There is no question that there is plenty of data available in PR, but there is no point gathering information unless you gather the right sort and use it well. Which begs the question: do you need specialist data and research specialists in your PR agency or department, or can nearly anyone make sense of PR data these days?
First of all, it is worth working out how much data really helps PR campaigns. Daniel Reilly, co-founder of marketing analytics provider Ruler Analytics, says: “When it comes to planning a PR campaign, the use of data analytics can either be a massive distraction, or a potential goldmine if utilised correctly.” Nicolas Huguenin, CEO and co-founder of media monitoring platform Visibrain, agrees, saying that is important to be discriminating when gathering information: “Don’t be tempted to go overboard and collect huge quantities of data around a brand or product – noisy data provides fewer insights. Fine-tuned monitoring gets far better results. If the data is supposed to help pre-empt a crisis, then a data monitoring strategy focusing on topics that represent a potential risk – such as ‘smoking’ PR issues or certain key influencers – can be incredibly effective.”
Huguenin says that to get the most out of social data, you need good tools. “The devil is in the detail – a weak signal in social data can be crucial for identifying a crisis in its earliest stages and stopping it before it has time to snowball. A good monitoring tool will have an alert system to help detect unusual activity quickly.”
Gathering the right data in the best way is just the start says Reilly: “Data analytics can only go so far. If a customer visits a website and then picks up the phone to find out more, then PR and marketing teams need to know exactly where the lead came from. This is where call tracking can come in as it can help figure out which content is driving phone calls and conversions, for example a particular article might be causing an influx of phone calls. This can then directly link sales to both online and offline marketing efforts and can be used to inform and target PR campaigns more effectively.”
There may be widespread agreement (admittedly between those whose business is based on data) that using and understanding data is vital in PR, but does that mean each PR team or agency needs a data specialist to understand and analyse all the numbers involved? Reilly says an emphatic “no”. He explains: “With the tools available it is possible for anyone – be it a marketing specialist or a junior PR executive – to gain deep insight into what is working and what isn’t using data analytics. Moving forward, I believe the whole PR sector, whether they work for an agency or in-house, will need to dramatically rethink the way they measure PR activity in order to prove both the effectiveness of campaigns and return on investment”. In other words, you don’t need a mega-geek, but you do need people who appreciate and understand data. Visibrain’s Huguenin disagrees with Reilly that anyone can understand data analytics and says that PR agencies should have experts in-house: “Don’t underestimate the value of having a specialist in-house to interpret data accurately.”
To conclude, you don’t have to be a geek to work in PR, but it definitely helps. Below, two agency heads explain why data, and appreciating it, is so vital to them.
Why we need data specialists
Jan Mikulin, global head of digital marketing at PR firm Grayling: “Making the most of data is no longer a game for specialists and scientists. We are all becoming ‘life analysts.’ Our job, as communications professionals is, ‘To turn data into information, and information into insight’ [Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP].
“However, as Einstein warned, ‘Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.’ So we need to understand what data is important and how we can most expediently access it.
“At Grayling, we have two primary methods of doing this. The first is to invest in the best third-party and proprietary tools available to access it. The second is to critically question the client and audience needs, so as to get clarity of focus. Our planning directors and head of insight created a process to support our staff to ask better questions, whilst also sharing knowledge, skills and best practice to empower them to be able to create advantage from whichever data source they need for their specific activity.
“The changing landscape of comms means that it is imperative for all PROs be proficient in interpreting and manipulating data to find actionable and measurable insights.”
James Kaye, co-founder of B2B PR and marketing agency Big Ideas Machine: “A data-centric approach is very much where B2B PR is heading, and it can only be a good thing. As an agency, we're increasingly focused on creating great content for clients which necessitates more of a hybrid PR/marketing approach.
“The reality for B2B campaigns these days is that the media represents but one way to get your customers content out there, and so we need to generate other methods such as through SEO. The great thing about this approach, which is more akin to inbound marketing, is that it's very metrics driven. Now, we can monitor traffic sources as well as data on optimised landing pages, email submissions and downloads.
“We’re currently using CoverageBook, which does a great job of giving stats on media coverage. With the inbound marketing approach, the most efficient way for an agency like us to operate is to use marketing automation software which is why we're seriously evaluating Hubspot. An automated marketing system gives a unified view of where customers are coming from and how many of them are converting. If we adopt an automated marketing system, then all of our staff will need to be trained on it. A single integrated system has its own reporting and analytics tools. This mitigates the necessity for a full-time data analyst to look over multiple separate solutions (MailChimp, HootSuite, Google Analytics, etc.) and try to generate insight which can be turned into report-friendly tables or charts.”
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