Clip Counting is the simplest form of PR measurement. It’s nothing more than counting all the editorial coverage (news items, feature stories, guest editorials, reviews, roundup stories, buyer’s guides, etc.) that mention your company, product or service. This coverage includes print media, radio, television, web sites and social media.
How You Do It
Smaller companies tend to do the clipping work in-house; the PR person or staff watches a selected portion of the press for articles. Larger companies tend to use an outside clipping service such as BurrellesLuce(also called a media monitoring service).
In-house Clip Counting is less expensive (if you ignore the cost of your time), but it misses a lot, because you can’t possibly scan every news outlet. Clipping services are expensive, but they are much more thorough.
Clipping services clip literally every article they see that mentions your company name in any way. For example, if an automobile accident occurs near your headquarters building and your company’s name is mentioned in a newspaper story, you will receive that clip (and pay for it), even though you probably wouldn’t have bothered to clip it yourself.
Most PR people forward copies of selected clips to senior managers and other interested people within the company. To avoid information overload, they normally omit clips that mention the company only incidentally. Some PR staffs are even more selective: they forward only the most significant articles, omitting many roundup stories, buyers’ guides and other articles – even if positive.
This is a fundamental navigational metric. It is a rough indicator of the volume of your editorial coverage and a very rough indicator of how positive or negative the coverage is. That is to say, Clip Counting is better than nothing.
Forwarding clips to management has two major psychological benefits. The first benefit is ego gratification: managers usually love to see their companies (and especially themselves) mentioned in prestigious newspapers and magazines and on radio and television.
The second benefit is immediacy: if your company is mentioned positively in an article, management usually enjoys seeing the coverage right away.
As a marketing metric, this technique has several weaknesses. It ignores the length of each article and its placement in the publication. It also ignores the appropriateness of the publication: does the publication reach your intended audience and, if so, how much does your audience respect the publication?
Clip Counting also ignores the message content. For example, even a positive article can dilute the impact of your marketing program if it emphasizes strengths that are not part of your key messages.
In other words, yes, there is such a thing as unhelpful positive coverage. As an extreme case, I can painfully recall a magazine article that mistakenly praised my employer’s product for a feature that the product did not in fact offer. Our salespeople had to keep explaining to customers and prospects that our product wasn’t what the article said it was.
Also, if you rely only on Clip Counting, you may inhibit your management’s understanding of the public relations process. That is, you may unwittingly reinforce management’s tendency to think short-term.
So, if this month’s clips are good, managers tend to think that “our PR is working now.” If this month’s clips are not so good, managers worry that “something has gone wrong with our PR.”
This short-term thinking can hamper your long-term PR strategy, as managers pressure you to zig and zag, and unintentionally prevent your PR program from achieving a long-term cumulative effect in the marketplace.
One way to improve your communication with management is to include interpretive cover memos that relate the clips to your key messages and long-term marketing strategies.
This technique helps management see the big picture and stop fretting over negative articles in obscure media or over minor negative points in an otherwise favorable feature. It also helps your management learn to view PR in a long-term context.