number of stolen cars by reminding trusting citizens to remove their keys from the ignition while running routine errands. The program began by tabulating the number of car thefts in the town and comparing their town data with neighboring communities. Once the behavioral benchmark was sent, the town began a media campaign in the local newspaper. Within a few months, car thefts were eliminated. 

Communicate Your PR Performance with Data

Over the past few years, I’ve adopted a new measurement motto: “Begin simply. Simply begin.” By committing fully to PR measurement, even in simple ways, you communicate PR performance in the language of the boardroom. Data transcends language barriers to demonstrate the effect of your good work. What’s more, fundamental measures create an appetite among senior executives for more PR programs, more good results, and more measurement. You, in turn, position yourself for more: bigger budgets, more resources, and greater acclaim.

Ready to show your impact? Download our PR attribution whitepaper to learn how you can connect your communications work to business results now!

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Mark Weiner is Chief Insights Officer for PublicRelay and the author of “PR Technology, Data and Insights: Igniting a Positive Return on Your Communications Investment.”

Originally published in PRNEWS April 2021 issue.

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Editor’s Note: Our Chief Insights Officer, Mark Weiner, wrote this column for PRNEWS November 2021 issue. The findings cited are based on PRNEWS’s survey of 150 communicators conducted in October 2021. Interestingly, his forecast for predictive analytics became a reality when PublicRelay launched its Predictive Suite in January 2022.

The results are in: The 2021 PR Measurement, Tech, and Talent Survey reveals where we are as a profession and where we’re headed, at least in terms of communications research and evaluation. In this column for Measurement Month, I’m focused on one question, specifically, “What’s the next big thing for communications research and evaluation?”  

The Advantage of Predictive Analytics for PR

Everyone answered this question to share their predictions, but, in an ironic twist, only 12% consider predictive analytics as a “big thing.” How odd that everyone felt comfortable aligning on the future, but only 17-out-of-150 respondents believe that research-based predictive analytics will play an important role.

Perhaps that’s why few PR people work in meteorology.

Significant resources are being applied to predictive analytics by savvy research providers who recognize its power to reveal important aspects for planning and activation. Imagine predicting the virality of a news item or a post. How would you like to know where your competitors are headed so you can preempt their position or mitigate any advantage? Consider the advantage of knowing which stories will—and will not – gain traction. How many times have you had to calm a client or an executive over your tepid response to their desire for a vanity press release, or their response to a negative story or a competitor’s announcement?

Why PR Measurement Needs Both Technology and Talent

The pendulum of “what’s important now and in the future” continues to swing. Of course, “near term” and “long term” are important distinctions when contemplating the future, but let’s look at each response to this survey question.

For one, consider the gap between the 5.1% of respondents who believe that what’s most important is “An emphasis on automation, AI and DIY,” versus the 21.7% who chose “A balanced mix of technology and talent.” Could it be that everyone already owns a PR platform? And now that they own it, perhaps they realize that technology in isolation is not the answer (it never was, and it never will be). The question evolves from “which technology?” to “who manages the technology?” and “how do we think about the data?” 

Surprise! Current technology is not a panacea: operators need training – the technology needs training, too. As someone who believes in our uniquely human contribution, I’m encouraged by this phenomenon, and you should be too: it underscores the paucity of talent in PR hiring situations – in the absence of viable candidates, talent trumps technology and you command greater remuneration.

I am encouraged by the lower scores attributed to “Automation, AI, and DIY.” While there’s much more that technology can do, we may have reached the stage where technology development for PR evolves towards iterative refinement. There aren’t many pure breakthroughs left to unleash upon the mass PR market beyond contact databases, media monitoring, and simple media analytics (although I believe that predictive holds great potential). When you consider how the activities most vulnerable to automation and AI are those which are rote and routine, we can see how PR is insulated. How many PR days are so mundane? Given our creative endeavors which require innovative thinking to address chaotic, unpredictable situations, you should have nothing to fear. And, based on the responses, you don’t.

