How to Write a Fabulous Media Measurement Report in Four Hours or Less

By Katie Paine, CEO, Paine Publishing

As I’ve said before, the key to great reports is to use the data to tell a story. But teasing that story out of a pile of data is not as straightforward as you might think. Whether you are summing up your accomplishments for the year or summarizing a bad day in the media, your report writing will be faster and of better quality if you approach your work in a strict sequence with specific intermediate goals along the way.

Once you gain a little experience at this, you will be able to write a clear and effective report in four hours or less. Here’s a step-by-step guide to how to divide your time and make sure you cover all the bases:

Hour 1: Get Your Mind Around the Problem

Who’s the audience? What kind of presentation will they prefer?

Let’s make a pretty safe assumption that the request for the report came from somewhere higher up in your organization. So first, put yourself in the head of the boss of the person who requested the report. Ask yourself what type of person they are:

  • Are they a “words” person, like a former journalist, editor, or PR person, who is most comfortable getting descriptive data?
  • Are they a “numbers” person, who will want just the facts and numbers and maybe a chart or two?
  • Are they a more “visual” person, who will need to see data in graphs and word clouds?

And if you really don’t know what kind of person they are, then make sure you use all 3 forms of presentation in your report.

What questions does this report address? What actions will result from this report? What data do you need?

  • If you’re reporting in the middle of a crisis, then what data will people need to make the right responses going forward?
  • If you’re reporting after an event, then what data do you need to make the event better next time? Or, if it was a dreadful affair, what data do you need to not make the same mistakes twice?
  • If you’re preparing a monthly or quarterly report, then what decisions and actions do you want people to take after reading it? What data does your team need to make better decisions and get better at their jobs?

Assume the worst about your data and plan to deal with it.

There are bound to be some inaccuracies in your data. Chances are good that:

  • You won’t agree with the coding, or
  • You can’t find a clip that you know should be in there, or
  • There’s a key publication missing.

And if you’re using an outside vendor and haven’t used their data before, then you should assume there will be more than one thing wrong. There’s always a learning curve. Don’t panic. It is very likely that one or two problems won’t make all the data invalid.

Read over the data with a skeptical eye.

We’re not suggesting that you sit down and read thousands of clips, posts, and Tweets. But you do need to spend at least an hour digging around in the data to see what you’re dealing with. The point is not just to make sure it’s accurate, but to also get a feeling for what is happening and why.

  • Start with what everyone will focus on first, the negative mentions. Make sure they are accurate.
  • Then scan the positive clips. What’s happening to make the media or your customers say good things about you?
  • Now filter out the deck. Use the Excel filter function to search for phrases like Viagra, Free, and PRNewswire (reprints of press releases should not be included in your metrics.)
  • Read the clips from your key publications, and review the writing of posters or authors with the most followers.
  • What topics or coverage were capturing editors’ interest? What were people commenting on?

The purpose here is not just to check every clip, it’s to become familiar with the media landscape in the time frame you’re reporting.  Your goal for the end of the hour is to have a pretty good idea of what story your data is telling.

Hour 2: Illustrate the Story

This might also be titled “Analyze the Data” but, unless you have days instead of hours to work, you want to be careful not to get lost in the analysis. Virtually any platform out there will generate dozens of different reports in all shapes and sizes. You don’t need dozens, so resist delving too deeply into the crosstabs. You only need the charts that will illustrate the story you’re going to tell.

While every scenario is different, the following options will help you decide which charts or graphs you’ll want to generate:

–Scenario: Reporting in the middle of a crisis

What you’re trying to say and/or questions the report will answer:

  • How bad is it really?
  • Do we need to respond at all?
  • Do we need to respond differently?
  • Is it really a crisis or just internal panic?
  • Which authors and media outlets should we be worried about?

Charts you’ll need:

  • Increase/decrease in volume of coverage by hour/day
  • Increase in negative sentiment by hour
  • Sentiment by media outlet (e.g., Twitter vs. mainstream news)
  • Share of voice vs. the competition
  • Share of undesirable voice vs. the competition
  • What’s the gist of the conversation (e.g., generate a word cloud)
  • Top authors by sentiment

–Scenario: Reporting after a crisis or an event

What you’re trying to say and/or questions the report will answer:

  • Should we devote resources to this in the future?
  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?
  • What should we do differently next time?

Charts you’ll need:

  • Share of desirable voice vs. the competition
  • Share of desired positioning vs. the completion
  • Increase in online or website engagement over time (pre/post event)
  • % of coverage in top tier vs. lower tier media
  • Share of spokespeople quoted vs. the competition
  • What’s the gist of the conversation (e.g., a word cloud)

–Scenario: Reporting after a major product launch

What you’re trying to say and/or questions the report will answer:

  • Did we get our messages and positioning across correctly?
  • Did we outperform the competition when they launched their product?
  • How well did our spokespeople get messages across?
  • Did we reach the audience we were aiming for?
  • Did the reporters we briefed report accurately?

Charts you’ll need:

  • Share of voice vs. the competition
  • % of coverage containing one or more key messages
  • % of coverage containing desired positioning
  • % of spokespeople quoted
  • % stories that contain key messages
  • Breakout of coverage by media outlet, source, and author
  • Ratio of desirable to undesirable coverage

–Scenario: Monthly or quarterly report

What you’re trying to say and/or questions the report will answer:

  • Did our efforts pay off?
  • What worked, what didn’t?
  • What should we do differently next month/quarter?

Charts you’ll need:

  • Share of desirable coverage vs. the competition over time
  • Share of undesirable coverage vs. the competition over time
  • Message communication over time by message
  • % of items containing one or more key messages over time
  • % of top tier vs. lower tier media over time
  • % of items containing one or more quotes from internal spokespeople over time
  • % increase in social engagement over time
  • % increase in unique visits to targeted URL over time
  • % change in awareness/preference compared to last reporting period
  • Coverage of specific programs or initiatives by tone and message content (ranked from best to worst)
  • Desirable vs. undesirable coverage by geographic region

Depending on what your analysis finds, throw out any charts that don’t contribute to your story line. Also eliminate any charts that have insufficient data to make your point. Never put a chart in there just because it was there before.

I recommend no more than 10 charts. If you include more than 10 charts, you’ll need more than an hour for the next step, which is to write your headlines and summary.

Hour 3: Write the Headlines and Summary

Your third hour should be spent writing. First, write a conclusionary headline for each chart:

  • Conclusionary headlines should inform and enlighten. Never write a headline like, “There was a big spike in coverage in June.” Instead, say, “Because we/media did x, y, or z, media coverage increased by xx% in June.”
  • Explain in one short sentence or phrase what conclusions they should draw from the pictures or charts.
  • The titles on the individual charts should describe what data they represent.

Once you’re done with the conclusionary headlines, write your executive summary and methodology.

  • The executive summary should capture the 5-7 points you want your audience to remember.
  • The methodology should be as detailed as necessary and goes at the end of your report.

Hour 4: Proof, Edit, Revise, and Rehearse

Clean up any graphical inconsistencies and proof your report thoroughly. Grammar counts. No typos, no misspellings.

Now, sit down and read the report aloud to someone. Also, give it to someone else to read aloud to you:

  • Does it sound smooth and reasonably eloquent? Is it readily understandable? If not, refine as necessary.
  • If you were presenting this in the board room, would everyone understand all of it? If not, refine as necessary.

Congrats, you’ve written a solid and effective report in four hours (or less). Take a well-earned break. ∞

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