Government spends ‘£16m on media monitoring’?

The Guardian reports that the Conservative Party have unearthed that the spending by the various arms of the UK government on ‘media monitoring’ – ie finding out what people are saying about them – reached the sum of £16 million pounds over the last three years.

Whitehall departments alone spend more than £11m on outside media monitoring companies, including £2.7m in the last financial year.

Quangos including the Arts Council for England, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, have spent another £2.248m.

The Conservatives pointed to the fact that the government has its own in-house monitoring service, which employs 19 staff and costs £1m a year to run.

The full cost of media monitoring is likely to be even higher, however, because the figures exclude two of the biggest government departments, the Department of Health and the Department of Work and Pensions.

ØThe Conservatives said the two departments refused to provide details of their respective spending because it was deemed to be "commercially sensitive".

That does sound like rather a lot of money to be spending. The quote above does mention COI’s own media monitoring service (see towards the bottom of this page) which I am sure is an awful lot cheaper than commercial alternatives.

Another way of cutting down on this sort of cost, of course, is to make use of monitoring tools on the web. Alright, subscribing to a few Google searches on key terms probably won’t replace the efforts of getting an agency to do it, but it surely would help if individual teams within an organisation are monitoring what people are saying online about their work.

After all, with almost all of the mainstream media now making most of their content available on their websites, I wonder just how much stuff would get missed – assuming you were tracking the right stuff?

3 thoughts on “Government spends ‘£16m on media monitoring’?”

  1. Huh, huh. They never heard of Google Alerts, clearly – or maybe they pay someone else to stick the right words in Google Alerts …

    The most useful tool to watch what others are saying about you, perhaps they are worried about a hostile takeover …

  2. I'm not sure its that simple. Good media monitoring requires a fair bit of human intervention/ knowledge / expertise which is where I guess where most of the money is going – salaries. I sometimes take the long train down to Dorset late on a Saturday morning and see a group of young un's systematically going through every newspaper of the day and marking items of interest. No idea who they work for or what they are looking for either but its pretty labour intensive.

    I've no doubt that online filters could take a fair bit of the strain here but so far my experience is that its a lot more difficult to replicate a pukka cuttings service using online tools, particularly the free ones (I'm aware there are some paid for services around but I haven't used them). For a start the sheer scale of of keywords for my own employer is enormous and when we tried to replicate this using an RSS reader and various filters we discovered the algorithms are not sophisticated enough to truly filter stuff down to what we want. For example, on the keywords we monitor is 'suicide' – stick that into google alerts and the return is enormous. We would need to add several filters to make that search workable and even then it would miss stuff and throw stuff in we didn't want.

    I'm sure using online monitoring tools will become more mainstream (the fact that you can easily aggregate and syndicate stuff of interest is the killer app for me) but I think its a little way of as yet.

    1. Hey Jeremy – I think that's the point I was trying (as always, clumsily) to make – using online monitoring won't fill the gap completely but must surely help and could reduce costs a little. As Steph and I seem to be eternally discussing, there still isn't an ideal product that will monitor, aggregate, clean up and filter online content in one go.

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