That’s good news: we in public relations are safe from robot replacements and we may look forward to enhancements that make our work easier and faster so we can focus on what we’re singularly capable of achieving.

Communicators Still Want to Quantify PR’s Value

The least surprising responses are two sides of the same coin: “A fully integrated analysis across the marketing and communications mix” and “A solution for quantifying PR’s impact on business outcomes like sales and revenue generation.” A combined 46% of respondents envision this as PR’s next big thing. The two ideas are interrelated because to isolate PR’s impact on business outcomes, we also need to know our relative contribution across the marketing and communications mix.  As such, the second is predicated on the first.

But it’s been PR’s next big thing for 30 years.

The difference is that marketing and communications analytics have evolved dramatically. And here’s where technology shows great potential to boost integrated marketing communications. With cascades of data, business in general and PR specifically can ascend beyond what anyone would have imagined in the past. And these technologies continue to evolve. Now, we have access to lower-cost multi-touch attribution and marketing mix modeling. Multi-touch attribution collects specific user-level data to quickly isolate specific events and assess their impact on conversion (“the customer journey”). Marketing Mix Modeling was first used in the late 1990s. Applying advanced regression analysis, these statistical models quantify the success of marketing and communications activities over time. Unlike attribution modeling, it is much slower, favoring annual or semi-annual analysis and heavily dependent on historical data but it reveals a much bigger picture.

Each in their own way contributes to understanding PR’s impact on business outcomes and explains the ways by which PR interrelates with other marketing agents. When combined, attribution and modeling create an even more formidable platform to accurately quantify PR’s contribution and to inform near and long-term planning and evaluation.

Why ESG is the Next Big Thing in PR

Now for my prediction:  Often the contrarian, I believe that ESG will be the next big thing because it answers so much of what communicators envision for the future. Investment advisory services like Morningstar quantify ESG as a predicate for investment, and they estimate that one-third of all investors factor ESG into their buy and sell decisions. ESG is a function of two elements: a company’s behavior and the reputation it creates for doing good. To a high degree, PR owns reputation. Until now, investors considered reputation to be a “soft asset” that couldn’t be quantified. With the advent of ESG investing, that’s changed. What’s more, compared to attribution and marketing mix models which reveal PR’s ability to generate a few million dollars in revenue, reputation affects billions of dollars in market capitalization. ESG introduces PR to the big money.

PR’s Continuous Evolution

Only time will tell. As is so often true in the evolution of public relations, business, and humankind: the predicate isn’t so much about technology or methodology; it’s about people’s willingness to change. One thing about which we can be certain: our profession continues to evolve and elevate, and these changes will profoundly affect public relations as we know it.

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Mark Weiner is a Trustee of the Institute for Public Relations and the author of “PR Technology, Data and Insights: Igniting a Positive Return on Your Communications Investment.”

Originally published in PRNEWS November 2021 issue.

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Many communications and PR professionals take advantage of media monitoring and analysis to gain insight into their strategies and boost the effectiveness of PR campaigns. With all the data generated by media monitoring at your disposal, using data visualizations to illustrate insights can maximize the return on your efforts.

What is Data Visualization?  

Data visualization is the communication of data and information using charts, graphs, diagrams, and other infographics. Visuals make data and text easier to digest by taking different learning styles and approaches into consideration and helping to convey content as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Exasol head of business intelligence Eva Murray shared her experience with how visuals have helped to avoid confusion on her team by quickly creating a shared understanding. Many times in her career, she’d found herself in a situation whereby her team talked around the same subject but failed to establish shared definitions, processes, and priorities. Murray said, “I learned early on that simply drawing a diagram on a whiteboard can prevent these long-lasting discussions and achieve a consensus quickly.”

By establishing a shared understanding, graphics allow everyone to participate in the discussion where misinterpretations of data have been known to derail key conversations about media strategy.

