Rise of Data and Online Analytics Offers PR Executives a New Pitch

On Nov. 27 it was reported that Mitt Romney’s digital team submitted all the data from Romney’s presidential campaign to the Republican National Committee. Two days later, IBM Corp. opened the IBM Client Center for Advanced Analytics, which will help clients put their proprietary data and other data sets to use.

While not directly related, the moves help to illustrate how pervasive data management has become throughout the marketplace, whether it’s number crunching for a White House Wannabe whose message failed to resonate with the electorate, or Big Blue building a data warehouse to better serve its customers.

Indeed, as data inexorably moves to the core of marketing communications, PR executives are playing an increasingly pivotal role in helping companies and brands make better sense from the sea of data that constantly washes ashore.

“It allows [PR pros] to churn information in a way that clearly makes it easier to track their constituencies’ needs, behaviors and wants,” says Paul Argenti, professor of management and corporate communications at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. “Especially, with the ability to look at information online you really need that ability more than ever.”

He adds that, as with other emerging PR channels, the onus is on PR pros to articulate to the C-suite the budgetary value of investing in data services. “You have to have someone who’s smart enough to talk about this coherently,” Argenti says. “If you can convince them that a Twitter page is ‘nice to do,’ but it’s not going to lead to any outcomes that are going to put more money in their pockets, whereas Big Data will, they’ll be convinced.”

Alan Chumley, VP of the research and insights group at Fleishman-Hillard, adds that the growing volume of data in the digital space is putting PR to the test.

“There’s a huge difference between data and insights,” he says. “A platform will never in and of itself spit out insight. It’s really the people layered on top of that platform, with the right process, which extract the notable nuggets that you can use from a pre-campaign, strategy-shaping formative perspective.”

As they build staff to take on more of the data responsibilities they face, PR departments have to make sure they’re hiring people with a holistic approach to understanding data and online analytics.

“The human touch isn’t just any human,” Chumley says. “It’s not just any warm body sitting atop the right platform. It’s got to be an equally right brain and left-brain person, and 50% strategist and counselor and 50% data specialist.”

Crunching some numbers to help craft a PR campaign is not novel, of course. However, the ongoing explosion in digital marketing and social channels is now putting data front-and-center when it comes to tailoring campaigns and gauging customer value.

Take DeVries Global. The PR agency is increasingly using data to help craft a social-media strategy for its clients, according to Michael De Cicco, senior director of research and analytics at DeVries Global.

“What bigger data sets are going on than within the social sphere?” he says. “We’ve gotten very good at mining those conversations to really flesh out the white space that exists and identify where brands should be playing in a way that they can really connect with their consumers.”

De Cicco amplified Chumley’s comments that while data automation is all well and good PR pros can’t forgo the personal touch.

“While those [software] tools are great I find that the really deep qualitative insights, that we and our clients are looking for, is done by overlaying our techniques on the raw data,” he says. “Anybody can run numbers, but it’s the qualitative insights that sets PR apart in understanding the world in which we now live in.”

Ketchum is also taking data management to a new level. This year the PR agency started to require mandatory research and analytics training for all of its employees.

“We see it as a competitive advantage for every one in the company to have a base level of understanding of how data and analytics leads you to better communications programs,” says David Rockland, partner and managing director of Ketchum’s global research and analytics unit, which includes 150 employees in eight countries.

“In communications, it’s the idea of applying multiple data sets and layering them together to tease out where people live who you want to reach, what motivates them, what their current behaviors are and how you might change that,” he adds.

For example, Ketchum has been leveraging data on behalf of Cleveland Clinic, which wants to communicate more specifically to potential patients who would consider traveling to the clinic to seek medical care.

As part of its strategy, Ketchum melds the patient data with third-party data. The agency deploys “syndicated data sources to understand psychographics, media habits [and] very specific geo-graphics of those people, what they read, what they do and what they care about, such as family dynamics, and what markets they’re in,” Rockland says.

While Ketchum has for the last several years been using predictive analytics to drive its PR campaigns, Rockland says the proliferation of social media (and the attendant metrics) now enables the agency to demonstrate more value to its clients. “It really allows us to maintain a proactive, versus a reactive, stance,” he says. “That’s the real game changer.”

Rockland says what distinguishes PR departments in data management is their ability to examine the data with a creative eye, versus a strictly analytical point of view. “We’re data scientists, but we’re also PR professionals, which really helps us to get the most out of the data for our clients’ purposes.”

Big’ Opportunity: 3 Tips For Getting a Better Read on Data


David Rockland

It’s not a stretch to say that PR practitioners don’t exactly love math. Bad news. Data, analytics, statistics and math are increasingly becoming a necessity in the PR field, says David Rockland, partner and managing director of Ketchum’s global research and analytics unit. “With the amount of data available to us about markets, audiences, individual customers and competitors, we can use analytics to be much more precise in how we build programs and more predictive about how they will work,” says Rockland. Following are a few of the strategic priorities related to big data: 

1. Establish key questions you want to answer: These could include: What are the messages? What channel should be used? What geographies are being targeted? By understanding these areas, we can use data to create better programs, better understand our audience and know which channels will effectively deliver our messages.

2. Research should be analyzed holistically: Many companies house an enormous amount of data from brand tracking surveys, customer surveys and other syndicated sources. By layering data from a variety of sources and combining the analysis with social listening, we can begin to micro-target at the individual level.

3. Combine qualitative and quantitative research techniques: The right brain helps the individual in the art of asking the right questions, while the left-brain function brings the quantitative aspect of working through the numbers. Navigating the world of big data is both an art and a science that ultimately help us arrive at strategic insights.



Paul Argenti, paul.a.argenti@tuck.dartmouth.edu; Alan Chumley, alan.chumley@fleishman.com; Michael De Cicco, mdecicco@devriesglobal.com; David Rockland, david.rockland@ketchum.com.