“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

“Our greatest challenge is to have apples to apples comparisons across various data points from all social data platforms”

Rich Calabrese

Interview with Rich Calabrese, EVP, General Manager at Fizziology, a global audience insights company in the US.

Hi Rich, what is your background and what is included in your current role at Fizziology?

I currently serve as the EVP, General Manager at Fizziology. I’ve worked for Fizziology for 6 years, and have worn many hats along the way as we’ve grown our company to where it is today. Today, my role is to oversee company operations, work alongside our co-founders to plot a strategic roadmap for the company, and to work with and develop new client relationships.

What differs Fizziology from other audience insight companies?

Fizziology takes a human approach to our research. We combine our proprietary technology with human analysts to spot trends and ensure accuracy. Our clients appreciate the human-touch, and the confidence they feel knowing they have dedicated analysts working on their behalf every day to provide insight into their social conversation and the audiences.

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

The greatest challenge we have is the desire from our customers to have apples to apples comparisons across various data points from all social data platforms. I believe all social media researchers and data scientists would love consistent data points across the social landscape, but that will likely never happen. Our challenge is to continue to communicate the strengths and weaknesses of the available social data from each platform, while educating our clients on how to appropriately use them in order to turn insight into action.

Fizziology has recently been acquired by MarketCast; in what way will that affect your business?

Our recent acquisition by MarketCast will further solidify the credibility of our company in the media and entertainment industry. While both companies work in research, we offer a different and complementary methodology and product set, which allows us to work together seamlessly to support our clients and provide an offering that’s holistic and unique to our industry – and new industries we target.

You are targeting the entertainment industry; what specific needs do your clients have compared to general companies in other industries?

Fizziology does work with brands, as well as with clients in the sports and travel and tourism industries; however, the media and entertainment industry is an important focus for our company. In the media and entertainment industry, the product is ever-changing. New movies get announced and then released, new TV shows get picked up, extended or cancelled – it’s a dynamic industry. Outside of major franchises or long-running TV shows, we don’t service the same “product” year after year. Our “products” change every year, which brings new and unique marketing questions for our team to try and answer.

Can you provide a specific example where one (or more) of your clients have made changes based on the insights or analysis you provided?

Unfortunately, I’m under too many NDAs to share specifics; however, to provide a few examples, our research is used to adjust trailer and TV creative, respond to crises, refine media spend, obtain conversations insights by audience, and to evaluate future performance through benchmarking and predictive analytics.

In what countries do you support clients today, and what are the challenges when it comes to scaling your services to markets outside of the US?

We currently provide social media research and audience insights in 13 markets (and counting). Our human-first methodology is consistent with our international research, as we work with in-market analysts and translators to ensure accurate cultural interpretation and understanding of the social conversation in each market. Working with a large team scattered in various time zones, our biggest challenge is communication; however, new tools have made it easier for us to communicate and stay up to speed on client requests.

How has your client’s perception of social media intelligence changed over time?

One of the observations I’ve started to see over the last year is how accepting the C-Suite is to using social data to guide strategy and response. It’s gone from “nice to know” to “need to know.” In years past, this wasn’t the case, and with good reason. I’ve heard stories from clients who were burned by snake oil social media salesmen.  These people needed to be reintroduced and convinced of its validity and accepting of methodology. I believe those social data companies that are still pushing the limits on their technology while communicating their role in the social data landscape are the companies that have found success over the last few years.

Have you recently, or are you about to, release any new solutions that will add or improve your services for your clients?

We’ve just released technology to our clients that is focused on the user – and not on the message. This allows our clients to segment audiences (and their conversations) by their behavior (frequency of conversation) within the brand conversation or by what other Fizziology datasets those audiences also exist in (Fizziology has over 400 billion social data points). This will allow our clients to see when new users talk about their brand for the first time, segment audiences by “diehard,” “beginner,” or even “comic book” fans, and finally, understand where their target audience(s) also exist in Fizziology’s expansive database of over 4,500 tracked films, TV, brands, sports teams, and talent to paint a holistic audience profile.

Which social platforms are the most important to your clients, and which ones do you see as having the most potential in the future when it comes to gathering relevant information?

There’s not one platform that’s more important; it’s about having multi-platform analysis. Our clients want to be sure that we’re looking at each platform online where their audiences are talking to ensure we’re spotting opportunities and challenges. Of all the social platforms that our clients want more from, it has to be Facebook. The platform serves our clients’ owned pages and the ad campaign analytics business very well; however, we’re working tirelessly with Twingly’s offering to offer organic conversation analysis (conversations happening off-owned pages and ad buys) to uncover the audience insights our clients are looking for. However, due to restrictions, we’re not given demographic information that would make the insights richer.

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

We’ll definitely see change; however, it’s hard to be specific as I think everyone will pivot based on data availability and internal advancements of their own technology.  As a company that focuses on social data that we analyze from the organic social conversation (conversation/engagement off client owned social accounts), I hope to see social platforms create audience data offerings centered on audiences that are sharing content outside of a brand’s owned social accounts.

By Renata Ilitsky