Why is Data Visualization Important?

Data visualization is important because it simplifies the task of communicating many small data points as well as large, abstract concepts.

The Harvard Business Review explains that the old mindset of data visualization, or ‘DataViz,’ as a “nice-to-have skill” is outdated. Now, “visual communication is a must-have skill for all managers, because more and more often, it’s the only way to make sense of the work they do.”

As public relations and communications become increasingly data-reliant fields, the importance of being able to visualize information is immense.

Data visualizations allow your team to look at a data set of thousands of media mentions and quickly identify trends, outliers, and patterns. According to Tableau, “data visualization tools and technologies are essential to analyze massive amounts of information and make data-driven decisions.”

Tableau further stresses the value of colorful, visually attractive graphics and their role in helping communicators to internalize data narratives: “If you’ve ever stared at a massive spreadsheet of data and couldn’t see a trend, you know how much more effective a visualization can be.”

When using visualizations, you can use the principles of design to convey information more clearly and effectively.

How Does Visualizing Data Improve Decision-Making?

Data visualization can improve decision-making by making sense of large data sets in a format that humans can better comprehend. The Harvard Business Review explains, “decision-making increasingly relies on data, which comes at us with such overwhelming velocity, and in such volume, that we can’t comprehend it without some layer of abstraction, such as a visual one.”

Turning large data sets into different forms of digestible material also helps to isolate and highlight important information for communicators. Graphics can make trends and outliers stand out, so it is easier to identify patterns, top influencers, champion outlets, key regions, etc. than if you were looking at a spreadsheet. This is the information that creates actionable insights and provides clear direction to your media strategy.

But the value does not end there.

Data Visualization and Reporting

Once you have identified valuable media opportunities, you can leverage graphics to present your work to company executives. When demonstrating the value of your team’s work (and justifying your department’s budget), conveying information clearly is essential.

Similar to how visuals can help you understand key data, they can also help you to explain the narrative. Forbes reminds us that a picture is worth a thousand words and data visualizations are no exception.

For example, check out this chart of news coverage by volume, sharing, and tone and imagine trying to succinctly explain this information to a room full of executives without the supporting visuals. Most communicators would find this task to be quite challenging.

Given the level of detail included, this chart is the best format for the job. It shows both the nitty-gritty details and the big picture, enabling viewers to draw the same conclusions and engage in further discussion about the data.

Forbes advises starting all discussions with shared understanding to remove barriers to participation. A data visualization that gets everybody onto the same page, “provides an opportunity to find agreement, discuss changes, and create solutions and improvements.” This offers a significant advantage when making decisions as a team or reporting to executives and demonstrating your value.

How to Use Data Visualization in Your Media Analytics Strategy

At PublicRelay, we utilize dozens of different visuals to convey media data effectively. Using Tableau, we create custom charts, maps, and graphs that highlight trends and outliers, making the information easier to consume.

Two infographics comparing reputational drivers of volume and tone

Volume and Tone of Coverage

Coverage volume and tone form the backbone of any good media monitoring program. As a result, these metrics appear repeatedly in media analysis. Rather than opting for a basic bar graph to communicate this data, these metrics can be reimagined as the size and color of a bubble on a plot chart and can include additional information like sharing data. There are a multitude of engaging ways to manipulate and visualize volume and tone.

comparing the volume of articles written and impressions shared for each author

Outlet and Author Coverage

After volume and tone, outlet and author information can be some of the most helpful metrics for providing actionable insights. This data can help your team pivot your strategy to ensure that you’re pitching your key messages to the right people. In this instance, bar or line graphs can extend off the page or include dozens of overlapping trend lines that make it impossible to glean any insight from the data. To illustrate this information, we often create charts in which the outlet or author is a bubble or point on a scatter plot. Bubbles can also display more detailed information in the form of their color, size, gradient, and placement.

