The recent diesel emissions scandal was, and continues to be, a major reputation challenge to the automotive sector. Volkswagen, the highest profile casualty of the scandal, has seen its share price decimated, its CEO removed and its reputation damaged.
Although communications professionals do not have the power to reduce CO2 and NO2 emissions or go back in time, they aim increasingly to anticipate the impact of a particular story and advise on what response, if any, is necessary. This is where the NLA’s Article Impact Measurement (AIM) software comes in.
AIM offers PR and communications professionals access to previously unavailable audience data on the coverage generated on major UK national newspaper websites. Data captured by AIM includes:
• The total number of views of an article, provided by 10 national newspaper publisher websites
• The number of times an article is republished, and on which third party websites
The Diesel Emissions Scandal
The insight this data provides can be demonstrated by analysing the reach of the media’s coverage of the emissions scandal. On 18 September, two major national papers reported the story (point A), generating around 12,500 page views between them. By 19 September, the number of page views rose considerably to around 75,000 before interest in the story dropped through to 20 September (point C). Between 21 and 22 September, other national news outlets broke the story; perhaps unexpectedly, this provided a boost to the number of page views for outlet four that broke the scandal (point D). It was not until 23/24 September that the first tranche of stories on the scandal began to fade from the public eye (point E).
So, what does this information reveal to a communications professional?
The AIM data provides a number of valuable insights for communications professionals seeking to prepare for crises or sell ins. Firstly, it shows the value that breaking a story first can have in achieving maximum coverage. It also shows that not all newspaper audiences are the same: despite breaking the story on the same day, outlet four achieved significantly more page views than outlet three.
Second, it shows that just because a story’s online reach falls after it has stopped being breaking news, it does not necessarily decline forever. Although page views on outlet four’s reporting of the scandal dropped after point B, it rose again as other outlets took up the story following point C. This demonstrates that it would be foolish to assume that a temporary drop in page views mean that public interest in the article will not recover at a later date.
Thirdly, it shows the inter-relationship between different outlets’ coverage of the same story. When other outlets first published the story on 22 September (at point D), page views were lifted for outlet four and outlet two. In this instance, while breaking the story first produced the most page views, new articles galvanised the page views of existing web content.
AIM also allows the user to view the relative ‘shelf life’ of news stories. The graph below is a representation of the same outlets breaking of the same story arranged by the number of page views each article received up to seven days after its first publication.
The statistics suggest that although articles may attract large amounts of page views for short periods, it is rare that a single article will sustain the public’s attention over the mid to long term. This is a vital insight for the communications professional when too often the instinct is to respond immediately. In absence of other articles, AIM data suggests that on occasion it can be better to avoid commenting on coverage if you have been the subject of critical media. Conversely, if pitching a story to media, taking a staggered approach over a number of days can generate a larger overall audience than a simultaneous one day sell in.
An empirical tool such as AIM cannot hope to replicate the skills, experience and knowhow of experienced communicators in demystifying appropriate responses to crises. It can, however, provide the industry with a new insight into the dynamics of the news-cycle and the ability to place clear values on the reach of newspaper coverage audience. In the hands of skilled communicators, AIM is the key to spot trends, help communication professionals target their work and demonstrate their value internally.