Most PR and marketing professionals select a media monitoring and measurement service by asking selected vendors to do demos of the service – and then requesting a financial proposal. Larger companies and government agencies that require competitive bidding of outsourced services often use a formal request for proposal (RFP) process.
Although RFPs offer a methodical way to gather competitive bids, they can prompt many unacceptable bids or no bids at all if not done properly. Too many RFPs leave out too much information that vendors need to develop a thorough and targeted proposal.
Key point: Very specific requirements in the RFP produce better proposals and more accurate cost estimates. Including specific detailed requirements also enables the organization issuing the RFP to better compare both service offerings and financial estimates submitted by vendors.
Share Objectives and Uses in RFP
At the top-most level, most RFPs don’t clearly specify the organization’s objectives and the parameters that are critical to successful monitoring and measurement. Often, purchasing managers think that keeping the intent secret somehow improves their negotiating leverage. In reality, lack of transparency leads to misunderstood objectives, poor responses, unhappy suppliers and unhappy end users.
Clearly defined objectives are mandatory for an effective RFP on media monitoring and PR measurement. If the organization has not clearly defined its objectives, it may benefit from outside assistance in defining them or letting vendors assist in developing objectives and applications.
Explaining how you plan to use the deliverables helps vendors understand your requirements. For instance, will the service be used to assess performance of the PR department or agency, monitor the organization’s reputation, develop new product ideas, identify customer service issues, conduct competitive intelligence, track industry issues, track and assess media mentions of different brands, or monitor mentions separately for each division or country? Each of those requirements is likely to change the vendor’s proposal and budget.
Which departments will receive or have access to the reports? How will each department use them? Do you want the vendor to deliver different media clips to different divisions, brands, countries or departments? Do different departments have different keywords and measurement requirements? Only recently have media monitoring vendors like Glean.info developed platforms with different folders of media clips for different users so that each department or individual can get exactly the media intelligence he or she requires.
Issues with Bundling PR Services
Many RFPs for PR services bundle all needed services together. Bundling multiple PR requirements such as media database, news release distribution, media monitoring and media measurement, and executive newsletter production into one RFP is usually NOT the most effective or cost-efficient way to purchase PR services. The disadvantages of outsourcing all PR services to a single vendor greatly outweigh the advantages – both in the quality of each service and cost. No one vendor possesses the best of all the PR services.
The vendor with the best media database may not have the best media monitoring service; the best news release distribution service may have a mediocre PR measurement service; the best media monitoring service may have to outsource the media database part of the requirement. Developing separate RFPs for the different PR services and purchasing them separately assures that you’ll get the best and most cost-efficient service for each category. An alternative to separate RFPs is one bundled RFP that allows you to choose separate vendors for each PR service.
Developing Your RFP
Once you have clearly defined your needs and objectives, it’s essential to make sure the RFP contains all the information that media monitoring and measurement services need to deliver comprehensive and competitive bids. Here are some tips on how to accomplish that.
In your RFP, it’s important to specify the media you want to monitor, such as print, online news, broadcast news or social media. It’s also important to specify the geography, such as U.S. or worldwide. The RFP should also specify how you want the media clips delivered and/or stored. Ideally, the RFP should identify the range of coverage and search terms.
It’s also important to specify the media monitoring methodology you expect the vendor to use. A full-fledged print monitoring service takes the media mentions directly from the printed edition of the publication – usually through a direct feed from the publisher or by scanning the printed publication. Some media monitoring services supply news from the online version of a print publication and label it as print monitoring. But, the content of the publisher’s website may differ substantially from the the actual printed edition. Usually, the web site has more articles than the actual printed publication. Knowing these distinctions helps you to construct a more specific RFP and to better understand exactly what each vendor proposes.
Broadcast News Monitoring
In the U.S. and a few other countries, broadcast news monitoring identifies the client’s keywords based on the closed caption text. In other countries, broadcast monitoring services use speech-to-text software or human transcribers (like court stenographers) to create searchable text. Human transcribers are more accurate. The deliverable to the client can be either the text itself or the actual audio-video clip.