Social sharing

Social sharing can be demonstrated using bar charts, bubbles, lines – you name it! Often, we like to compare sharing data to article volume because this can tell you which topics generate natural interest among your target audience. It is also helpful to pair sharing data with outlet and author metrics, so you can identify the influencers that generate the most social engagement.

Geographic Coverage

Geographic data allows us to share information about where news coverage is coming from, typically based on the locations of the outlets that originally published each article. Using infographics, we can show an article’s origin by country, region, state, or city, both on accurate cartographical maps and other, more abstract representations like bubble maps.

Increase Comprehension of Your Media Coverage

Data visualization can help you to make the most of your media monitoring and analytics programs. The value it provides to communicators lies in the shared understanding of complex concepts it enables, and the increased ability to identify trends and meaning from your data.

To learn more about how we use data visualization to turn media monitoring into media intelligence, click here.

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The global pandemic of 2020 overtook and overwhelmed many companies’ best communications efforts. With communications teams assuming greater responsibility for effective messaging amid an influx of fake news across the media, their companies have faced tremendous pressures both in battling the pandemic and ensuring their brand stays intact.

Long-term Changes

The impact of 2020’s pandemic has become part of a seismic shift in the way companies collaborate and communicate. As we roll into a new year, many companies will find that these changes will carry forward into 2021, even as the pandemic itself fades.

Here are a few ways in which the events of 2020 will affect the communications function in 2021:

  • What we saw in 2020: A massive lift in the value of the Communications function. 

Almost every company had to up their game in communications skills and the intensity of their outreach. 2020 saw pressures not just on external messaging, but also on internal communications. Out of nowhere, companies were forced to massively increase their conversations with employees about critical topics like workplace safety, remote work standards, and even the viability of the business itself.

What to expect in 2021: Expect this trend to continue in 2021 as companies position themselves to transition out of the pandemic.

Themes of corporate and social responsibility, including the concepts of social as well as economic justice, are likely to return to the forefront after having been sidelined by a worsening pandemic. Watch for an increase in conversations about broader shareholder responsibilities far beyond stock price.

  • What we saw in 2020: A move towards putting employees first.

Finally. Many companies realized that employees were really what mattered when the chips were down. When you have to reinvent your business model in real time, you need an engaged workforce that feels like a partner in the business. In many cases, the companies that survived 2020 were those that had the most engaged and dedicated employees.

What to expect in 2021: This trend will continue as employers negotiate the terms of the post-pandemic employment relationship with employees.

Expect more employee input on work conditions, benefits, and even employers’ positions on social issues.

  • What we saw in 2020: A shift to remote work.

Historically a perk for a subset of employees that was only implemented by a small number of organizations, remote work became commonplace in 2020, with many companies forced to make their entire staff remote. After some initial glitches, it was largely a successful transformation of the workplace across industries. Technologies improved, home offices were upgraded, and every function innovated to make it all work.

What to expect in 2021: Where possible, remote work or partial in-office work weeks (like 3-2-2), will become a long-term fixture for many jobs.

Expect a major impact on the size of office spaces leased by companies, and a corresponding hit to commercial real estate that will continue for many years. Secondary effects, like lower public transportation usage (a problem), and lower traffic congestion (a blessing), will have negative secondary impacts on businesses like coffee shops, gas stations, and even commercial construction. 

  • What we saw in 2020: True adoption of video conferencing.

Using video calls for business used to be rare, but now even basic calls have shifted over to video. Social protocols for video calls were quickly developed, and every function in the organization figured out how best to make it work. As a result, in 2020 many businesses improved their ability to build better relationships with customers and vendors across the spectrum. In addition, businesses that used to sell 100% in-person found out that video sales worked, saving them substantial time (and money), all while making sales professionals particularly efficient.

What to expect in 2021: The big unknown in the future is its impact on business travel – how much travel is truly required to build and maintain effective relationships with customers?

