“Those that focus on providing highly comprehensive and reliable data will excel”

Todd Murphy

Interview with Todd Murphy, CEO of Universal Information Services, a media intelligence company in Omaha.

Hi Todd, what is your background, and what is included in your current role at Universal?

I grew up in the media monitoring industry as my father had purchased a press-clipping bureau in 1959. I started developing broadcast monitoring solutions in 1983 while in junior high school.

I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I majored in Communications and minored in Psychology. I didn’t plan to come back to the company business, but I saw an opportunity related to data mining and retrieving information from content databases, aggregators.

I came back in 1991, and started developing solutions for TV, radio and Internet monitoring and measurement; Internet monitoring turned into web monitoring in the late 90’s. I have seen a lot of growth from our company and had a lot of fun creating new solutions for our clients. Although I bought the company from my father a few years ago, he is still involved with our work. I am the CEO, but Jim Murphy retains the President’s title. He still comes in to work every day!

As CEO, I tell most people my current role mostly involves knocking down hurdles for my team. Removing hurdles lets my team move more quickly. I also focus on research and development of new services for our clients, as well as developing strategic partnerships and opportunities.

What differs Universal from other media intelligence companies?

Our two main competitive advantages are content and accuracy. We are the only ones that are comprehensively tracking all media types and using valid analysis methods to create highly reliable measurement data.

In contrast to software as a service vendors (SaaS), we get all the newspapers articles, TV and a large cross section of radio across the country.  Along with the traditional media, we’re also monitoring web and social content. Together this makes us unique because we have the ability to track all the content, and not just a portion of it, then analyze the full sample as needed.

Our analysis team can go in and look at the resulting data and then pull true insights out of it. Our approach follows a methodology that is accurate and replicable. In this way we avoid semantic errors, like those found with automated sentiment analysis, and we can deliver much more reliable insights.

What are your greatest challenges ahead at Universal when it comes to serving your customers and developing your offer?

Our biggest challenge has been re-educating customers coming from our competitors. Over the last 4-5 years, we have had to “re-program” customers who have used other services because they have often been mislead about what “complete coverage” means, or what “real PR measurement” includes. Automated measurement tools are very inaccurate. We let our technology do much of the heavy lifting, then our trained analysts provide the reasoned insight needed to fulfill an exacting order.

We have to tell them what it really means—TV monitoring isn’t only monitoring a TV station’s website, but actually monitoring what’s broadcast in addition to the website.

Earlier this year, you released Alpha Clips, a service that tracks article origin of shared news stories. How does that service work, and how have your customers received it?

Alpha Clips identifies the first point of entry for a story, where and how it broke. It tracks feeds from press clipping content and web content on a 24-hour cycle. We can show our subscribers the story’s true origin, and whether it was published or digital.

We are able to pull that information into our system, and, based on timing, identify which story was released first, thus identifying the alpha clip.

For example, if Los Angeles Times released a story to commonly owned outlets, it could appear in dozens of newspapers across the country. Our software will identify it as the same story, and the alpha clip will label it as a +1 or +30 (depending on the quantity of outlets that ran the story). This reduces the text our clients have to read because artificial intelligence uses journalistic rules to pull out the key elements of the story.

The benefits of Alpha Clips is the ability to show the origin of the story, save customers time by summarizing it and reducing content volume our PR and corporate clients have to go through by clustering the same story rather than identifying it as a series of repeated stories in a report.

Have you recently, or do you plan to, release any new technology-based solutions that will add to or improve services for your clients? If so, what solutions, and how will your customers benefit from them?

This January, we plan to take a big step in relation to our media measurement services. We have created a more interactive and dynamic process for our customers when it comes to the graphics and insights we offer them.

While I was at the international congress in Copenhagen, FIBEP, I realized that being able to provide our users with more support should be our focus for 2019. In line with that, we’re going to offer additional consultative services with our services. We will provide our customers with strategic insights that will help them move their outcomes in a positive direction in relation to their goals.

We’re not going to offer PR strategy, but we will suggest what customers can do to improve their outcomes based on what we know and can show them.

All clients have different levels of understanding how media can be analyzed; what is the most common misconception that your clients have?

What are valid results?
What is reliable data?

Clients who came from a software as a service (SaaS) environment that didn’t provide a lot of support, but shifted the work to the customer, have the biggest misconceptions about those questions.

Those customers often aren’t prepared to structure a focused search strategy or objectively look at data results according to a sound methodology. They may have invested a lot of personal time and money into a campaign, and subconsciously be “looking” for outcomes that may not exist.

We try to deprogram them, if you will. We provide our clients with complete transparency of our methodology and earned media results. We want our clients to see how we arrived at their insights, rather than hide them behind server code.

