Adopting a Qualitative Approach to Media Measurement Assessment

A  Case in Point

Richard joined his current organization in March of 2008. Upon review of his media goals and their connection to his annual bonus, he quickly determined without both quantitative and qualitative metrics in place his ability to assess and report his media relations effectiveness was limited. Historically, impressions (a quantitative metric) were the baseline used to demonstrate impact. But Richard was well aware of the evolution of the media and so he knew the bonus he wanted to earn would be hard to obtain if linked primarily to impressions.

First Richard conducted internal research, including interviews with managers from the accounting, sales, and marketing areas of his organization. He was then able to determine that seven markets accounted for 46% of the organization’s growth over the last five years.

Business priorities in hand, Richard turned his attention to benchmarking past media relations efforts. He evaluated the news coverage for 2006 and 2007,using the quantitative metric of impressions and the qualitative metrics of editorial tone and key-message delivery.

Analysis of 2006-2007 coverage yielded some interesting results:

•    Impressions, the focus of the previous team, grew steadily year over year.
•    The editorial tone was 18% positive, 74% neutral, and 8% negative.
•    Key messages were conveyed in less than 20% of total coverage—and less than 15% in the specified target markets.

Richard was also surprised to find the neither the volume nor the focus of the media coverage centered on the growth markets.

Richard next spoke with senior-level executives and from the information gathered during those conversations he was able to identify three key messages that would be included in all company communication. With his strategic communication plan in place, Richard initiated a targeted approach to increase positive coverage in his organization’s seven top growth markets.

Results of Richard’s Qualitative Analysis
As expected, 2008 media coverage resulted in fewer impressions. However, the quality of the coverage improved. Positive editorial coverage increased from 18% to 52% and 70% of that coverage appeared in the top seven markets. Neutral editorial coverage decreased while negative sentiment dropped to less than 4% of overall coverage and accounted for less than 2% of editorial coverage from the seven target markets. Richard learned that the company’s key messages appeared in 64% of news coverage and in more than 72% of the coverage in the top seven markets. The quality of sales leads also improved and the marketing team attributed this to the news coverage in the key markets, reflecting the persuasive power of the media relations program.

Applying Richard’s Experience to Yours: Clearly Define Your Objectives
Whether you are augmenting an existing measurement program (Richard’s situation) or starting one from scratch, it’s best to begin with clearly stated objectives that are directly related to the strategic goals of your organization. As Richard recognized, this allows you to engage your key stakeholders, create messages that resonate and benchmark the success, shortcomings and overall effectiveness of your program.

By answering these questions at the outset of your program, you can lay solid groundwork on a path to success:

1.    What business objectives will our media relations program advance?
2.    How will media coverage affect the chances of attaining our business objectives?
3.    How will our analysis of media coverage help us to meet the specified objectives?
4.    When will we report findings to key constituents?
5.    Who will benefit from the data we collect and analyze?
6.    What resources are needed to set up an effective program?

The answer to the first question is critical to defining your organization’s measurement program. The outcomes sought by an educational institution (enrolling more students; being included on select lists) differ from the results sought by a technology development company (generating sales leads; prompting favorable analyst reports).

Basic Components of a Qualitative Measurement Program

Listed below are the qualitative metrics most commonly used to determine the potential impact of an organization’s media coverage.  
Editorial tone: Enables you to determine the favorability (positive, neutral, or negative sentiment) of a media mention of your organization. 

Marketing power: Identifies whether a story contained certain elements of persuasion that are known to influence   purchasing, donating, voting and similar decisions of key audiences. This analysis tool examines a story for inclusion of the following: 
•    Attributes—Did a story describe benefits, or explain a mission or function?
•    Differentiation—Did a story make distinctions among competitors? 
•    Endorsement—Did a story convey support of an organization, product, or issue?
•    Call to Action—Did a story contain information, such as a telephone number or a Web address, that is likely to prompt a reader, viewer or listener to contact an organization for more details?

Prominence: A story’s value is affected not just by the content of your organization’s mention, but also by the context in which the mention is delivered. The prominence option can prove especially valuable when comparing your organization’s media coverage with that of its competitors.
•    Position of a print story in a publication (front page/magazine cover, or other).
•    Exclusivity (whether a particular organization was the only one mentioned).
•    Location of the initial mention (headline, first paragraph, or other).
•    Length of the mention specific to your organization, product or issue.
•    Inclusion of photos or other graphics and their appearance (in color or black and white).

Spokespersons: By analyzing for spokespersons cited in a story, you can discern whether your organization’s designated representatives effectively convey its point of view.

Story type: Analysis of story type is a valuable tool for evaluating the media’s receptivity—and the public’s exposure—to your organization’s point of view.

Strategic messages: Tracking strategic messages provide solid intelligence on the media’s depiction of matters that your organization considers vital to its interests or objectives. This metric measures the extent to which the media coverage communicates the themes your organization has developed to define a brand or some other distinctive characteristic.

Quality Rating Score (QRS): A Holistic Means of Measuring Media Coverage
The BurrellesLuce Quality Rating Score (QRS) is designed to help PR professionals assess and demonstrate the return on investment in their media relations efforts.

QRS is predicated on the fact that media measurement programs often fail to show how various aspects of story content work together to influence key audiences. QRS also recognizes that measurement programs typically do not take into account the importance an organization ascribes to the media outlet that carried a story. 

QRS fills this information gap by combining crucial details about both the story content and the significance of the media outlet and expressing the result as a numeric score. QRS can be applied not only to an individual story, but also to an organization’s entire slate of media coverage. This capability to focus on the macro coverage as well as the micro coverage makes QRS a valuable benchmarking resource.    

This article was excerpted from PR News Guide to Best Practices in PR Measurement, Volume 4. It was written by Johna Burke, VP of Express Services for BurrellesLuce. To order the guidebook or find out more information about it. go to