For organizations with few broadcast media placements, it’s usually more cost efficient to require delivery of only the closed caption text. Then the client can order individual video clips of the most important stories. Large organizations including government agencies with many broadcast placements will likely find that full online access to all video clips is more cost-efficient than paying for individual clips.
Because of the vagaries of closed-caption text and speech-to-text software, it’s usually recommended that client companies include misspellings and phonetical spellings of the brand name or other search terms in broadcast monitoring searches.
It’s important to note that news from websites of broadcasters may or may not be the same as the actual broadcast. Most broadcasters’ websites contain more videos/articles than the actual on-air newscasts. Just because a story appears on a broadcaster’s website doesn’t mean it aired on a newscast. Media monitoring services usually include websites of broadcasters in the online news portion of the service.
Social Media Monitoring
In social media, the RFP should indicate which social media you want to monitor. It’s important to be specific about what sources are important for your organization. Blogs, message boards, and forums are where detailed content is published and discussed. Twitter crosses both consumer and business communications – and is used by many as a way to follow the news and comment on it. Facebook is critical in consumer marketing and is also evolving into a news provider.
Depending on your market segment, it may be important to monitor other social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, or Vine. Since the cost of monitoring and measurement is likely to increase with each added social media network, the RFP should specify which platforms are mandatory and which are optional.
Specifying only “social media” for monitoring and measurement often results in widely divergent proposals and budgets that are hard to compare. Only by specifying specific social media platforms can you assure valid comparison of proposals.
A final important specification in your RFP is your requirement on the format and frequency of monitoring deliverables and measurement reports. The standard delivery is once per day for media monitoring results and continuous online access to automated PR measurement results. Some organizations require near real-time delivery of news and/or social media clips and weekly or monthly measurement reports delivered in Word, PDF or PowerPoint files.
Key PR Measurement Questions to Ponder
Most media monitoring services include automated measurement as an integral part of the service.
What quantitative metrics do you expect on each of the media categories you want to track? Do you want qualitative measurement of sentiment (tone), messages, prominence, dominance, spokespersons and other parameters?
Does your organization desire software-based automated analysis, human analysis or a combination of both? Automated sentiment analysis has become quite accurate in identifying positive or negative words, but using software to measure “positive” as an indicator of liking your product or service or desirability of a company’s stock is not nearly as accurate and quite expensive.
Most organizations use media measurement services to assess corporate or brand messaging and positioning in news and social media. Messaging tracks the key points you want to make about a product or service. The measurement service assesses how many, if any, of the key messages appear in each media clip. Positioning is similar to messaging but not specific to your brand. You may wish to track the positioning of your brand on issues, such as sustainability, leadership and social responsibility.
It’s still not possible for computer programs to accurately measure brand messaging or positioning. Some form of human analysis is necessary. The more advanced measurement services deliver hybrid analysis using a combination of software analytics and human analysts. In the RFP, it’s probably best to avoid specifying methods for measuring messaging, positioning and other qualitative assessment. Better to require the vendors to explain their methodologies in their proposal. In evaluating the proposals, you can then look to find vendors who combine software and human clip analysis to achieve accurate assessment with cost efficiency.
Do you wish to track the prominence or dominance of your brand mention in each media clip? Prominence typically rates a mention based on position of mention such as headline, first paragraph, or multiple mentions throughout the article. Dominance rates the brand mention in comparison to competitors who are mentioned in the same article.
For social media monitoring, you’ll want the RFP to specify the social media metrics you require and optional alternatives for each social media platform. Understanding how each vendor measures engagement is critical, so the RFP should require vendors to explain the metrics and methodology they use.
If you have any custom metrics you want to include, specify them. Many PR measurement services can’t accommodate customization. Many will do custom programming but charge substantially for it, but some services like CyberAlert are designed to support specialized metrics for clients. Here’s another major question to address in the RFP: Do you want to measure yourself against competitors? How many competitors? What types of comparative measurements do you want? Fair warning: monitoring and measuring competitors adds substantially to the scope of work.