Will the sales function migrate back to in-person calls, or will the massive efficiencies of virtual meetings remain so compelling that the days of in-person calls are numbered? Expect the answer to be a blend: some activities will remain virtual, while high-end sales will return to travel because in-person sales work best.

  • What we saw in 2020: The entrenchment of fake news as an art.

The election year (and its aftermath) showed the power of aggressively using traditional and social media to spin and control a message, even if that message was patently false. Many communications professionals (and politicians) were forced to reckon with baseless claims against their companies and brands, while countering them became more difficult as news sources and social media polarized and fragmented in 2020.

What to expect in 2021: This problem is not going away.

Fragmented sources of information will continue to allow fringe conspiracy theories and fabricated news to reach receptive ears. Business and government leadership will need to improve their communications efforts – both the accuracy and the frequency of communications – and they will need to employ trusted voices to rise above the clutter. There is no end in sight for this battle since any regulation of “facts” goes directly against the constitutionally protected concept of free speech.

The Future Has Been Thrust Upon Us

The changes driven by the global pandemic are not going away any time soon. In fact, the fundamental shifts in communications, collaboration, and messaging that were forced upon companies in 2020 will remain with us in 2021, with some of them settling in our daily lives for the long term.

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An Era of Change is Upon Us

Most people have heard the saying “the only constant in life is change.” Change comes at us from all directions, and it is relentlessly driven by the many events and factors that swirl around and impact us every day. 

The communications profession certainly is not immune to the forces of change.

In fact, because of the coronavirus pandemic, many organizations are seeing unprecedented levels of change to their business models. Every department is being asked to adjust and innovate to weather the next 12-24 months until the world (we hope) passes through the pandemic. As a communicator, if you already have not been asked, it is likely you soon will be challenged to find a way to do business smarter, faster, and more efficiently. Unfortunately, efficiency is often sought out by trying to do the same work with fewer people who end up working longer hours. 

But such a challenge also creates the perfect opportunity and motivation to rethink what you do and how you do it. 

Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want. 

– Kristin Armstrong, Three-Time Olympic Gold Medalist

Taking what some call a “zero-base approach” to your work can be a lifesaver. Zero-base planning means rethinking from scratch how you do your job, where you invest your resources, and how you make your team more focused and effective together. And frequently zero-base changes deliver a cathartic moment that pays huge dividends.

Fortunately, in the past few years things have changed in the world of media monitoring and analytics that make this approach to planning particularly effective right now.

Things Have Changed

In recent years, many of the world’s most sophisticated brands and their communications teams have chosen to embrace a new approach to communications analytics. Instead of relying on the approach from the early 2000’s – throwing technology blindly at the problem – they have moved forward to a new, proven method that utilizes the best that technology has to offer while respecting the unique abilities that humans have to interpret complex human communications. 

Companies like Merck, Berkshire Hathaway, Exelon Energy, and many others – all with reputations for using the world’s best talent and technologies – have embraced this new approach. They have found through robust testing that it consistently generates more reliable analytics and much richer insights that make them smarter, more effective, and more efficient.

In short, people paired with technology delivered the exact improvements they were seeking.

The Evolution

So how did we get here? The evolution of media monitoring and analytics has moved through three distinct phases over the past decades:

Phase 1: Big Books (1950-2000)

The world moved slower in these times, and so did communications. Monitoring was done manually, usually with thick clip books filled with physical copies of media coverage. It was not uncommon to wait weeks or months for metrics, and communications impact often was measured simply as the thickness of the clip book. 

Often communications teams claimed success simply by talking about the stories that were written about the company and its executives. While that approach created great presentation theatrics, it rarely reflected the overall success of the communications effort accurately.

Some organizations also relied on (the now-discredited) Ad Value Equivalent, or AVE, a misguided attempt to equate news coverage with the value of ads that ran on those same pages or in the same broadcast segment.

But technology marched on, and scissors and tape no longer did the job.

