Why Half of PR Pros Share Metrics They Don’t Understand 

Data literacy, the ability to derive meaningful insights from data, is increasingly becoming a sought-after skill in the PR industry. It’s a troubling truth: a large number of PR professionals lack the confidence and skill set to effectively leverage data in their strategies.

A survey from PR reporting software company Coverage Book sheds light on the existing data literacy gap, revealing that many PR professionals face challenges in effectively utilizing data to inform their strategies.

Most compelling was that half of the respondents admitted to presenting a metric they didn't understandWhy do so many struggle with understanding the metrics?

It likely comes down to a combination of education and technology

Data Literacy as Part of Communications Curriculum 

As a predominantly humanities-led field, creativity, writing and other “soft skills” often take precedence over measurement and analysis. In today’s version of PR, we are required to show value and impact once in the field. If we don’t prepare for the jobs of today, new grads are not set up for success. 

Data literacy should be a key part of the communications curriculum, along with real-world application. Even with ongoing discrepancies around what PR “should” measure, sparking dialogue early on around these topics arms future professionals with a repository of options.  This should also include “kicking the tires” on various PR measurement platforms so they can truly experience what they may be using once on the job -- or come with a resume-building experience that is attractive both to in-house and agency employers. 

Without considering these new and expected requirements, the industry cannot harness the full potential of data-driven insights.

What to Measure

Marketing is messy. When PR is included in the funnel, it’s easy for data points (and what is actually measurable) to get muddied. Therein lies one of the essential challenges: what should be measured, when, how frequently and where it fits into the marketing mix. 

Some vendors even offer training-as-a-service as the software landscape becomes more competitive. This is imperative as PR teams can use dozens of separate systems to track results. 

Bite-sized metrics, or specific, measurable goals around key areas, like earned media, are a better option for the majority of reporting. Once media is secured, a metric like “estimated views” is appropriate for showing value. It is a digestible metric that is easily communicated and allows for goal setting and benchmarking. 

If the C-suite doesn’t see value, it doesn’t matter. And, when those same individuals task PR with demonstrating data-based value, it’s imperative that all levels understand exactly what they are measuring. 

In addition to establishing bite-sized metrics, it’s important that all areas of the organization are in alignment about what can be measured and how it will be communicated:

Part of the Strategy Development Team: Being at the table to establish what data-driven insights are required establishes increased understanding from the start. If it’s essential to measure target audiences and gauge campaign performance, then the tools and equipment need to be in place. 

Build Internal Credibility and Influence: Data-backed insights lend credibility to PR narratives, enabling professionals to back up their strategies with empirical evidence. By incorporating data into storytelling, PR practitioners can cultivate trust among stakeholders, both internal and external. 

If interpersonal breakdowns are impacting data literacy, they most often lie with one of the following culprits. It’s part of a larger cultural issue, but identifying the brutal facts is the only way to spark change.

  1. Lack of Tech Stack: Complex or technical data can be challenging to grasp fully. Trying to gather, understand and communicate without utilizing existing PR software tools is outdated. It allows too much room for human error to decipher or interpret accurately.
  2. Peer Pressure: The fear of being left out or appearing uninformed can lead individuals to share data or metrics they don't understand simply to align with their colleagues or industry trends.
  3. Fear: Sharing unfamiliar data or metrics can create an impression of expertise or being well-informed. Individuals may believe that by sharing such information, they will appear knowledgeable or intelligent to their peers or superiors.
  4. Lack of Time for Analysis: In time-constrained situations, individuals may hastily share data or metrics they don't fully understand to meet deadlines or keep up with the pace of information dissemination. Analysis and comprehension may take a backseat to the urgency of sharing.
  5. Incomplete Training or Education: Insufficient training or education in data literacy can contribute to individuals sharing unfamiliar data or metrics. Without the necessary skills or understanding, they may struggle to grasp the nuances and implications of the data but still feel compelled to share it.

Sharing data or metrics without understanding them can have detrimental effects, including misinformation, misinterpretation and skewed decision-making. To start, consider all of the places that help encourage a culture of data literacy, including software vendors, leadership, professional organizations and others who share a common goal to improve our industry. 

Sarah Evans is the founder and CEO of Sevans PR.