Our industry typically likes to refer to itself as purveyors of media intelligence. This stems from the fact that we grew up out of media monitoring and analysis and continue to uncover valuable insights from the public media.
Yet that’s not really the most accurate description of what we do and the value we offer.
When I find myself on an airplane, I’m asked like countless other travelers, “What do you do?” When I respond “media intelligence,” the initial reaction is almost always the same: my seat-mate thinks that I work on behalf of the media.
That’s a natural misperception since “media” is the first word they hear. But when I explain in greater detail what I do (“I help organizations understand what’s being said about them and their competitors in the media—and how they can improve”), you can see the lightbulb go off.
In fact, when you look at the reports we generate, it’s quite clear that what we deliver is audience intelligence.
It’s all about relationships
The insights we deliver reflect upon the audience, not the media outlets themselves.
Think about if for just a moment. The primary industry we serve—public relations—directly describes the interaction between people. A communicator and an audience.
Even the media relations function highlights relationships. Between a communicator and an audience—in that case members of the media.
After all, people develop relationships with each other. A faceless corporation could not build a relationship with a printing press or a video camera. It’s the people that matter.
Now, “audience” as a term has developed a bad rap in some circles. Social media evangelists preach one-to-one communications and argue that “audience” implies one-to-many shouting.
That’s simply an absurd argument.
Great speakers have found a way to communicate effectively with their audiences in such a way that members of the audience may feel as if the speaker is speaking directly to them. Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan both found the right words and utilized an effective delivery to reach the right audiences with the right message at the right time. And listeners felt the connection.
How does that matter to the media intelligence industry?
If the underlying business functions we assist are about relationships and audiences, it stands to reason that’s the business we’re actually in.
Take a look at the reports we generate for clients. A basic media monitoring report contains a collection of articles showing what individual journalists have written or spoken about selected topics. More modern social media reports identify what individuals are posting about on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Sophisticated media analysis reports dive deeper to explore trends in the tone and reach of key messages and messengers.
In other words, that analysis is about words spoken or written by people and read or heard by other people.
That’s all about audiences, not the media itself.
So which audience are we analyzing?
As I like to say when offered a list of possible toppings for my baked potato at a restaurant: yes.
Our analysis touches on a variety of different audiences to deliver meaningful insights to our clients.
On one level, we’re helping them to understand the journalists and commentators better so that they may more effectively deliver messages to them that will hopefully then be passed along to the media’s own audiences. At another level, we’re helping clients to appreciate the interests and motivations of the audience that consume the media — again, to help improve messages and messaging.
In many cases, our clients bypass actual media filters to communicate with the public (their target audiences) directly.
But isn’t audience intelligence more like market intelligence?
In fact, companies like CARMA have, in recent years, begun to expand into what has traditionally been thought of as the space of “market intelligence.” That’s because organizations want to leverage tools like survey research, focus groups, and in-depth interviews to cultivate greater knowledge and understanding of their target audiences.
In some cases, we may even tap into other forms of open source intelligence—competitor annual reports, regulatory filings, government reports, and other publicly available documents—to help deliver meaningful insights.
In the current global political climate, businesses and nongovernmental organizations must understand the communications environment fully to better craft their outreach plans and activities.
Brexit, the Arab Spring, and Donald Trump—to name just three disruptive dynamics in recent years—all shape the way that audiences hear messages. Knowing just how that impacts your own organization represents a vital step to being a better communicator.
OK, you sold me. But what does that mean for the industry?
What I have described already represents functionally what we are doing for our clients. But it should prove useful in rethinking strategically how we position ourselves with current and protective clients—in other words, our own target audiences.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Measurement Standard.