Phase 2: Technology Cure-All (2000-2018)

This is the era that gave us the exponential growth of digital communications; during these years, email, text, and social media all came of age. Communications teams gained access to digital streams of any news content they desired, all delivered in an instant via the Internet. 

Communicators jumped on the idea of instant analytics, and metrics became (sometimes obsessively) focused on counting mentions and impressions, regardless of the quality, context, or sentiment. Often with this model a headline story in the Wall Street Journal was counted the same as an irrelevant mention by a hobby blogger with 30 followers, and a keyword mention was considered equivalent to a complex message pickup by an influential writer. 

On top of that, the endless pursuit of increasing impressions created a “hamster wheel” environment in communications teams, where the obsession to generate clips of any kind dominated what should have been a focus on strategic messaging and guiding public opinion. Compensation plans sometimes included counts of mentions as a key component for bonuses, leading communicators to push for stories of any kind regardless of messaging strategy and business impact.

Another approach favored by this automated model is so-called Attribution analytics. The problems with this automated attribution approach have been well-documented. In a nutshell, these attribution models use technology to connect dots in ways that do not hold up to the scrutiny of even a high school statistics class.

Over time there became an increasing awareness and acknowledgement of the severe limits of this all-tech approach. Technology was not delivering on its promise to reliably understand complex concepts and sentiment – both of which were (and are) absolutely critical to the communications function. Irrelevant articles were picked up, sentiment was frequently wrong, and complex concepts (like Innovation and Trust) were often completely missed, so the resultant data was bad.

“I don’t know what circle of hell bad data may be, perhaps it’s the third or fourth, but no matter what, who wants to live like that? No one.”

Steve Molis, Renowned Development Guru,

In fact, multiple disciplines came to the same conclusion at the same time as corporate communicators, including software companies, self-driving trucks, delivery robots, medical diagnostics, and investment services. The conclusion was simple yet powerful: augmenting great technology with talented human resources was a killer application that consistently delivered the best balance of fast data and valuable, reliable insights.

Phase 3: Expert-Guided Tech (2018-    )

We are now in the third generation of media monitoring and analytics – one that has moved to recognize the limitations of technology and that has embraced the value of human-technology collaboration. Industry after industry has embraced the marriage of fast technology paired with the unique creative, analytical, and introspective nature of human experts.

With this hybrid approach and the resultant quality data and deep insights, these professionals are able to make much better decisions, focus their resources, and achieve consistently better results. With this now proven superior capability and insight, Expert-Guided Tech has become the fastest-growing segment in the media monitoring and analytics sector.

As an aside, technologists still look to software to reduce human effort and cost whenever possible. Will technology ever replace humans in these roles and understand relevance, context, sarcasm, and underlying sentiment? These challenges may well be solved someday, but despite the claims of some bold marketers, the consensus among experts is that the General Artificial Intelligence to achieve this is at best decades away.

How far are we from general A.I.? I don’t think we even know enough to estimate. We would need dozens of big breakthroughs to get there, when the field of A.I. has seen only one true breakthrough in 60 years.

Kai-Fu Lee, Former President, Google China and Author of ‘AI Superpowers’

Going Forward

So what have we learned? Fundamentally, the model of the past 15 years – fully-automated, human-free measurement – did not deliver on its promise. And like in many other industries, the approach is being tossed aside by many of the smartest minds in corporate communications. These experts have also realized that chasing mentions, keywords, and impressions is not the best use of their time and talent: every year the team was tasked to lift these (largely meaningless) counts even higher; no matter how hard they ran, they were just going nowhere fast.

Now is the time to turn over a new leaf. Things have changed, and you need to make the choice to evaluate moving to Expert-Guided Tech and seeking higher-quality data and analytics. 

Quality data is cited regularly by its proponents as being more focused, less stressful, and more efficient with limited resources. They also regularly brag about newfound strength in measuring their impact, being more competitive, and proving their worth in the organization. The approach gives Communications an equal seat at the table with more data-driven disciplines like Marketing, Sales, and Technology.

