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Measuring the media: Xcel Energy implements news tracking system.

Xcel Energy is the fourth-largest combination electricity and natural gas energy company in the U.S., offering a comprehensive portfolio of energy-related products and services to 3.3 million electricity customers and 1.8 million natural gas customers.

In its quest to promote the company's brand and improve the effectiveness of its media coverage, Xcel Energy's media relations department recognized that its measurement tools were lacking. Although the department could capably measure media outputs and gather customer reactions to news coverage, it could not effectively measure the company's image or influence with the news media or with customers reached through the media.

The department saw an opportunity to develop an affordable media relations tool that would not only measure output but also measure how well the department influenced news media coverage. The media relations team also saw the opportunity to assess its effectiveness in influencing customer satisfaction.

Ultimately, Xcel Energy's media relations department sought to provide company managers and executives with data regarding the impact of news coverage on the company's brand image, to provide information about news media coverage trends and to recommend strategies to affect ongoing news media coverage.

GOALS AND OBJECTIVES

The primary goals of Xcel Energy's media relations team were to measure outputs and influence with the news media, to understand the media relations department's influence on customer opinion and to influence the marketing efforts and public policy strategies of the company.

To reach these goals, the team established the following objectives:

* Develop a way to track and compile information about each news media contact made with Xcel Energy.

* Using this tool, measure the relative fairness of the published or broadcast story in terms of its benefit or detriment to Xcel Energy's brand image.

* Directly correlate this information with customer survey data to determine the associations between media relations efforts and customer opinion of Xcel Energy, and then assess how news coverage of Xcel Energy affects customer opinion of the company.

SOLUTION AND IMPLEMENTATION

To meet the company's measurement needs, Xcel Energy's media relations department created the Xcel Energy News Tracking System (XcelENTS). XcelENTS provided the media relations team with an empirically based instrument to directly measure output and the department's influence on the news media. At the same time, the company used regular customer surveys to measure satisfaction with the company based on customer interpretation of the news. Combined, Xcel's media relations department had a process that enabled a measured, direct association between its efforts and customer satisfaction.

Data are compiled quarterly and annually to determine trends in media coverage, particular media and journalist bias, and the issues that garner the most favorable or unfavorable coverage for the company. The results have helped the media relations department better understand the relationship between their efforts with individual journalists and subsequent news coverage of Xcel Energy and, ultimately, customer opinion regarding the company.

MEASUREMENT AND EVALUATION

The initial goal was met by developing a database software program--XcelENTS--to measure department outcomes and refine the processes that Xcel's media relations team use to record activities. Data from XcelENTS also provides an empirically based measurement of media relations' effectiveness, reflecting outcomes with individual media outlets and journalists as well as larger trends within the news media as a whole. Xcel's media relations team then uses this data to develop strategies.

The team met the second goal by directly comparing ongoing XcelENTS data with traditional customer satisfaction survey results. The results revealed a cause-and-effect association among the media relations department's efforts with the news media, resulting news coverage and customers' satisfaction with Xcel Energy based on their interpretation of news coverage.

As a result, Xcel's executives now seek input from the media relations department regarding the strategic direction for marketing and public policy plans, based on news coverage, modeling and customer satisfaction.

Several other criteria, including professional recognition, helped measure the success of XcelENTS. Industry watchdog publication Chartwell's Best Practices for Utilities and Energy Companies recognized XcelENTS as the first and most comprehensive tool of its kind in the energy industry.

Furthermore, Xcel's company managers and executives have reported that the new data are highly useful in developing strategic plans for Xcel Energy, expressing that XcelENTS has opened up a new world of important, available data that must be considered in both short- and long-term planning efforts.

CUSTOMIZING MEASUREMENT: THE DEVELOPMENT OF XCELENTS

In the first generation of XcelENTS's development, the company's media relations consultants used a standard application database (MS Access) to compile and research data. The media relations department, however, wished to offer company managers and executives the ability to conduct research into news coverage of the company. This required moving the database to a more robust software platform.

Xcel Energy's media relations team worked with IBM to transfer the data to a system that linked with the company's intranet to support multiple users from various locations and computer servers.

As a result, Xcel's media relations department could provide an executive in the Minneapolis headquarters, for example, with the ability to research news coverage of his or her business unit while, at the same time, serving a manager in Texas who wished to review the day's media coverage in order to be better informed for a public event that evening. Indeed, hundreds of company employees could access the database simultaneously, perform individual queries and measure media output and influence.

Steve Roalstad is a media relations consultant at Xcel Energy in Minneapolis, Minn., USA. He can be reached at steve.roalstad@xcelenergy.com.

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Title Annotation:case in point
Author:Roalstad, Steve
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:933
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