Out of the Blue: PR Measurement News

Monday, November 21, 2005 Public Relations Measurement Newsletter: Setting Goals for Press Coverage   VOLUME 1 ISSUE 4  
Make A Better Plan
Cost Sharing and Industry Cooperation
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Public Relations Measurement Newsletter: Rating the News
October 14, 2005
Vol. 1 Issue 3
Public Relations Measurement Newsletter: Internet Impressions
September 2, 2005
Vol. 1 Issue 2
Public Relations Measurement Newsletter: Reputation
August 3, 2005
Vol. 1 Issue 1
November 21, 2005
Make A Better Plan
Are your public relations measurement goals realistic?
by Neal Combs and Debra Parcheta

It Doesn't Get Much Better Than This ...

Some companies have it all.  Great brands, great service, great leaders.  It seems like they are the darlings of Wall Street, the press and their consumers as well.  In the retail industry, Target Stores and Home Depot are two of those darlings, basking in the glory of positive press coverage ratings.  We suspect that both of their PR departments have set goals to keep that great coverage happening.  Proactive efforts are most likely behind the great press coverage seen consistently for these two giants.

For Target, 69% of their news impressions in the last 4 weeks were rated positively.  Their positive to negative impressions ratio was 69:1.  Imagine that statistic in terms of people.  In a room of 70 people, 69 of them saw or heard a positive story about Target and only 1 person saw a negative story. The news even showed that consumers ask for Target stores to be opened in their communities.[1]

Home Depot had 68% positively rated news impressions during those same 4 weeks and a ratio of 34:1.  In that same room of 70 people, 68 saw a positive story and only 2 saw negative news about Home Depot.  In fact, fifteen hundred folks in Canon City, Colorado showed up to welcome a new Home Depot to their neighborhood this month.[2]

Or worse than this ...

Ah, Wal-Mart. They have positively rated press coverage too. In fact, almost as much as Target and Home Depot – over 7 million people learned something positive from the media about Wal-Mart in the last 4 weeks.  But that's not so exciting when the negative impressions outweigh the good news by 10 times and the positive to negative ratio is 0.1:1. Measurement shows that, in the room of 70 people, there were only 6 people who saw something good in the press about Wal-Mart and there were 64 people who learned something bad.

Exactly what are Wal-Mart's goals for their press coverage?  Whatever they may be, Wal-Mart can seemingly do no right when it comes to public relations. Though Wal-Mart enjoys the reputation of having "always low prices," they also seem to be cursed with incredibly negative press coverage about everything from their leadership and their workforce to their community contributions, their holiday season policies and their effect on small business owners.  How did Wal-Mart with their extensive growth and consumer-friendly prices become the poster child of predatory and immoral business practices?

Under the microscope ...

Wal-Mart's press coverage is absent of examples that would lead us to conclude that Wal-Mart is proactively using PR to further positive coverage about itself.  In fact, there is some evidence that they may be in denial about the sheer quantity of poor press coverage that is causing their growing unpopularity.  In response to a recent documentary entitled Wal-Mart: The High Cost of A Low Price, "Robert McAdam, vice president of corporate affairs for Wal-Mart, said attacks on Wal-Mart ... have been launched mainly by those aligned with 'liberal political causes' and are based on erroneous charges.  'Our view is that primarily these messages are going to people who already don't like our company, and that's a relatively small population.' " (Ahem. Nearly 70 million negative impressions is not a "small population.")[3]


In their shoes ...

Imagine that you are working in the PR Department at Wal-Mart. (One wonders if they wear those blue vests there, too.)  You're trying to overcome coverage about your company's connection to a $25 million community gift of a college sports arena which is now under attack in the media because it was to be named for Sam Walton's granddaughter who cheated her way through college and had to give back her degree. [4]  Last month, your challenges also involved heavy press coverage of the Catholic League telling everyone they may boycott your stores because a new employee tried to explain that "Happy Holidays" is a politically correct way to honor all of the cultures who shop at Wal-Mart.  And that documentary?  Its purpose was to show Wal-Mart "mistreating its workers, relying on foreign sweatshops for merchandise and driving out small, family-owned businesses."[5] 


Given that coverage to work with, how much of your day would be spent in reactivity instead of proactivity?  Would you respond to every issue?  Or would silence be a less inflamatory strategy for your image in the press?  Your company has not stopped doing good in the community, nor has it been unsuccessful in selling merchandise at great prices to consumers.  But what can you do?  These reporters aren't focusing on the good news.


Make a better plan ...

Ask yourself, "What goals would help Wal-Mart as the new year rolls in?"  The goals you set need to be logical and achievable, so don't tell us you would "get more positive impressions."  (Do the math.  It would take a 900% increase in plain old positive impressions just to offset the current level of negative news.)  That's not realistic.  What would you think of advising Wal-Mart to have one of these less common goals?

  • Reduce overall media impressions by at least 50%.  (You want the media to stop making you the most talked about company in the world if all they can do is accentuate the negative.  Give someone else the column inches, please!)  Have your PR measurement company measure impressions and ratings over time.
  • You might decide to use key messages and informational press releases to reach a goal of at least a 1:1 positive to negative impressions ratio in substantial media coverage measurements. Your PR measurement company should be able to produce a ratio for you weekly or monthly. They should also be able to tell you what percentage of your coverage actually contained your key message.  (What are the 3 best things that every person who utters Wal-Mart should know?  "Always low prices" was a good start. Surely there are two more.)
  • Maybe your goal would be to conduct quarterly proactive campaigns that dispel certain past negative issues.  (e.g., Could you help keep small businesses in business with lower pricing or auto service discounts and thereby dispell the rumor that you are here to drive the little guy out?)  Your PR measurement company would measure ad value equivalency or a targeted increase (10%? More?) in neutral/positive impressions during that campaign.


Do you have suggestions for a better goal?  Email us at goals@blue-marble.com.   We will publish any legitimate professional suggestions we receive at a later date.

Can't put your thumb on achievable goals for your own company? Consult with an independent measurement company whose experts can offer you suggestions or design a measurement just for your PR efforts.



[1] The Rocky Mountain News, 10/26/2005, Janet Forgrieve,  Report lists downtown's downsides.

[2] Canon City Daily Record, 11/10/2005, Debbie Bell,  Welcome To The Neighborhood.

[3] The Miami Herald, 11/12/2005, Alexandra Alter,  Faith-based groups take aim at Wal-Mart

[4] The Missourian, 10/19/2005, Ali Gabel,  Paige Laurie returns degree from USC

[5] Ithica Times, 11/09/2005, Greg LeRoy,  Wal-Mart debate

Published by Blue Marble Enterprises, Inc.
Copyright 2005 Blue Marble Enterprises, Inc.. All rights reserved.

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