Dorothy Crenshaw September 15, 2014 | 11:01:36

Is "Big Data" In PR's DNA?

“Back then, I was a geek. Now all of a sudden I have a sexy job.” – Claudia Perlich, Chief Data Scientist at Dstillery and panelist at the upcoming Council of PR Firms Critical Issues Forum

The rise of digital media and availability of ever-more granular data about how we use it have transformed marketing, but public relations has been a laggard in the data revolution. Yes, we know about data-driven marketing, most of us have promoted clients with a “Big Data” angle, but many of us remain in a state that a former client used to call DRIP (Data-Rich, Insight-Poor.) Public relations has an opportunity to take advantage of the democratization of data, but how? Is data really in our DNA?

The data debate will be part of The Council of PR Firms Critical Issues Forum, “The PR Genome Project,” on October 23, and not a moment too soon. As the lines between PR, advertising, and digital marketing blur, most communications professionals use data in our daily work, but we’re not even close to leveraging its full potential. In our view, here are just a few of the promising areas for PR practitioners.

Web analytics. Most PR pros are comfortable with social analytics tools and conversion as an important metric for measuring the impact of earned media placements, so it’s an excellent starting point. But a social dashboard or site traffic report doesn’t inform strategy.

Defining our audience. This is where harnessing and interpreting the vast amounts of available consumer data can offer insights that define the people we’re trying to reach and enable more precise messaging. As Perlich, the data scientist, told Mediapost, “I am not a generic 35-45 year old soccer mom and as such, should not be targeted with baking products. I am much more than that.” The old demographic segments are dead. We’re all much more than that.

Influencer research. As with the customers we’re trying to engage, we often tap influencers through a mix of social web search and intuition. But deeper data can glean insights that will help focus the spend of time and energy on those that really pay off.

Crisis preparation. Analysis of data from customer service calls, social media complaints, and online chatter can pinpoint customer dissatisfaction in advance of a full-blown crisis situation or identify pain points before they become serious.

For our industry, the promise of data is not just in the insights it offers and the validation of measurement tools and standards, but in how it can help elevate the role of corporate communications.  Data-driven insights that result in true strategic counsel for the company, in a way that cuts across marketing, reputation, and internal communications, can change the essence of what we do and drive the skills and insights that shape future programs. And there’s no more critical issue for PR than that.

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