With the experience you have in this industry, being with Universal for 27 years, what changes have been the most unexpected over the years?

It’s been most surprising to see the largest organizations moving away from a model that focuses on customer service and support. That has been to our benefit, which is where all our growth comes from these days.

Customers have always needed support because they’re busy and shifting work to them makes their jobs even harder. Why haven’t my peers used technology to make information more easily consumed? That is what we focus on.

With your great experience, is there a specific mouthwatering case that you know of where media intelligence has played a crucial role for a client? If so, what case was that?

I’d like to think everything—without mentioning specific clients, certain crisis management clients that would involve mass shooting situations in public places have benefited from our services. We have been able to assist them in real time by tracking and reporting the way news is shared and delivered so that our clients can understand if the media is getting facts out correctly.

We have also helped school districts avoid hiring a new superintendent who should never have been around children. We uncovered media exposure that indicated that the candidate wasn’t a good choice for the position. This information was only found due to media intelligence services—because the person was never prosecuted, a criminal background wouldn’t reveal this information. We saved the district a possible PR nightmare and prevented them from wasting a lot money.

Currently, copyright and licensing for data used for monitoring differs depending on the region and type of media. How do you see changes regarding copyright as affecting the data that is used for media monitoring in the future?

I’m optimistic that in the U.S. we still have the opportunity to do it right. Globally, we have examples all along the continuum—from dysfunctional to fully functional.

The difference in the U.S. is that we have so many more media outlets that it makes it cumbersome. There is opportunity for us to do it right because we haven’t done anything comprehensively, yet we have the chance to.

Content owners and users have to be amicable with each other because they’re in the same boat. There is not one media outlet so valuable that they can charge high licensing fees, because now clients can just get their content elsewhere.

A more common playing field is good; and opportunity to get comprehensive copyright licensing solution for the U.S. is possible. I am optimistic the U.S. can do it right.

When it comes to the actual data behind the media intelligence you do, what kind of data or media not currently used for media intelligence can be interesting in the future?

All types of data. We’re in the early stages of working with previously ignored data to overlay with media intelligence and measurement tools, creating better predictions and outcomes, such as:

● demographic data
● psychographic data
● financial data
● weather statistics
● event and crowd metrics
● behavioral modeling

How do you think the media intelligence industry will change in the next 5 years, and what are the greatest challenges ahead?

Those that focus on providing highly comprehensive and reliable data will excel. Those that are only sampling a small portion of content or those who are solely relying on software as a service will compete at the bottom for low priced clients who may not care how accurate the information is.

Those who can’t afford to miss a story or put an incorrect chart in front of their CEO are my clients, and where the growth is.

By Renata Ilitsky

“The human factor is the biggest challenge at the moment.”

Florian Laszlo

Interview with Florian Laszlo, Secretary General of FIBEP and CEO of Observer, a leading media intelligence company in Austria.

Hi Florian, what is your background and what is included in your current role at Observer?

I studied law and held several positions in communications and event management, and then started at the family company, Observer. After a while, I became part of the executive team, and since 2013 I’m the sole CEO of the company.

As we are a rather small company, my role is quite diverse. I lead the key strategic product development and marketing; it’s a 360 degree role as is usual for executives in smaller companies.

What differs Observer from other social media intelligence companies in Austria?

We are the media monitoring company with the longest and best track record. If you count forums, we have been doing social media monitoring since 1999. We have been monitoring platforms since 2008 or 2009 on a regular basis with different tools to compile analysis for our clients.

We developed our own scanning and spidering technologies, but we use different suppliers so we can combine the feeds to the most optimal outcome.

Observer has been around for a very long time. How has the company been able to stay relevant through different trends over time?

My company is 122 years old and has been doing media monitoring since the beginning. You see that new trends seem to be really new if you look at them from a close range, but if you take a few steps back, they’re not so new, they’re just an aberration of the same thing.

I think that the human way of communicating and engaging with each other didn’t change over the years that much. I think that the development of the media industry will go way slower than you would expect if you see what new types of media are being developed. On the basis of human communication, it stays the same, regardless if it’s on Facebook or on a handheld device, it’s still human communication. The big question is how to create a business model that’s adapted to the changing landscape, but still takes into account the relatively unchanged basics of human communication.

What are your greatest challenges ahead at Observer when it comes to serving your customer analysis and developing your offer?

The biggest challenge is that while we get access to data from the platforms, mainly Facebook, the data has been reduced in depth several times. That poses an issue that we have to deal with.

Another challenge is getting the clients to understand the relevance of what we’re doing so they don’t just think that we have cool analytics, but truly understand the necessity of our work for their daily decision making.