Is there anything else you want to track? Consider including the monitoring and measuring of special campaigns or other initiatives. Do you, for instance, want to track media mentions that include a link to a website landing page for product samples, a subscription or sale item? That would require inclusion of web analytics in your requirements.
During the course of a long-term contract for media monitoring and measurement, there are likely to be change-orders. The RFP should specify your expectations concerning the extent of change-orders during the course of the contract so that vendors can budget and staff appropriately.
As mentioned earlier – and it bears repeating – information in the RFP should include who will have access to media monitoring and measurement reports and how often they need to access them. The number of people receiving reports – or the number of different categories of clips and reports – may be a factor in determining costs or, indeed, may be beyond the capabilities of some vendors.
Tips for Preparing a Media Monitoring & Measurement RFP
Media monitoring and measurement is no longer limited to PR; its value can extend into many corporate functions including division management, brand management, competitive intelligence and customer service. Drafting a well-crafted RFP for media monitoring and measurement is a multi-department task.
It’s usually best to hold a meeting that includes everyone who wants to use (or should use) the media monitoring and measurement service. The meeting goal: to identify and reach agreement on desired features. Asking each involved department to complete a questionnaire covering monitoring and measurement preferences will help reach a consensus.
Review existing RFPs before trying to draft your own. There’s no need to start from zero. There are many sample RFPs online, especially from government agencies. Your procurement/purchasing department may also have access to sample RFPs. Purchasing won’t help with key parts of the RFP such as requirements, but they can certainly help with formatting, boilerplate language and terms and conditions. Also, it will help everyone to include a process in the RFP for vendors to ask questions before submitting a proposal. All bidders should receive answers to any vendor question, In other words, all vendors should receive any clarifications to the RFP.
Circulate your first draft of the RFP to all involved individuals for review and comments. A well-honed RFP usually goes through multiple iterations before being issued.
Some client organizations allow one or two selected vendors to review the draft RFP and make comments and suggestions. While getting input from vendors can be helpful, there is a major danger. A vendor may persuade you to include a bell or whistle in your requirements that only that vendor offers, thereby dissuading other qualified vendors from bidding.
In media monitoring and measurement, one of those “bells” is AVE – advertising value equivalency. Most every PR association and standards organization condemns the use of AVE in PR measurement. Only a few monitoring and measurement organizations still include AVE in their service. Including AVE in your RFP as a requirement removes from the bidding every competitor that complies with the Barcelona Principles 2.0 of PR Measurement. Most of the highly-qualified media measurement companies will have to decline to bid or submit non-conforming proposals and bids.
In your RFP, you may wish to limit the field to vendors who pledge to support the Barcelona Principles 2.0 and industry PR measurement standards.
Typical Sections of RFPs
Although the structure and order varies, RFPs typically contain the following general sections.
- Introduction summarizes key points from the other sections and may include the due date.
- Information about your organization entails a general overview of the company, its products or services, its goals, and contact information.
- The requirements section precisely states your objectives and what you need, including desirable options. It’s important to separate what you need from what you want and what is unrealistic. Including words like “will,” “shall” and “must” will make it clear what you need. Words like “may,” “can” and “optional” will identify what you merely desire but do not require. This is the crucial section for explaining your desires for a media monitoring and measurement service.
- Selection criteria reveal how your organization will select the winning bidder. Some RFPs award points for each element; others are less precise. It’s advisable to include something like “The winning bidder, if any, will be selected based solely by the judgement of” your company. Decide up front what factors you believe to be most important.
- Timelines. This section states the deadline for submission, deadline for vendor questions, how long the process will take, when you’ll reach a decision, when the bidders will be notified, and other key dates. Setting a deadline that is too tight is a common mistake.
- Terms and boilerplate. Usually the purchasing department will add standard clauses that are included in the RFP and become part of a contract.
- Format.In order to assure that vendors provide all necessary information and to make evaluation easier, many RFPs include a format the vendors are to follow in submitting a proposal and bid. The proposal format usually follows the headers in the RFP and includes at least the following items:
- Vendor Experience: A description of the vendor’s qualifications to deliver the required services.
