The New Rules of Measurement: Using Data to Tell a Story

In the old days, knowing how to write well topped the list of desirable PR skills. At present, words still hold court, but numbers now sit adjacent on the throne of PR strategy.

At the PRNEWS Measurement Boot Camp in NY Oct. 17, executives from Edelman Intelligence, Prudential, APCO, AMEC (the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication), UTC and Paine Publishing offered their expertise about something that still baffles many communicators. 

The overarching theme among speakers alluded to the fact that it’s no longer enough to know how to read a data platform. PR pros need to use that data. Uses include extracting insights from the data and applying them to your company's operations. Similarly, communicators can use data to tell stories. Data can also be crucial during a crisis, speakers said.

Before any of this can occur, though, communicators need to align measurement efforts with business goals. The way to understand these goals better is through old-fashioned research, the speakers agreed. 

Quantify Contribution to the Business

How can you contextualize data if you're less than clear about business goals? Graphs and spreadsheets may be pretty and look impressive, but they add nothing if they don’t align with goals.

“Unless you are measuring against a specific goal, all measurement is relative,” said Johna Burke, global managing director at AEMC. “If you have one billion impressions, but you can’t go in the street and have one person tell you what your message is, you have a problem. Your feedback needs to be about how (communications) affects the business. If your CEO is asking about Facebook likes, you are probably doing something wrong.”

Katie Paine, CEO of Paine Publishing, suggested spending time with the CEO as the first step to measurement. 

“Ask your CEO how he or she expects communications to affect the bottom line,” Paine said. “If they say 'exposure,' you say, 'So what—how can we contribute to those things?' You can’t assume anything. Get specifics.”

In addition, Paine urged communicators to interact with target audience members to better understand the business. Spend time in the field, she said, and/or go on sales calls.  

Develop a Context With Data

The majority of CEOs and C-suite executives are inundated daily with email, charts and graphs. What you provide needs to stand out, so you don’t just become another print out in the recycling bin. This can start with dashboards and end with storytelling. 

A dashboard that is read regularly is "the best dashboard you can create," said Kristen Coughlin, SVP, Edelman Intelligence. “Look at who is reading the dash and what format they want to read in. CEOs like emails with quick viewable tables and bullet points." 

George Sutcliffe, lead for global communications analytics and research at United Technologies Corporation, agreed. He suggested creating dashboards representative of the reader’s title and skill. 

Similarly, Coughlin said, "If you don’t have the right display, people will not read” your dashboard.

“CEOs and those with finance backgrounds require more involved dashboards,” Sutcliffe said. Marketers, he said, "prefer visual charts. Communicating with employees requires a more holistic approach. Don’t just create a dashboard for yourself. You need buy-in from above.”

Questions First, Then KPIs

Allyson Hugley, VP, global communications, and head of research and analytics at Prudential, noted that answering questions is at the root of data collection at her company.

As noted above, one of the questions is how can communications inform the business going forward? In addition, Prudential uses data to tell "a success story or an achievement,” Hugley said.  "Our framework development is always tied to a critical question...questions you want answered determine KPIs. What do you want to get out of this exercise? Or what is the next step? What do we need to suspend? How do we want to start or go forward?”

Vanity metrics also was a topic of discussion. Bill Dalbec, MD of APCO Insight in DC, joined Coughlin in eschewing meaningless metrics and metrics in isolation. It's important to work with a variety of metrics, Dalbec said.  

“Go beyond that big impression number,” Coughlin added. “Think holistically about all of the communications sources your program has touched - earned media placement, social media, web traffic, etc. Go beyond one big KPI on the screen and use the data to tell a success story.”