As an added bonus, this approach, when all resources are measured, is frequently less expensive than the Technology Cure-All approach. In short, reliable tech-human analytics has provided a more effective communications strategy, better measurement of impact, and a leaner, higher-performing team.

Do something today that your future self will thank you for.


How Does Expert-Guided Tech Change My World?

Many aspects of the communications function take on new characteristics of precision and focus when the power of technology is paired with the ability of humans to understand and interpret communications.

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The efforts of your PR team can decide whether your company’s actions make a real impact by appearing in top media. Some companies underestimate the importance of public relations and assume the media will write about their company’s actions even without input from their communications team. While this does happen at times, what these leaders fail to understand is that their competitors are fighting for the same column inches and space on top websites.

In 2019, developments in the U.S. banking industry provided a clear example of how a more significant effort from a communications team can make a huge impact on the company’s coverage.

Background: Divestments from Private Prisons

Banks provided lines of credit to major operators of private prisons and detention facilities for decades, but that mostly came to an end in 2019. Following controversy surrounding the conditions at immigrant detention facilities, private prison companies drew further scrutiny and it became clear that they depended on funds from major banks for survival. This led to protests against the banks involved through late 2018 and much of 2019. Eventually, most major banks bowed to activist pressure and divested from the private prison industry. Since they’d been getting bad press around their policies for a long time, these banks drew largely positive reactions from the decision to divest. Presumably, the banks all wanted to promote their new practices to benefit from the positive media coverage.

Differing Approaches to Communication

While this movement impacted the entire industry, we focused our analysis on coverage of three of the largest banks: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. All three changed their policies in the first half of 2019 and they had varied methods of publicizing the decision:

Bank of America’s team set up an interview with Bloomberg for bank Vice Chair Anne Finucane, who discussed the decision as well as the bank’s decision-making process.

JPMorgan Chase had a communications leader send email a statement to the press highlighting the decision.

Wells Fargo included a small note in their annual Business Standards Report but didn’t highlight this change during the promotion of the report, in other press releases, or public statements.

Measuring the Impact of Policy Decisions

PublicRelay gathered and analyzed media coverage from top publications and Twitter to assess the impact of these decisions. We found that the differing approaches led to significantly different results, with the greatest effort yielding the best results:

Bank of America saw more than double the media coverage of JPMorgan Chase and more than three times their Twitter mentions in the month following the Bloomberg interview they set up.

JPMorgan Chase generated more than 20 articles about their decision in the month following their statement and received more than eight times the posts on social media that Wells Fargo did.

Wells Fargo received no media coverage about their decision in top publications in the month following the release of their report but did see some minor traction on social media with just over 100 tweets on the topic.

An interview was the most effective strategy and required a significant amount of effort and strong connections with contacts at Bloomberg. The next most effective strategy was sending out an email to the media. While emailing is less intensive than setting up an interview, it still requires knowing who to reach out to and careful message crafting. On the other hand, the least effective strategy, implemented by Wells Fargo, was one that cut the PR professionals out of the process. This strategy resulted in no media coverage and low social media traffic.

What does this Mean for Me?

In a time when communicators feel pressure to prove their impact, it’s important to keep in mind that the actions of a skilled communicator can make a significant impact on the visibility of important company activities. To show your leadership the impact that your communications is making, make sure to carefully track and analyze your media coverage. For a small company, this might be a simple process to handle internally, but if your company appears in multiple articles each day and you’re interested in bench-marking against competitors, you would be best served by working with a company that specializes in media analysis. If you’re interested in learning more about how PublicRelay can help your team show its value, you can get in touch here!

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AVEs – or Advertising Value Equivalent – are on their way out. Thanks to the efforts of the “Say No To AVEs” campaign that AMEC has been running for the past 2 years, fewer PR pros are using AVEs to measure anything. But the question that sometimes still lingers is what are the alternatives to AVEs? What can we use instead to fill the role that AVEs held?

