Communication Insight Pros Bring a Variety of Talents, Experiences to PR

PR data, research and evaluation continue to flourish in agencies, non-profits and corporations large and small. 60 percent of communicators in a new poll say they measure “always or often.” The availability of low-cost technology is one reason. An indication of the growing importance of research-informed PR is the emergence of dedicated data scientists employed within communication teams.

Edelman promotes its Data & Intelligence unit (DXI) as more than “350 research specialists, business scientists, data engineers, behavioral and machine-learning experts and data strategy consultants.” Even some boutique agencies employ dedicated research and analytics talent. Universities, from USC to Rutgers, offer advanced degrees in Communication Data Science.

To encourage those considering the field and inform hiring decisions, we spoke with seven corporate members of the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission.

Each delivers research-based insight and guidance to communication colleagues.

They are: Jen Bruce, Ph.D. (Adobe), Cindy Villafranca (Southwest Airlines) Laju Obasaju, J.D. (Comcast), Elizabeth Rector (Cisco), David Cantor, Ph.D, (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), George Sutcliffe, J.D. (Raytheon Technologies) and Michael Young (Ford Motor Company).

Required Talents and Wide Experience

All agree that communication data pros need healthy curiosity, critical thinking skills and an ability to use technology. Data analytics is a given, of course, but one must also understand and apply data to uncover useful insights.

Elizabeth Rector and Laju Obasaju believe data analysts must know communication, as well as business goals, to properly align and integrate findings. Michael Young stresses how the best analysts are skilled communicators, using data to tell stories. David Cantor and George Sutcliffe emphasize being highly structured yet extremely flexible.

Obviously, prospective employers should seek graduates from communication research programs. In addition, consider candidates’ experience. Obasaju says being a “PR research outsider” affords her a unique and highly valued perspective. Cantor believes his tenure as a research lead at a well-known PR agency prepared him for a variety of assignments and to manage multiple initiatives simultaneously.

Prior Experience

Talent comes from every quarter: Obasaju and Sutcliffe are lawyers; Villafranca began in news and PR. Rector worked in strategic marketing, where she was first exposed to multiple data types, the importance of insights and the need to align research with company objectives.

Bruce began in social media and market research. From these experiences, she notes, “The scale of social data is in the billions in contrast to PR and market research data; however, the steps to developing the research questions, defining the data streams and analysis process is similar.” Bruce, Rector, Cantor and Young are career researchers, each with more than a decade in the field.

This variety of backgrounds emphasizes that hiring managers are advised to think broadly when seeking communication data executives.

Advice to Future PR Data Scientists

Suggestions for those beginning in the field are basic: network, communicate, understand the business, find a mentor. Introduce yourself to colleagues in market research, consumer insights and other data-driven consultants in adjacent departments. Seek to learn with and from one another.

More specific advice comes from Cisco’s Rector, who urges focussing “on the outcomes you want to solve,” rather than data only. That’s sound input: a data pro’s highest calling is offering insights that improve business performance.

Bruce of Adobe reinforces the basics: “Gain knowledge and expertise in research methodology. Data analysis and segmentation are critical.”

Southwest’s Villafranca suggests, “Join professional organizations related to communication measurement and data, like the Institute for Public Relations and AMEC. Learn from others smarter than you!”

Advice to Communicators

To get full value from data pros, PR must invite communication scientists to fully engage with the team, from objectives-setting to strategy development, campaign creation and execution, as well as evaluation and continuous improvement.

At the same time, communicators should let data pros help them dive into the world of analytics and insights. For communicators who view data as a creativity-killer, remember that research enables you to focus your vision, imagination and resources on opportunities with the highest potential.

Bruce says, “Ask the burning questions! It’s our role to translate communicators’ questions into actionable insights... We’ll tell you whether or not it can be done.”

As PR elevates its reputation as an essential for business success, the role of communication data science and insights enables us to reinforce our primacy and optimize the increased levels of investment we’ve earned.

The advent of research tools is just the first step. Hiring people who can manage tools, understand data and uncover useful insights that lead to greater success will reinforce PR’s position.

Mark’s new book is “PR Technology, Data and Insights.”