FedEx gets a grip on its broadcast coverage

Some two years ago, FedEx issued a complicated earnings report that was misunderstood by a good number of broadcast media reporters, who in turn painted an inaccurate picture of the company's financial performance.

By the time FedEx's public relations and investor relations departments became aware of the problem, the inaccurate reports had already negatively affected the company's stock price. It took hours for FedEx to reach out to the broadcast media involved and clarify the issue.

After that incident, FedEx decided it needed a way to monitor broadcast coverage of the company in real-time, in order to address financial information misunderstandings, track marketing campaigns and manage crisis situations. "Our reputation is our most important asset. We have a multibillion dollar global network of services but if no one trusts us, it's all for naught," said Eric Jackson, vice president of worldwide corporate communications at FedEx.

"In today's world, in the ongoing clutter of the media market, your ability to know at any given point in time what people are saying about you or how they are interpreting what you said is absolutely critical to managing your reputation, so we felt the need to have real-time insight into what was being said about us in the broadcast arena," he added.

After evaluating different options, FedEx chose Critical Mention and subscribed to its broadcast monitoring service in March 2003. Critical Mention delivers TV clips digitally to subscribers' desktop PCs one minute after keywords they have set up -- such as their company name -- are mentioned in a broadcast. Currently, Critical Mention monitors about 27 broadcast channels in the U.S., and plans to expand that number significantly in the coming months, a spokeswoman for the vendor said.

Critical Mention was founded in 2002 to provide companies with a service to track their brands and products on television, and it has already signed up about 150 clients.

"Television (news) is happening live, without a lot of editing, so it is more likely (than print media) to contain mistakes and inaccuracies, and millions of people, many of them investors, are watching. With our service, public relations and investor relations professionals, researchers, brand managers and CEOs are able to review what is being said about their companies on TV and respond immediately," said Sean Morgan, Critical Mention's founder and chief executive officer.

Critical Mention grabs the broadcast signals via antennas, cable and satellite, digitizes the video streams, stores them in its databases, breaks them up into one-minute chunks, indexes them for on-demand queries and also pushes them out to clients based on the keywords they previously selected.

After a recent earnings announcement, FedEx once again was faced with some inaccurate TV reporting about its financial performance, but this time around, using the Critical Mention service, it was able to detect the mistaken dispatches minutes after they aired, Jackson said. FedEx issues its earnings reports in the morning before the financial markets open in New York.

"We were able to quickly get on the phone, correct the errors with the TV producers and in some cases with the on-air reporters, who then corrected themselves. Before the market started trading, we had the right information out there, which led to a correct interpretation of our earnings," he said.

The Critical Mention service has also proven useful to FedEx when dealing with crisis situations, Jackson said. "Unfortunately, like a lot of companies, we have to deal with those events, and we need to make sure the message is correct in time-sensitive and sometimes chaotic situations," he said.

FedEx also uses Critical Mention as a diagnostic tool to monitor the effectiveness of major marketing campaigns, Jackson said. "You want to ensure people are getting the message, that it's being interpreted correctly, that you're on track and that you're gaining momentum with each communication," he said.

However, the effectiveness of the Critical Mention service, as with any such tool, will depend also on how it is employed internally, Jackson warns. "You have to be up to the task of what this will provide for you. Make sure you have your own house in order because it's somewhat of a transformational tool if your team isn't ready for it. You have to think how this is going to change your game."

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