Gut instinct often helps drive decisions in the PR industry and sets agencies apart from one another. But this trend is beginning to change as a result of increased integration between PR and marketing. As CMOs and CEOs ask for empirical performance metrics, public relations has been slower in adopting technologies and practices that are grounded in data, for fear that the data will ultimately trump their gut instinct.
Public relations professionals typically use data less than their colleagues in the marketing and advertising departments. Data is viewed as secondary, because the work they do—earning media coverage, generating creative campaign ideas and crisis communications—is less quantifiable and harder to measure. It’s also difficult to directly quantify the impact an article or news cycle had on someone’s decision to buy a product, or their overall perception of a brand.
An industry built on gut instinct
The public relations industry is widely known and trusted for its “gut instinct,” where decisions are based on collective experience, past outcomes and media relationships. However, stakeholder communications has become increasingly competitive as newsrooms are undergoing rapid change and the social media landscape challenges “best practices” for reputation management. PR professionals are left trying to draw from past experience to predict what will work best, from what story angles will interest reporters to deciding whether a crisis will pick up steam.
The future of PR is precision: the combination of intuition and data to predict the most accurate and impactful outcomes. With the wealth of information available today, the time has come for PR practitioners to make decisions based on available facts and analytics and not solely based on their gut. While there will never be a standardized method that can guarantee success by combining the right amounts of intuition and data before launching a campaign, there are steps that PR can take to better illustrate and justify its decision-making process for its clients.
Combine PR, marketing and advertising data points
The first step to improving the overall decision-making process is for PR teams to take the facts and figures they’ve been collecting and combine them with the available data from the marketing and advertising teams. This can come with a level of risk and apprehension: what if the combined data ends up disproving the value of some of the PR team’s strategies and tactics? While this can be difficult feedback to receive, it gives PR the opportunity to adjust its approach based on all of the data being collected. This enables them to look at data trends around a specific campaign or initiative to get a better sense of what worked and what needs to be adjusted.
For example, did a particular article or PR action draw a spike in social media conversation? Did this increase in social mentions and earned media coverage lead to an increase in website traffic? Have the stories that’ve come out furthered—or started—a new news cycle or moved the conversation around the client, issue or topic? There’s a real opportunity here for public relations and marketing to collaborate on integrated campaigns that deliver measurable results and insights that can be refined and actioned as part of future initiatives.
Analyze and pivot
After gathering and combining all available data, it’s important to take the time to analyze it. While this is a time-consuming process, it’s important to fight the initial instinct to run with the raw data that’s available before it’s been fully processed and understood. Doing this runs the risk of taking action on numbers you don’t fully understand, or that are incorrect.
Taking the time to understand your data can make the difference in how successful a recommendation or campaign is for your client. Scrubbing all available data points enables PR to remove values that aren’t relevant and can help uncover new insights and ideas that weren’t previously discussed. This allows PR to quickly pivot and make critical adjustments to efforts based on newly discovered insights and information or change its tactics and recommendations to ones that are a better fit for the outcome they’re looking to achieve.
As PR professionals, we shouldn’t be afraid of data. In fact, data should bolster how we think strategically about campaigns we recommend. We should be taking the time to analyze data and share it with our counterparts in advertising and marketing departments to help drive better results. Adopting a more open approach to all facts and figures helps PR report its results beyond traditional metrics, like the number of stories that ran, briefings that were conducted or overall impressions that were garnered. Additionally, when we take a closer look at all of our data, we give ourselves the ability to look forward—not backwards—in our efforts.
Ben Chodor is President of Intrado Digital Media.