Nielsen CEO Feels Earned Media Metrics Are Crucial

For marketers, Facebook and Twitter giveth and taketh away. With TV as a launching pad, use them effectively to generate earned media and your golden. Fail to capitalize and that could be trouble.

Listening to Nielsen CEO David Calhoun, earned media is becoming exceedingly crucial to ad campaigns. Of course, a low cost is a benefit, but buzz created on social media has that valuable feel of an authentic endorsement.

Calhoun’s vision of a modern campaign looks to include top-notch TV advertising, buttressed by digital initiatives and followed by a long tail of earned media.

“That earned piece of it is going to have a lot to do with the success or failure of CMOs and agencies and everybody attached,” Calhoun said at an investor event this week.

For Nielsen, the challenge is to offer CMOs data to get their arms around the link between paid and earned media. Also, tracking the impact of Facebook and Twitter activity at the bottom of the funnel that starts with TV.



“In television, great content players will always have a place and their beachfront is always going to matter,” Calhoun said. “If you wanted a bigger earned media hit – really wanted one – there is nothing quite like a great ad on a beachfront property to make that happen and marketers are not confused by that.”

In his appearance before investors, Calhoun started by saying he was “wired” and then proceeded to spend about an hour touching on topics from the economy to single-source measurement. (He mentioned “earned media” a lot.) The steely former General Electric vice chairman and co-author of the book “How Companies Win” can sound like the smartest guy in the room – he might be – so it takes a bit of parsing through his waterfall of information and opinions to find accessible nuggets, but here are a few:

-Large consumer package goods marketers are reining in some spending with economic uncertainty. That’s not just the case domestically and in Europe, but in emerging markets that used to be on a hockey-stick-like growth pattern. “There is no question that everybody is in a bit of a strap-it-down mode right now,” he said. “They’ve been there for a little while. I think the tail end of the third quarter sort of brought some clarity to that.”

-Consumer confidence surveys had barely touched on matters of national debt before. Now, with the U.S. downgrade last summer and impending fiscal cliff, people are expressing worry. “They started connecting all the dots and now it’s always on the register of concern and it’s always a priority issue,” Calhoun said.

-Nielsen takes flack from clients non-stop in both its buy and watch businesses, but it doesn’t bend, Calhoun said. It’s not possible to “satisfy every client" since the audience or market share Nielsen picks up can be below expectations, so "we’re in battles all the time. It is the nature of what we do, but it’s important in a measurement world to sustain that objectivity.”

-Calhoun believes Nielsen needs to focus on measuring audience reach because that will emerge as the currency regardless of the platform. “In my view it’s the only thing that ultimately is efficient enough and clear enough that can get traded on,” he said. (Nielsen's new Online Campaign Ratings offer a reach metric.)

-At the same time, it may be a necessity for programmers to use data that connects viewership to purchase behavior to demonstrate advertising effectiveness. That could be a risk for poorly performing networks, “but increasingly the business model is forcing (them) down that path,” Calhoun said. Nielsen has a partnership with Catalina Marketing in this field.

-Highly coveted inventory across platforms will continue to be bought and sold with current models. But less-desirable real estate will increasingly be transacted with automated trading systems. “I think that’s going to be taken over by the Googles of the world and others,” Calhoun said. “It’s just going to have to be done more efficiently.” Google recently said it would drop an auction-type TV buying and selling system.

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