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Count clips and get cut: How PR metrics have changed

Next week, I am doing four full-day seminars for Bulldog Reporter to train public relations professionals in search marketing—I’ll be in San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C., and New York. (There are still seats available, so call 800-959-1059 and mention “Twitter” to get $200 off the regular $995 price.) One of the things I’ll cover in that class is how to keep score, which has changed so much in just a few years. It wasn’t so long ago that PR folks tracked the number of “clips”—the media stories that mention their client company—so named because they clipped the articles from newspapers and magazines and presented a book full of them to show the client how successful their PR work was. Each month, they’d “count clips” to show how many stories where being written, which was the easiest metric to use to indicate success. But the Internet changed what clients now expect. If all you do today is count clips, maybe your job is what will be the next thing to get clipped.

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The Internet makes it virtually impossible to accurately count clips. In the past, you’d have a major success when Reuters or AP ran a story on their news wire that was picked up by hundreds of local newspapers over the course of a few days, but now articles are copied or linked to by thousands of blogs in a few hours. And, while even the smallest of newspapers had some devoted readership that made it legitimately influential, how can you tell if a blog has any readers at all?

But that’s not all that has changed. It was relatively rare in the old days for any substantial media outlet to run your press release as is. Instead, the press release was crafted to generate stories written by the newspapers and magazines. Nowadays, any given press release has as much chance at being read verbatim by your audience searching Google than through reading a media outlet’s treatment.

For some public relations people, these changes are downright scary. After all, if you were good at your job, you knew how to play the game by the old rules. It can be disconcerting at best to find out that the rules have changed and that you don’t know how to win anymore. But if you step back, you will see that the changes in PR brought about by the Internet are actually a huge opportunity for the PR profession because the Internet allows measurement of what really counts in PR: influence.

In the good old days, we counted clips because we didn’t really know how to quantify most of what we did. I mean, we all knew that a positive story in the New York Times meant a lot more than in the Picayune Republican-Democrat, but all we could do was clip out the Times story and show it to the client. We didn’t know how many people read it, and worse, we had no idea how people were influenced by it. We’d spend a lot of time arguing about whether the story was more positive than negative when, often, stories contain an element of both.
So, what can we measure today?

Just as computers have spawned the new information distribution system called the Internet that can speed a story around the globe in minutes, computers can also count the number of times that the story was passed on by interested readers, and where the story appeared. But that is no more than glorified clip counting, and answers no more questions about influence than clips ever did.

The most interesting metrics to emerge in recent years come from reputation monitoring, a new way of measuring any company’s positive and negative reputation with the public. Computers do more than count the stories that appear—they can look in every nook and cranny on the Web for newspaper articles, blog posts, even message board chatter or product reviews posted by consumers themselves. [Full disclosure: I serve as Chief Strategist for Converseon, a leading reputation monitoring service provider.]

And reputation monitoring services can examine each of these pieces of content to determine whether they are positive or negative, or whether parts of the article are positive and other parts negative, which is known as sentiment analysis. The best of these services can aggregate the vast numbers of comments to determine a score for your client’s overall reputation, and can even drill down into specific issues your client cares about. And as your PR campaigns unfold, this score will vary over time, showing the effectiveness of what you’re doing.

For the first time, we’re able to show our clients exactly what people are saying about the company and its products. And each client will be actively engaged in using resources to influence reputation—the essence of PR. If you’ve always wondered why clients spend so little on PR, it might be because they never knew how to measure its effectiveness.

And don’t expect the new PR metrics to stand still. Watch as direct marketing metrics are adapted to PR, so that the reputation of a company is shown to have a direct correlation to higher sales. We all know that companies with a positive aura sell more (think Apple) but we never had a way to quantify it. Expect to see those connections made soon.

There’s a lot more to know about PR in the Internet age besides metrics, so my seminars this month on search marketing will explain how to get attention as well as how to pay attention. If you get attention for your message and then pay attention to how you influence the public conversation, you’ll suddenly be using this new Internet channel better than your counterparts who are still counting clips. After all, using earned media is what PR professionals do best, so you just need to learn how to earn Internet media, and how to measure your success in new ways.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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