News agencies remain a key source of news for media brands. News agency PA Media sought out smartocto to facilitate a more complete analysis of their output performance.

Of course, being a news agency this was never going to be an average use case. Without your own audience platform, how will you be able to know the true value of your stories?

What they learned is widely applicable.

The player

PA Media:

  • Multimedia news agency, and the national news agency of the United Kingdom and Ireland
  • Founded in 1868
  • Part of PA Media Group Limited, a private company with 26 shareholders, most of whom are national and regional newspaper publishers
  • In 2022, it is estimated that PA stories were used to create:
  • - 8.6m online articles
  • - 150k print articles in national daily newspapers
  • - 2.3m story views by journalists on their Explore platform

Smartocto and PA Media hosted a webinar about the collaboration, 29th June. Find the recording.

The pain point

What if you don’t have an audience platform? How do you then monitor and manage what you publish?

PA Media, like other press agencies, has internal platforms. The agency can't see how their content is performing on their client's websites - at least not without permission... (we'll get back to that later)

Traditional analytics products are not suited to their model. As a result, they have an incomplete idea of what their content is doing. They might be a critical part of the news cycle and chain, but they’re doing it blind.

  • They already had graphics, displaying basic metrics of engagement and usage
  • None of these were actionable in real time
  • Were able to see views, and what is downloaded
  • As their commercial strategy is based on usage, analytics are key to new account management focus. The sales team is constantly monitoring data on usage and engagement.

The process

News agencies remain the main supplier of news, but there’s a disconnect between what newsrooms want and what they get. Smartocto worked with PA Media to create a system that delivered the insights they needed, in a way that complemented their unique workflow and place in the market. The process centred around making the data they had at their disposal more actionable - and feed these learnings back into their planning.

If the number of readers exceeds a certain amount, our editors get a notification through Microsoft Teams. Then they can, for example, present the article more prominently. Until now, that was based on instinct. Now it's still an editorial decision, but a better-informed one. It's simple, but it does the important stuff for us.

Peter Fabianski Head of Analytics and Insight @ PA Media

How are things going?

If PA Media has its way, the most important thing now is to display real-time data in the newsroom. "Everyone can see a chart of the top stories that day on the main screens", says Peter. "If editors know which stories are gaining traction, they can act on it." Peter Fabianski once again outlines how different it is for editors at a press agency. Because one can imagine that articles often only have tens of views, only from the journalists who sift through them to see if they can use them for their site.

"We have two platforms. Smartocto has now linked these together and we can see how a story is read on both platforms. In addition, we can see how often an article is adjusted and how often it is downloaded to be posted on a news site."

It was a big challenge to notify properly with such small numbers of readers, tells Erik van Heeswijk, CEO of smartocto. "The core of what we do is making data actionable. But that starts with bringing insight into how many people read something and what they do with it."

The notifications are still simple, says Peter. "If the number of readers exceeds a certain amount, our editors get a notification through Microsoft Teams. Then they can, for example, present the article more prominently. Until now, that was based on instinct. Now it's still an editorial decision, but a better-informed one. It's simple, but it does the important stuff for us.'"

One of the screens at PA Media shares a smartocto dashboard

What is PA Media pleased about?

"The most important thing is that this has now simply entered the newsroom. The number of users is rising rapidly, there are already 60 (as of the end of November 2023). Once it all becomes more ingrained, we can start looking at the fancy stuff. For example, we could send personal reports to editors."

How is it that this tool quickly becomes ingrained? "It's slick and easy to understand," summarizes Peter. "It helps that the outcome sometimes surprises. When the prime minister resigns, that's naturally the biggest story of the day. But interestingly, sometimes a story about the 'Top 50 travel destinations' suddenly appears at the top. Especially when such things happen while you are presenting all sorts of different articles about a prime minister's departure, it's good to keep a feel for the moment when journalists are saturated and start looking for other topics. We can also see which angles work well and which do not."

With Stream, PA Media were able to customise their notifications and dashboard to ensure that the right information was getting to the right people. Because information is processed in real time, newsrooms - and news agencies - are able to keep on top of the wire, action those things of value, and delegate where appropriate.

Optimise work with a quadrant

Are there types of reports or content that are habitually produced without due consideration of their effectiveness or efficacy?

At PA Media, Peter highlights an example of this:

"We wondered: how many people are reading rugby league injury reports? We've always produced these on the assumption that some clients are getting value from them - but what do the numbers say?"

It turns out that very few actually did, which raises the following suggestions:

  • Could this be automated?
  • Could it be presented in another form or format?
  • Is it worth considering reducing the frequency of these reports?

Peter used smartocto’s Quadrant Model to help ascertain which articles were chronically underperforming. This is valuable because you can see at a glance what’s working - and what isn’t. ‘Reach Champions’ typically benefit from further enrichment; ‘Niche but Nice’ from an adjusted distribution strategy. Article types frequently landing in the ‘Basement bunch’ section might not be worth bothering with at all (or perhaps bothering with less frequently.

In the case of the Rugby League injury reports, these articles typically sat in the bottom left, so PA Media reduced their frequency.

The results

  • More aware of the importance of real time - within a news agency five minutes can make a lot of difference.
  • Actionability part has been invaluable - and delivering it to the newsroom in a format that’s digestible and easily integrated has been key

What’s next?

It’s now crucial that PA Media is sharing its newly obtained wisdom with the newsrooms they work with. “It's already so insightful, but if newsrooms are willing to share their impact data with news agencies, they can measure the whole flow. Everyone will benefit. If clients can share data it can help with production and commissioning - we’d know that clients need politics in the morning and business in the afternoon, for example.”

  • More agency-specific notifications
  • See the weight of a download. One journalist could use that download for 100 websites, but it's not in the data yet.
  • Connect to the PA Media data lake
  • Add historical authors insights
  • Holy grail: newsroom client also sharing

What can your newsroom learn from this?

  • Keep it simple, but not simplistic
  • Honour your workflows and purpose
  • Iterate, iterate, iterate - where you’re at is fine. But where you’re going? Now that’s worth investing in