One of the projects that a Measurement Sherpa needs to be able to handle is managing a Request for Proposals (RFP) process for a media monitoring and measurement vendor. This article is dedicated to teaching you how to do it.
In an ideal world, every search for a measurement tool would begin with a detailed planning exercise, in which goals and objectives are written down, requirements are agreed upon by everyone, and criteria for success are always clear and well defined. Unfortunately, most RFP processes start with a call from your incumbent vendor reminding you that the annual contract is up, and that if you don’t renew right now your data will all be gone. Or worse, someone in senior management gets so frustrated with the existing service that they fire them and order a vendor review. Here’s how you can best manage the process.
Step 1. Get your ducks in a row and agree on definitions.
Your RFP process should begin with a meeting of everyone who uses or wants to use the monitoring or measurement system in question. Get consensus on the types of media to be monitored, the search terms, the specific top tier publications, the metrics you want to see, and how much money you want to spend (see our article “4 Steps to Budget for a Measurement Project”).
Give everyone this “RFP Questionnaire” to fill out ahead of time, so you can get consensus on the basics.
There will probably be a few thornier issues that need to be settled in person, including the following nine questions you should answer before moving on in the process:
- Question 1: Are my messages and issues too nuanced for a computer?
- Question 2: Do I get sufficient volume to warrant automated coding?
- Question 3: Do I need to have humans code a random sample?
Computers do a really good job of putting words into buckets. Any good Natural Language Processing system can go through the torrent, pull out mentions of your brand, and put them into a database complete with the date of the mention, the source, the author, and the title. Some, like NetBase, achieve pretty accurate results with basic sentiment. Beyond that, for analysis of sentiment, messaging, positioning, etc., we rely on humans. So chances are that if you are getting fewer than 2,000 mentions a month, then it’s probably cheaper and more efficient to use humans. They learn faster, can adapt to changes more rapidly, and get the sense of a story without explicit mentions of keywords. So if you want your qualitative metrics done right, use a human.
- Question 4: How will you define positive?
The standard categories of sentiment are:
- Positive (leaves the reader more likely to do business with the company),
- Negative (leaves the reader less likely to do business with the company),
- Neutral (contains no sentiment at all), and
- Balanced (contains equal levels of positive and negative comments).
- Question 5: Do you need to track messaging and positioning? Yes __ No __.
Key messages are the daily bread and water of most communications departments, and even in the uncontrolled environment of social media you will want to track them. Frequently, whether you planned it or not, the conversation, especially in social media, is likely to position you favorably or unfavorably on a number of key issues, such as sustainability, social responsibility, leadership, etc. Positioning is similar to messaging, but not specific to your brand. You can apply positioning statements to your own brand or just as effectively to any of your competitors.
- Question 6: Is the visibility of your brand (where it appears in a story) important? Yes __ No __.
Studies have shown that the more visible your brand is, the more likely people will be to remember it. The same goes for your messages. So you need to define what visibility means. The standard definition of visibility is: “Mentioning your brand in a headline or the top 20% of an article.”
Another factor is what we call dominance. Dominance is defined as the extent to which a story, mention, thread, or tweet is about your brand or mentions other brands. Typically there are three categories for dominance:
- All about you
- Mostly about you but mentions other brands
- Only mentions you in passing
- Question 7: Is there anything else you need tracked? Yes __ No __.
Do you have initiatives, analysts, key battles, programs, or anything else that you are spending an exceptional amount of time on in the next six to 12 months? Now would be the time to bring it up and ensure that any references to it are captured.
- Question 8: Do you need to know if a link back to your website or blog is included in the story?
These days links are key to tracking marketing effectiveness, so if it is important to know if a link has appeared, you need to account for that in your report.
- Question 9: Who should see the report and how often?
Every organization and department has different needs. Senior management and the board may only want to see a top-line report every six months, but on a departmental level you may need monthly updates. How many and how often you get reports is a major driver of cost, so get agreement up front before you talk to any vendors.
Once you have assembled the answers to Questions 1- 9 above you will have a pretty good idea of the requirements. The next question is, who can meet them?
Step 2. Create your list of vendors.
Here’s a couple of quick tips to narrow down your list:
If your requirements dictate that you need both traditional media and social media, go with a vendor that has strength in both. (See Table 1 below.) Many of the social media monitoring firms try to add in traditional media, but all you will get is what’s available on blogs and online. If you require access to actual print media, your options are fewer still (BurrellesLuce is about the only one that does a good job, but many other vendors have contracts with BurrellesLuce to supply them. If actual video is required (as opposed to a link to the broadcast site), you have fewer options still (Critical Mention and TV Eyes are the only two that come to mind).
Table 1. Common Measurement Needs and the Best Vendors to Solve Them
(Click here to download this table as a PDF.)
