Interview with David Mapple, Director of Outcider, a media intelligence company in the UK.
Hi David, what is your background and what is included in your current role at Outcider?
My background is in marketing and business consultancy. I was working at a marketing consultancy when I met my business partner, and we left to set up Outcider on the basis that the clients we were working for were asking to understand media; what does it mean, what do we need to listen to and what can we do with it?
We went to market utilising just a few pieces of kit to create reports for clients. At that time, clients didn’t want dashboards or to log into platforms, they wanted reports that would explain the media landscape and their position in it. We found that the platforms we were using were not making life easy and from a scalable point of view we would need many more analysts, which was never the premise of the business. So we decided to build one ourselves: not an easy process.
My role today at Outcider is best defined as product manager, but I maintain my media analyst role too. My partner runs the business whereas I build the business. Because I’ve been analysing media for so long, I can give a perspective on what our system should be and how it needs to evolve. I receive feedback from the team and our clients on what they need in terms of output for our system’s analysis.
What differentiates Outcider from other media intelligence companies?
First and foremost, what sets us apart is our background; we find out what the client wants in terms of output and engineer that back into a piece of software. We have a consultative approach.
We found that in the early days of the business, large competitors were producing stats that were then passed to the clients, who often didn’t know what to do with it. It was more of a box ticking exercise for companies than one that added value. Now, we’re able to be part of the team of the client, and we can offer them a closer service beyond the reports.
We’ve been able to do this because we’re a smaller company. As the company grows, this will become harder to maintain and will invariably need more account managers. That’s why we’re reassessing our software, to build in Intercom and other systems that can help with guidelines, while we also change the brief as we go forward.
What are Outcider’s greatest challenges ahead when it comes to serving your customers and developing your offering?
With our decision to sell software, we are making the decision to move away from consultancy work. We want to sell software to agencies, public affairs in particular.
The major challenge for us is data credibility. There are all sorts of data out there - social, traditional, broadcast - everyone has an opinion and is allowed to express it. We need to remember that just because an opinion is published in The Times, does not make it valuable. In fact, if that opinion is in The Times or The Washington Post then it is too late for what we want. We need to look below the surface to find the opinions that will soon find the light. So-called opinion makers are where we’re focusing now, finding out why they think what they think, their agenda and their background. This is a challenge because we deal with a lot of regulated industries - academic or scientific resources are often funded by the people they’re advocating for. This is something that concerns us. That’s why we look for credibility of data and sources prior to producing reports and metrics on them.
Are you about to release any new technology-based solutions that will add to or improve services you offer your clients?
We will release a new piece of software - a stakeholder analysis platform - on July 4 this year. The platform will still provide media monitoring and will base its extraction of entities on media data. With the software we can set up a key media topic and bring in a dataset. The software will then extract key people and organisations, connection them, and profile them so that when a client logs into the system they can go into the directory of stakeholders on any given topic to see those that have spoken most frequently on the topic, what they’re saying, why they’re saying it and other similar points. When the client thinks a particular stakeholder is of interest, they can be tagged and monitored before being moved over to a COM system where stakeholder engagement can happen. The impact of that engagement can then be monitored on the system so clients can see why they are speaking to stakeholders and how to influence the influencers.
Media monitoring, we believe, has been devalued as a term. There is now a race to the bottom that we do not want to be involved in. We want high-end credibility in regulated industries; legislation, regulation and the likes, less so in brand reputation.
When it comes to the actual data behind the media intelligence you do, what kind of data or media not currently used could be interesting in the future?
Over the years, social media data has been a bugbear for me. I’ve generally refused to use it because there are so many other systems that do social media analysis. Outcider does traditional media analysis. There’s more content to work with, and we can then find context from that content.
That said, we have finally accepted that with the new architecture of our new software system, which can pull in data from different streams including social, that we will use it. The previous system was built around traditional data whereas this one has a wider net. This will give Outcider further opportunities, but we will always begin from the traditional analysis end, rather than the other way around. We believe this is the most valuable method.
Political, legislative and legal data streams will also be useful within the new system. This is where we see our future.
How do you think the media intelligence industry will change in the next five years, and what are the greatest challenges ahead?
Many people within the industry are talking about AI. The technology we all use and access to servers like Amazon AWS has undoubtedly helped the industry advance and to build software. Collaborative, open share software is improving and will continue growing in popularity, while data visualization is also making major steps.
But there’s a concerning trend of a race to the bottom to reduce costs that is happening. Often, the reality is that upfront costs are reduced but there are additional costs elsewhere in the process. This is something Outcider will not be part of, hence why we’re trying to move away from the media monitoring term.
It’s important for us to continue looking forward to having foresight on opinions rather than reflecting on what has already passed. Media monitoring by its nature looks backwards. Learning from the past is important, but our goal has always been being able to have anticipation.
We’ve always subscribed to augmented intelligence rather than AI. This is in contrast to the general industry opinion. Certainly AI has its place but we have always chosen to augment the best of our human capabilities and those of technology together. If we use technology wisely and appropriately, humans are freed up to do what humans are best at; consultative analysis and speaking to clients directly. We began with an ethos of 80% human and 20% technology use. We’re trying to reverse that so the software is doing the number crunching and that we can then provide our expertise, to turn it into valuable reports.
By Peter Appleby