Eight Steps to Help Communicators Arrive at Actionable Insights

Mark Weiner, IPR Measurement Commission/Chief Insights Officer, Cision

PR pros recognize the advantages of data-informed communication: most subscribe to a platform and they have more data available to them than ever before.

More and more corporate PR departments employ dedicated data scientists, as do some mid-size PR firms. As PR evolves, the objective for communications measurement, analysis and evaluation advances similarly.

Today the goal is actionable insights for better business decision-making.

But what qualifies as an insight and what makes it actionable or useful?

For one, “insights incite.” They provoke. Insights demand attention and spark the communicator to respond. The foundations for useful insights are good data, critical thinking and sector expertise.

The desired output requires consideration, compels action and enables measurement for continual improvement. As such, the goal extends beyond real-time, dynamic visualization and even applied Artificial Intelligence to uncover what the numbers mean to your business and which actions should be taken to improve it.

1. Measure…and Measure Right

Every PR situation requires its own approach. However, every useful communications research program holds these data elements in common:

  • Quantitative Data means “how many.” This may mean “the number of survey respondents” or “audience reach.”
  • Qualitative Data reflects the tone and sentiment indicated in a survey response or in a social media post.
  • Comparative Data indicates performance versus competitors, past performance and objectives.

Measure right may be a matter of what’s good enough. For example, automated media analysis may be good enough for routine social media listening when the volume of content is too high.

When, though, the stakes are high – an emerging crisis, for example – the benefit of expert human validation provides greater accuracy and the potential for deeper insights at the speed of decision-making (not necessarily real time).

2. Assess Exec Preferences, Priorities

Actionable insights require relevancy. Knowing the predilections of senior executives and the objectives of the enterprise – and then focusing on them – improves the likelihood that research findings will resonate.

Most senior executives want to know:

  • What are the latest developments in our marketplace?
  • What trends do we see?
  • To what degree are political, policy and regulatory uncertainties influencing our business? How?
  • How are we attracting and retaining our best talent? What developments threaten our position as an employer of choice?
  • Is the senior leadership team operating as effectively as it can?

Most communicators want answers to questions such as:

  • Who are our target audiences? To what degree do we reach them now – and how?
  • What are our intended messages? To what degree do target audiences credibly identify them with us?
  • Which channels most efficiently deliver our intended messages to our target audiences?
  • How do target audiences interact with our media channels, and to what effect?
  • How are we meeting – or beating – our objectives?
  • Are we investing our communications dollars wisely? How can we improve?

3. Segmentation Empowers Action

Audience segmentation analysis enables the communicator to operate with precision. A by-product of attribution technology and analysis, target audience data makes broad decision-making more manageable by isolating smaller sectors with more specific tactics.

The resulting rise in performance should reveal a similar increase in efficiency as you do more with less – and for less.

4. Context Drives Decision-Making

Good research, analysis and evaluation simultaneously reveal and add substance to the circumstances forming and surrounding an event, a trend or an idea.

Similarly, they uncover the terms by which these triggers can be understood and assessed for decision-making. Begin your PR cycle with a landscape analysis to appraise your business, competitive and regulatory environments.

Using the landscape analysis to formalize measurable objectives sets the stage for action. It provides context to your performance relative to objectives, competitors, peers and your own historical trends.

If the communicator detects a shortfall or an opportunity, he can act to reinforce the advantage or remediate a deficit. Contextual insights and interpretive analysis (rather than descriptive analysis) disclose the degree to which your findings matter and the extent to which they influence the enterprise.

5. Compelling Visuals Reinforce Insights

While data-informed insights drive action, presenting useful insights in such a way that executives will find engaging, accessible and digestible enables easier cognition, adoption and execution.

Visuals without the what, how and why mean nothing, of course. When done properly, infographics combine data-informed storytelling with visual appeal and digestibility.

6. Build a Solid Optimization Plan

The Six Sigma philosophy of continuous improvement applies DMAIC, an acronym referring to a data-driven quality strategy for improvement that reflects five interconnected phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control:

  • Define the audience, the barrier to success and the process to be improved.
  • Measure relevant data by integrating from a wide variety of sources.
  • Analyze data patterns in order to reveal gaps and to prioritize opportunities.
  • Improve performance through actionable insights.
  • Control the process for continuous improvement by monitoring the situation over time, versus competitors and best practices.

7. Break Down Organizational Silos

A PR challenge may require more than a PR solution.

As business counselors, we must remain open to the possibility that a challenge may be better served from another group within the enterprise. By sharing actionable insights throughout relevant parts of the business, we uphold the profession and defend our roles as business assets.

8. Hire Smart

W.E.B. Du Bois, the scholar and activist, said, “When you have mastered numbers, you will, in fact, no longer be reading numbers any more than you read words when you read books. You will be reading meanings.”

Technology provides speed, accessibility and consistency, but without the proper set-up and ongoing management, technology alone is not enough.

The actionable insights process requires people who understand the business and who possess a combination of communications expertise and data science acumen.

Actionable insights require smart people to find the right data, to translate it into data-informed stories that communicate risk and opportunity and light a path for improvement through action.

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