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- The availability of human coding will shrink your list still further. Most automated systems like NetBase, Salesforce Social Studio, Sysomos, TrendKite, etc., don’t offer any human screening at all. Also, basic monitoring companies like Meltwater do not offer human coding either. CyberAlert, Prime Research, and CARMA are all good choices if you need both traditional and social media as well as human coding and if you want to integrate social media metrics or web analytics into your reporting.
Step 3. Screen the vendors.
Once you have your short list of vendors to consider, send them the “Transparency Reporting Template” and have them fill it out and return it to you. This will enable you to compare apple to apples, or at least apples to pears. Too often I hear of companies comparing apples to sheep, i.e., the capabilities between vendors are so completely different there is no way to compare them.
Most vendors will provide you with a trial period to test the data. Take advantage of this. But make sure you have a set of criteria to judge whether the trial is a success.
Step 4. Make the decision.
Finally, after all the trials, presentations, and proposals are submitted, you need a way of making a decision. You will want to come up with a standard evaluation spreadsheet like the one below (Table 2). You’ll need to modify the weightings (under “Importance”) for each criteria to match your internal priorities.
Table 2. Vendor Evaluation Spreadsheet
(Below is only a visual. Click here to download the interactive Excel spreadsheet.)
|Importance||Vendor 1||Vendor 2||Vendor 3||Vendor 4||Vendor 1 points||Vendor 2 points||Vendor 3 points||Vendor 4 points|
|1.1 Accuracy of search (absence of duplicates, inappropriate, or off-target content)||5||0||0||0||0|
|1.2 Accuracy of sentiment||5||0||0||0||0|
|1.3 Accuracy of subject matter||5||0||0||0||0|
|2.0 Alerting Capability|
|2.1 Timeliness of alerts||3||0||0||0||0|
|2.2 Completeness of alerts||4||0||0||0||0|
|4.0 User Management|
|4.2 Ease of setting up and managing users||3||0||0||0||0|
|4.3 Ability to generate specific reports for specific users or groups||3||0||0||0||0|
|5.1 Findability of the data that you need||5||0||0||0||0|
|7.3 Does the tool offer adequate reporting ability to create/customize/export reports?||5||0||0||0||0|
|5.1 Is the pricing reasonable given the value delivered?||4||0||0||0||0|
|5.2 Is the cost less or the value greater than what we are currently paying?||4||0||0||0||0|
|6.0 Customer Support|
|6.1 Are they sufficiently responsive?||4||0||0||0||0|
|6.2 Do they actually resolve the issue?||5||0||0||0||0|
|6.3 Do they offer global 24/7 support?||4||0||0||0||0|
|7.0 Does the tool meet our needs?|
|7.1 Can it produce the data necessary for the corporate dashboard as is?||5||0||0||0||0|
|7.2 Can it produce the data necessary within the requisite time frame?||4||0||0||0||0|
|7.5 Can it provide adequate monitoring to reduce risk and reputation threats?||5||0||0||0||0|
Step 5. Haggle over the price.
Your purchasing department should be involved at this stage, but here are some tips for smoothing the process:
- Make sure that the full parameters are spelled out to the vendor before they give a final price quote to you or to purchasing. Often, just the process of the vendor review and test will uncover new areas that need to be measured. Make sure all the search terms, competitors, and scope are final before you get the final price.
- Make the contract for as short a time period as possible. Vendors will always push you to sign an annual contract, either by offering a discount or by suggesting that is the only way they will do business. All too frequently we hear of clients locked into a two-year contract with a vendor they’ve either outgrown or had issues with. Get the best negotiators in your purchasing department to reduce that to 12 months at the most. Some vendors like CyberAlert operate on a month-to-month basis and can be cancelled at any time, giving customers a lot more flexibility.
- Get clarity over what happens if the scope begins to creep. If a company estimates that it will receive 250 clips a month, chances are good they’ll exceed that number periodically, or maybe even regularly. Have a discussion about how those overages are handled: Are you charged on a per-clip basis? Will you have to renegotiate the entire contract?
Step 6. Give the good or the bad news.
The final step in the process is to notify all the vendors. I’ve been on the receiving end of many of these phone calls, hearing both the good and the bad news. So here’s how to ensure you always get the best results:
- When you call the winner, have your calendar in front of you. Set up a meeting within a week to have the hand off between the salesperson and the people who will actually work on your account. The sooner your team gets to know them, the better things will go.
- When you call the losers, explain your decision and your rationale. No vendor wants to lose and not learn anything from it, plus you shouldn’t want that either. Your feedback will presumably make the vendor a better provider in the future. And you never know when you might need another one. ∞
Thanks to HD Landscape Wallpaper for the image.