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Audience vs. Advertiser Analytics: Let’s call the whole thing off?

By Dana Chinn, Media Impact Project Director
Originally published at www.mediaimpactproject.org

I am really looking forward to the Media Analytics Summit next week. It’s being run by Jim Sterne, the founder of many things analytics, including eMetrics and the Digital Analytics Association.

Jim, who runs a vacation listings service in Puerto Rico, really knows how to run a results-oriented travel agency, e-mailed attendees the following questions:

  • What is keeping you up at night about media analytics?
  • What are you most hoping to learn from your peers?
  • What one topic, discussed for forty minutes, would be the most helpful to you?

At first I didn’t respond, as the summit’s primary goal is to “share ideas and best practices for how analytics drives profitability.” After all, the Media Impact Project is focused on audience analytics, or how analytics can be used by newsrooms and content creators to increase and deepen their impact.

But, after Jim sent a reminder e-mail to us laggards, I responded with:

Hi Jim – Here’s a question that I’ve been working on, but it’s probably out of scope for the conference:

How do audience analytics used for decision-making in the newsroom differ from advertiser analytics used for decision-making by the business side? Can news orgs survive if there are two sets of KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] and definitions of success?

Best regards,

Jim replied: “I think that’s a pretty cogent issue, Dana – and one that a number of our attendees are responsible for!”

Hey Jim – Well, here’s the reason I thought it might be out of scope. My projects focus on the newsroom and the social impact of media. I’ve been working with non-profit news orgs and for-profit news orgs that have grants from foundations. It’s been challenging to develop audience KPIs with newsrooms when they are being held to goals based on advertiser metrics such as total page views or simplistic “engagement” metrics such as pages per visit.

I have no doubt that the work we’re doing will affect advertising-based news business models in the (very) long-term, but right now I totally support news orgs doing whatever it takes to get ad revenue! (The luxury of being an academic…)

There’s a lot of work to be done on the business side, and I’m pretty confident that if news orgs optimize that side they’d see revenue increases in the short-term. I think delving into this difficult question of whether both sides can use the same KPIs would be too much of a tangent if the summit is focused primarily on the news business.

So why am I going to the summit? First, the agenda is pretty compelling, and I never want to miss an opportunity to hear James Robinson of The New York Times (and Media Impact Project advisory board member) speak. In his keynote, James will discuss The New York Times‘ “Package Mapper,” which is just one of the innovative ways that “[The] New York Times’ News Analytics team works closely with editors and reporters to introduce audience insights into journalistic decision-making.”

Uh, this sounds very related to the Media Impact Project.

For news orgs to thrive (not just survive), can there be two sets of completely different Key Performance Indicator metrics, one that the newsroom uses to make decisions about coverage and another that the business side sells to advertisers?

Some news orgs are using only one set of metrics – or even only one metric, page views. This leads to misguided and demoralizing newsroom decisions such as having more cat videos and less government reporting.

Tying newsroom decisions directly to advertising performance is not just bad journalism. It’s bad business. Advertising-based news orgs are two-sided, chicken-vs.-egg markets or networks. They need both the right audience and the right advertisers to succeed, and both sides need to target the same audience.

So it follows that there should be audience KPI metrics that are used by both the newsroom and the business side. But can both sides also have their own different KPIs? This would go against the types of conventional analytics best practices that I first learned about from gurus such as Jim Sterne, Avinash Kaushik (also a Media Impact Project advisory board member) and Thomas Davenport and his team.

In any case, I’m looking forward to spending a couple of days at the Media Analytics Summit exploring “analytics that drive profitability.” And I’ll come off my high horse and stop talking about “advertising analytics.” Let’s just keep both sides talking about audience analytics, and about using them in ways that lead to a thriving news industry in both the short- and the long-term.

October 21, 2014 - 3:11 pm

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