You’ve probably been using AVEs because “my CEO understands dollars more than data”. And while that statement is true, it doesn’t actually help your team establish its true value to the business. Attributing your work to many points of the business will make you a respected strategic partner.

Topical Share of Voice

Rather than asking for an arbitrary dollar amount, a better metric to seek out is where you stand in relation to your peers for your key messages. Identify which topics are reputation drivers for your business, and analyze the sentiment and volume against your peers over time. This allows you to quickly understand which programs are working and where you need to make adjustments. This type of information allows you to show executives that you are on top of what is happening in your market AND your organization is agile enough to take advantage of gaps or change direction and close them.


In order to do this at all, you must understand what your executive team values. Then you must be certain that the data you are gathering is both relevant and accurate. From there you will be able point to revenue, donations, memberships, website visits or sign ups that are directly attributable to your PR work. Understanding your business goals, and then correlating how your PR work impacts that is far more meaningful than simply looking at how much money your one article is worth.

Earned Media’s Social Media Impact

If part of your PR strategy is to establish thought leadership, you know that great content and earned media will get shared on social media. This is a very effective way to immediately tell both whether your brand has established thought leadership, and whether the article you wrote is worth reading. However, this can be more difficult than it initially sounds. Automated social media listening tools look for key phrases or specific URLs – if a social post doesn’t include either of these things it may be missed. With a comprehensive earned media measurement program in place you will already know the key data points about the articles (like key messages and the sentiment around those messages) before you incorporate social sharing information. Now you can start to benchmark whether negative financial news gets shared less or more than positive workplace environment news. Is there an impact when your spokespeople are quoted? Which ones?  

What all these alternatives to AVEs have in common is that they allow you to show a deep relation to broader business goals. It is increasingly important for communicators to illustrate that they understand and align to the goals that the rest of the company is working toward. As an added benefit, the Communications team gets further exposure to different groups within the business – extending their worth as a strategic partner. And finally, more comprehensive and actionable measurement also shows that your team is agile – ready and willing to pivot as business needs evolve.  

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Many communicators struggle with shrinking budgets and funding new initiatives. We see it all the time, especially when it comes to measurement. While not as exciting as launching a new campaign, investing in PR measurement is essential to your communications strategy.

PR Measurement is Your Infrastructure

In a recent webcast called “Shaping Communications at First Data Using a World Class Measurement Strategy,” Vice President of Communications at First Data Corporation, Michael Schneider, described PR measurement as a communicator’s “infrastructure.” It is an essential, upfront investment that lays the foundation for the rest of your work. Schneider says, “if you’re spending every dollar on activation and then putting yourself in a position where somebody comes, knocks on your office door, and says, “How did that work out?” and you then have that deer-in-the-headlights type of look… you probably need to set up your infrastructure first.”

Once your measurement system is in place, you will know how campaigns and tactics perform, how your competitors are performing in those areas, where you can improve, and how to allocate resources. Measurement allows you to make data-driven decisions, rather than relying on your gut.

Earn More Budget and Become a More Strategic Business Partner

It might be daunting to direct your resources to a quality measurement strategy and leave less money for activation (perhaps with an already limited budget), but without a system in place to measure results, you’ll never be able to prove what is successful. And if you can’t prove what’s successful, you won’t be able to make a case for why your department deserves a bigger budget.

Schneider points out that business leaders across different functions would agree that spending money on activation without a system in place to measure results isn’t the right order. CEOs and executive leaders want to see success in terms of data and analysis. CEOs are asking the business to make data-driven decisions and their teams are stepping up to the challenge. Implementing a quality PR measurement system will only help make your boss and your peers see you and your department as a strategic partner to the business.

Watch the full on-demand recording of “Shaping Communications at First Data Using a World Class Measurement Strategy.”

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