How can communicators use data to generate earned media coverage? Michael Brito, Global Head of Analytics, Zeno Group, shares how his team gathers media coverage insights through the lens of supply and demand. Michael also reflects on the skillset that a data and analytics person needs to impress potential clients.
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HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: MICHAEL BRITO
DOUG: Michael, you’ve been talking about the supply and demand of relevance. What’s the opportunity there for PR companies?
MICHAEL: If I can boil it down into one word, it would be data, using data to understand the whitespace and opportunity.
DOUG: Yeah. So, how can brands use data instead of speculation to drive results? And do you need some of the soft skills as well as the hard skills to be effective?
MICHAEL: Yeah, that’s a great question, Doug. You know, I’ve been in this industry for years, and as someone who failed math in college and high school, I can tell you that you can learn data. You can learn how to use the platforms that are available to companies to really uncover and understand the PR landscape and industry, but when you combine that with the soft skills around storytelling, and conversations, and being able to understand the why behind coverage, that is extremely valuable because clients want to understand not just the number of hits that they got on a press release or coverage, but they want to understand the context. Why is this important to my business? And that’s a question that’s hard to answer if you don’t have that experience.
DOUG: Yeah, and I’m sure the people at Zeno are really happy that you were able to graduate despite your problems with algebra. Now, this all plays into something that’s a passion of yours – earning media. So, it’s not just analyzing what’s out there, it’s about how you help your team get the coverage for their clients. So, how is this type of data used in a way that can result in actual coverage?
MICHAEL: That’s a great question. I mean, I think of it through the lens of supply and demand. It’s a model that we use to really uncover the stories, topics, and trends that are demanding the attention of our audience. What are they writing about? How often? What’s the narrative? And then asking our clients, are we meeting the demand of the audience with your supply of earned media stories? And typically, they’re not. There’s usually a disconnect, and usually what I say is, well, that’s great because that’s our opportunity, that’s our whitespace to now capitalize on these narratives that we did not know existed by just looking at coverage scrolling on an Excel document versus analyzing the words and language that are being used within those article headlines.
DOUG: Yeah, and you talk about tools in that last bit. What are some of the tools and how best can they be used to generate good results?
MICHAEL: There’s the big ones that everybody knows. Cision, I mean, it’s a legacy brand, legacy software. They’ve made a lot of acquisitions in the past five-six years. There’s also Meltwater and Muck Rack. Those are great for really tracking coverage. How many mentions did you get? Was it a headline feature, was it a pass-through feature? What’s your share of voice look like? All that data is important. What they don’t do where we have to rely on other tools is really uncovering and unpacking the coverage and the narrative within the topics that are being written about. So, they could be writing about 5G, or fashion, or what happened with Will Smith the other night, but what’s the context of that conversation? What else is it? Are they talking about revenue, are they talking about his career? So, that is the type of data that we use other platforms for doing text analysis and using natural language processing to then uncover those hidden narratives that clients can potentially latch onto.
DOUG: When you’re using media, a lot of companies use their own internal spokespeople, some try to use third party experts. I’ve been on the soapbox to have people use internal experts. It’s more authentic, it’s what stations prefer, etc. Obviously, if you have a big name, you can get them on. Obviously, we know the risks of working with a third-party person, but how do you deal with it when it sort of comes from nowhere? I mean, Will Smith had a stellar reputation up until this incident.
MICHAEL: Yeah, he had an amazing reputation from the time he was producing music in Philadelphia to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to numerous awards in his acting career. All movies which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
DOUG: And I think The Fresh Prince got a good grade in algebra. I’m just putting that out there.
MICHAEL: He did get a good grade. He passed it, and luckily, I got my GED. So, I was able to bypass walking through the ceremony, I’m kidding. But no, I think with Will Smith it was an anomaly because of his stellar career and record. It’s one thing if it was say, for example, Kanye West, where he’s had a history of issues in front of large audiences. And so, I think that really does help brands really think about, do we want to align ourselves with a third-party influencer or spokesperson at a risk of something like this happening or to your point, do we leverage our internal our spokespeople? They may not be as cool, and sexy, and have as many followers as a Will Smith or what have you, but their words are trusted, right, within the business community. I think it’s a case-by-case situation, but it’s a good question, good conversation to have given what happened just the other night.
DOUG: Sure, and how can communicators move analytics from just understanding what people are saying to really identifying what they are doing, which has more impact.
MICHAEL: Yeah. So, funny, clients will say, we want to get in The New York Times, I mean, I hear that all the time, but the reality is that The New York Times might not be the best outlet for your story. And so, by using data we can tell clients, what is the best outlet or set of outlets that can drive the most impact in terms of reputation, clicks, reach, engagement sales in some cases, and then understanding what’s the right angle to get coverage in those publications? Studying the narrative, studying those headlines to understand, what are those hidden gems that you can use to reach those audiences? And then more importantly, once that story is published, how is it being disseminated across the internet? Is it being shared on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook? So, that type of analysis and intelligence can help a brand really think about their story, the right media, and then how to distribute that story through the different channels where they know is going to get the most traction.
DOUG: And a point we were discussing earlier, sometimes just searching, what are people saying about our brand is enough when you’ll miss the stories that are about the industry, but not including your brand. So, you really have to broaden out. As we wrap up this fascinating conversation, any last bits of advice maybe for people looking to be in the analytics space and what’s the skill set that you’re looking for among people because it seems you need both sides of your brain and all parts of it to be thinking data, but then be thinking media understanding and be thinking of suggesting ideas. It’s a lot to digest.
MICHAEL: If I had a choice, I would start with a storyteller first, because you can teach data, you can teach analytics, and there are some amazing tools which we talked about that can help facilitate that data analysis. So, I think the combination of being able to understand, you don’t necessarily have to have media relationships, but understand how PR works, the importance of brand reputation and storytelling, and certainly making sure that you did pass algebra, maybe economics too, in high school and college, but that data and analysis piece of it is also important, but I look for a combination of both because that’s what clients expect. That’s what they want to see. They don’t want to see numbers. They want to know why. Why did we get traction here and how did that impact the larger ecosystem?
DOUG: Yeah, and relationships are also important because if you don’t have the personal relationships with the media people, it’s really hard to get them engaged unless you’ve got a tremendous story. What’s the importance of having a dedicated team on your staff that works with the media regularly? Is that something you need to do yourself.
MICHAEL: Great question. We have a team of like over 100 people on our media team. They’re responsible for building rapport with journalists, and reporters, and analysts. Now, personally, I don’t know any of them. I know a lot about them individually. I can tell you how influential they are. I only know one journalist – John Schwartz. And we typically just banter back and forth because we’re both 49ers fans, but outside of that, relationships are very important to Zeno because that’s how we deliver strong coverage for clients, but the analytics can inform and help us inform and prioritize which outlets, which journalists to go after and continue to build and nurture that relationship.
DOUG: Well, as a self-proclaimed Jets fan, I don’t have any right to say anything about the 49ers, except I hope we can get a few more of your players, but we’ll see what letting Jimmy Garoppolo go, if that’s what they choose to do, does to their brand relevance. I think he’s been given a raw deal.
MICHAEL: If I was his agent, I’d give you a call right after this meeting.
DOUG: Perfect. Thanks so much for being with us, really great information that you shared.
MICHAEL: Thank you, Doug. Thanks for having me.