Have you recently, or are you planning to, release any new technology-based solutions that will add to or improve your services?

I do not see any new solutions or technology coming around. We have to optimize the existing tools and approaches. The next challenge is on the side of implementation; we still see large limitations that technology and artificial intelligence has in delivering results that are final and can be sent directly to the client. The biggest challenge is the compilation of relevant and understandable results; the human factor is the biggest challenge at the moment.

All clients have different levels of understanding how media can be analyzed; what is the most common misconception that your clients have?

The biggest misconception that clients have is that gathering and analyzing data is easy, and the second misconception is that they feel that the data just falls out of the machine. That is not the case and can leave clients quite unhappy because they expected something different and are not satisfied with the result.

Clients often feel this process should be quite cheap or completely free, but social is actually much more expensive than some old school things because there is so much work involved. Data access alone involves three figure sums, which definitely doesn’t meet the expectation of the clients.

With the experience you have in this industry, being with Observer for the last 17 years, what changes in the industry have been the most unexpected over the years?

I would not see unexpected changes—as technology progresses, humans are sticking to their known behavior and perhaps will never change at all.  The big difference is seen between perception and practical life concerning the importance of social media. The clients still see print, radio and television as relevant, while everyone is talking about online and social.  The difference between the quality of a PDF document and a link, and the difference between seeing a physical result or visiting a website, is the important thing, and seen as more valuable and priceworthy, which leads to less price sensitivity there.

When it comes to the actual data behind the media intelligence you do, what kind of data or media can be interesting in the future that is not used today?

We are probably looking at much less data that we can access in the future than right now because the access will be reduced and limited as platforms are more reluctant to share data, and there is the legal issue of privacy. With less data from social media, the importance of analyzing the data that we get is also rising.

You are the Secretary General of FIBEP, which is heading towards the 50th FIBEP World Media Intelligence Congress in Copenhagen in October. What are your expectations for the event, and what do you think will be the hot topics and discussions there? 

The hottest topic will be design, specifically user interface and experience. As we have so much data, but no one can digest it, you need analysis that compiles it into digitized form and processes it to make it understandable to get insights. Getting more data is not the important thing, it’s more about getting smart and relevant data that can be extracted from the large number of data volumes we can access.

The second aspect of the event is to meet and network with colleagues from around the world. We share our experiences with each other so we can walk away from the event more informed.

What are the greatest challenges for FIBEP as an organization in the near future when it comes to supporting its members?

The challenge is the same for all organizations, which is staying relevant in the changing landscape and providing relevant information to members. I’m not doubtful that the challenge will be met easily in the future.

Since we don’t send out data, but make human contact and meeting possible and interesting, I’m sure it will become even more relevant as the world grows together and the media markets develops, making it more important to share insights.

FIBEP shares a lot of members and interests with AMEC, International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication. How would you describe the relationship between the two organizations today and in the future?

We have a very positive relationship with AMEC because we work together on many projects and will continue doing so. We have two different strongholds—AMEC concentrates on the valuation part, while FIBEP has the historic base in data gathering and processing, which was called monitoring once. It’s about data as a first step, and the second is analysis; no data means no analysis. That is the reason many of the members belong to both organizations, so that they can discuss analysis and evaluation.

How would you like to see FIBEP change over the next 10 years?

I would say it will change and needs to as the industry changes, but as I don’t know how the industry will change, I can’t say how FIBEP will. Predictions are a lot harder than in earlier times, so the solution is staying agile and adapting quickly. What is obvious is that the growing professionalization of the industry and corporate structures leads to a more professional structure of the association in general; not so much pro bono work and not so much interest of young professionals in doing that.

Members expect the same from the association as you would from a professional workshop organizer, that is the general change in Western society that affects FIBEP, and the organization needs to be flexible to adapt to what industry trends will bring.

How do you think the media intelligence industry will change in the next 5 years, and what are the greatest challenges?

I think the industry will grow in importance and will see new competitors coming into the field from consulting. We will see the move from monitoring and evaluation to insights and to consulting. For example, bookkeeping was once a simple service, and now the Big 4 are doing consulting on a quite consistent and high level, and they still do bookkeeping themselves as well.

That will happen in the media industry as well, so we will add on consulting and we will be much more competitive with classic consulting companies who will try to cover our special areas as well.

The greatest challenge is new competitors with a different background; the successful ones will move up the food chain from providing limited and specific services to broader consulting roles, as that is what the market expects and where the outsourcing trends will lead to.

Look what happened to companies that offered map services when Google Maps started doing it for free. Someone can say they will compete for free, making it a big threat to others.

By Renata Ilitsky