The future of the communications industry is shifting, and it rests on integration. We hear a great deal about how digital has disrupted the way we PR practitioners do our jobs. We’re becoming both more comfortable with our digital future and competent at how to incorporate it into our work lives. While digital is no doubt the future, so too is data. In fact, they often go hand in hand, as is the case with measurement and analysis.
Data has always been present, but now more than ever it is readily available to PR professionals through a variety of resources. Many in the industry are familiar with popular tools like Google Analytics and Moz, but data can also be accessed directly from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WordPress.
When it comes to using these tools, there are many metrics available to help practitioners and their clients better understand how their audiences interact in the digital space – websites, social media platforms and mobile apps – and how media impressions help drive visitors to these properties. In terms of metrics, not only can you now measure the number of visitors on your website, for example, but further measurement allows you to determine your unique, returning and mobile visitors. You can also easily see where visitors are entering and leaving your site and the length of their stay. Such data helps you more narrowly define your audience and offers insights for how to target them to gain additional coverage and exposure for your clients.
The metrics we can use for measurement are seemingly endless and range beyond web and mobile, as illustrated by Breather utilizing RFID and Bluetooth to track point-of-interest tendencies in your space (e.g., Do you prefer to do work at your desk or on the couch?) and Google’s Adam Singer conveying in a recent PRSA “PR and Big Data” webinar that analysts are now even able to track data from coffee makers and sensors housed within retailers’ floors. Singer also speaks to Google Trends and tools that allow PR professionals to gauge what people are searching for online, which allows for more effective media pitches and more meaningful content creation.
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Measurement must then give way to analysis, which affords you crucial insights into your audience’s attitudes, behaviors, beliefs and values. Data clearly constitutes more than numbers alone and involves the nuggets that you’re able to derive from those numbers. As measurement guru KD Paine explains, “Data without insight is just trivia. Unless there is a ‘so what’ that goes after the number, all you are doing is presenting data. You need to draw a conclusion and make a recommendation, if you’re doing real measurement.”
In a 2013 post on PR agencies of the future, Paul Holmes makes an apt analogy about the industry, comparing it to Michael Lewis’ best seller “Moneyball.” He notes that in much the same way as baseball scouts in Lewis’ novel were misled to believe they could best identify a player based on attitude and physical appearance alone, PR practitioners must move beyond traditional tactics and begin leveraging data to glean helpful insights that will then hopefully drive more creative, effective campaigns.
Similar to the resistance of the scouts in “Moneyball,” there seems to be a struggle between traditional PR tactics and emerging skills such as data measurement and analysis. As Arik Hanson argues on his Communications Conversations blog, traditional skills like writing and media relations are as important as ever given clients’ growing content needs and today’s dwindling newsrooms. Nevertheless, having a grasp on emerging tactics helps complement one’s traditional skillset and gives pros the ability to not only measure various metrics, but also assess the impact of a communications plan on business objectives.
Therefore, rather than fear the inevitable, PR practitioners should embrace the fact that data is now so readily at our fingertips. There is a wealth of measurable data that can lead to golden insights about your audience and its tendencies, which can only enhance your efforts on a client’s campaign. At the same time, be mindful of Paine’s suggestion to start small with a manageable measurement project involving significant data that allows you to highlight the importance of analytics. Only upon successful completion of the project does she advise you to then take the project to your entire organization.
It is also of note that although measurement and analysis are often deemed functions of marketing, we would all be wise not to place data-related duties in the context of such siloes. As Derek Lyons explains on our SHIFT blog, PR and marketing efforts are most effective when in synergy and harmony.
While PR practitioners aren’t required to be data experts, being familiar with today’s tools is now a requirement in the industry. We should leverage the knowledge and experience of our in-house analysts to gain this familiarity and to create more effective campaigns for our clients. We would also be wise to take advantage of internal and external training as well as the many free websites, blogs, webinars, etc. available nowadays.
All in all, the future of PR is as promising as ever. It also happens to be ever-changing thanks to constant technological updates and trends, at the very heart of which is integration and big data. Practitioners must embrace the opportunity to evolve in their positions in order to better themselves professionally and better serve their clients.