How to Measure Media Hits: A Heartburn-Free Analytic Approach to Tracking, Valuing & Setting Press Goals

Analytic Press Tracking

Tweet it: A data-driven method for measuring media hits (and it's actually useful!) #pr #startups 

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” True or not, this phrase is dogma in most data-driven tech startups. This can be tough for communications leaders, since accurately measuring the value of media coverage is commonly seen as impossible in our line of work. You don’t want to be that person at the executive table with a clip binder while everyone else has fancy cohort graphs...what can you do?

The two measurements we often use for media—“equivalent ad value” and “estimated reach”—are unfortunately two of the ugliest stats in marketing, meaningless numbers propagated by expensive media tracking programs and resold through expensive PR agencies. A bad measurement can be so much worse than no measurement, rewarding “spray and pray” pitching that looks good on paper but doesn’t actually build buzz. Don’t follow that well-trodden path.

What communications leaders really need is a stat with mathematical appeal that speaks to the data-driven engineer/sales types while actually valuing both the quantity and quality of media coverage, a measurement with a broader perspective that can be used to set meaningful goals. Over the course of working with press-heavy startups in my career, I’ve hashed out a media tracking method that’s worked really well for my teams. (Shout-out to the talented Lauren Lloyd who helped put the finishing touches on this when we worked together!)

Here are five steps to set up an analytic approach to media tracking:

Step 1: Assign a 1–10 scale for the types of media your company wants to receive. If you’re a software company, your 10s might go to The New York Times, CNN and Wired. Your 5s could be TechCrunch and other trade press, and your 1s would be blogs. Assign samples for print, online, and broadcast on the scale. Feel free to give larger scores to press coming from .edu or .org sites to reflect their extra SEO value or to specific reporters that are major influencers for your audience. It is crucial to discuss your scale and get buy-in from your team early.  

Step 2: Set your media categories. Define the types of press you’re trying to reach: trade, consumer, culture, tech, business, international, etc. Your tracking could reveal that the company is earning consumer press when your founder wants to be focusing on trade—or visa versa. The categories are also helpful for showing various internal teams that you’re working to get coverage for them, too.

Step 3: Gather media hit data in a shared spreadsheet (here's a sample using Y Combinator). This process can seem a little labor intensive at the start. Trust me, it’s worth it. Go back a couple months and create a line for each media hit your company received. Add the date, headline, category, link, and name of the publication for the mention and give each a 1–10 ranking for the value of the publication.

Step 4: Score your coverage. Next, you’ll give a 1–3 ranking for the value of your mention in each media hit. A 3 represents the whole story being about your company, 2 is a paragraph, and 1 is a name drop. You can (but hopefully won’t need to) use -1 through -3 the same way for negative coverage.

Step 5: Benchmark and set goals. Now that you have a few months of data in your spreadsheet, you can calculate a score by multiplying the publication and value mention. For example, if your company had one big story in The New York Times, that’s 30 points. Or if you had small mentions on 30 different blogs, that’s also 30 points. The score balances both the quantity and quality of your media coverage, giving you freedom to focus on pursuing big feature stories as well as everyday coverage. 

Do you see a trend in your scores? You might be earning 100 media points a month according to the formula and decide to set a goal of increasing that 100% to an average of 200 a month for the next quarter. You’re already sounding super official and analytic! And you haven’t even started showing all the beautiful line graphs and pie charts that you can make with the media score data.

I suggest adding and scoring new media coverage on a weekly basis. If you have a media tracking program like Meltwater, great. That can make it easier to export and paste in media mentions. If not, you can catch most mentions with a combination of searches on Google News, BuzzSumo, Mention, and Twitter. Be honest with your scoring; inflating the numbers doesn’t help anyone. At the end of the month, calculate your final media score and create a few graphs that show your progress.

For goal setting, I recommend that most companies plan a target media score for each quarter. Tracking at the monthly level is just too squirrelly, with the number of business days in a month varying significantly. Quarterly goals make allowances for a major campaign that takes a couple weeks to plan and execute.

I hope this helps you bring a badass analytic approach to your media tracking! You’ll now be measuring like a champ and can start managing your media outreach with precision.

Feel free to email me anytime at emily@uncommonbold.com if you have questions or need help getting started!