Description of Service: How the vendor will fulfill the requirements, including any optional services. The service description should include how the vendor does its media monitoring, including the names of any outsourced services. It describes all deliverables in detail.
Staffing: Experience and qualifications of the project manager and staff assigned to the project. (In performing your evaluation, make sure the proposal includes the individuals actually assigned to the project, not just the vendor’s management staff.)
Terms: Requires the vendor to acknowledge the terms and conditions in the RFP.
Samples: Examples of deliverables including email alerts, online dashboard, and print reports. Some RFPs require a sample report of the client’s media mentions for a specific day or week. (Many vendors balk at this requirement; it will reduce the number of submissions. Such a requirement should not include qualitative assessment of media mentions by human analysts unless the bidder is compensated for staff time required to do the work.)
References: Contact information for client references, including description of services provided to that client and length of service.
Budget/Financial Proposal: A line-item budget that includes all costs including one-time set-up costs and on-going monthly charges. Ideally, the proposal budget will separate the cost of required items from optional items.
Identifying Qualified Vendors
A crucial part of the RFP process is researching potential vendors and developing a list of firms that will receive the RFP. Do not leave this task to the purchasing department. The individuals who will be using the service are in the best position to evaluate the qualifications of potential suppliers.
A Google search on “media monitoring services” and “media measurement services” will produce a list of most all potential vendors. (Do look beyond the first page of search results for lesser known but well-qualified suppliers.) A review of their web sites will provide a reasonably good sense of their capabilities. An introductory email and phone conversation will determine if they are interested in receiving the RFP. [Shameless plug: No matter what size your organization, Glean.info, formerly CyberAlert, should be on your list of qualified vendors for media monitoring and measurement services.]
Most government agencies require open bidding – but private businesses can be selective in soliciting vendors. Most companies send RFPs to perhaps five to ten previously-qualified vendors. Expect that several vendors will not respond. Expanding the list beyond the largest and best-known suppliers can open the door to highly qualified and less costly bidders. If you want to monitor and measure both traditional and social media, seek vendors with strength in both. If you require human analysis of media mentions, make sure your selected vendors offer that service.
Departments that were involved in formulating the RFP should be involved in the vendor evaluation in order to assure that the selected proposal meets their specific requirements. A committee of three to five involved staff members is the usual evaluation method.
It’s usually helpful to create an evaluation form for committee members to rate and compare the vendors’ various offerings. For instance, list the attributes such as experience, media coverage, accuracy, range of metrics, clip evaluation methods and standards, and cost. Then assign a weighted importance level for attributes to score venders.
Take advantage of any trial periods media monitoring vendors offer. Establish criteria on how to rate the trial. Request a full-scale demo of the finalists for the evaluation committee. If possible, try to arrange a demo that uses archival media clips for your organization.
In developing the RFP and evaluating the proposals, consider assistance from an outside agency or consultant. A consultant experienced in media monitoring and measurement can help you identify the most important features for your needs, explain vendors’ responses, and help implement and supervise the service in its early stages. Katie Paine CEO of Paine Publishing LLC, a well-regarded expert in media monitoring and measurement, offers independent analysis of an organization’s needs and guidance in evaluating proposals.
As with responses to many RFPs, the lowest price may not be the best value. It’s crucial for evaluators to fully understand what each vendor has proposed and to assess how well the proposed service meets requirements against each cost proposal. Discussing each aspect of their proposals with two or three finalists will help assure the best decision.
When you finally select a media monitoring and measurement firm (and before you actually award the contract), it’s best to schedule a meeting between its representatives working on the account and your team members who will use the service. That will help assure compatibility.
And do remember to notify the losers. Explain why you reached your decision. A review of their proposal and debriefing can help venders improve their service and their bidding process.
Though time-consuming to develop, a formal RFP process can help an organization determine its full media monitoring and PR measurement requirements and identify the best-positioned vendor to meet those needs. It can also assure that the organization pays a competitive price for monitoring and measurement services.
Do you have any additional recommendations to help companies develop better RFPs for media monitoring and measurement? Please comment below.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.