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Are PR Professionals the unDATAbles?

More and more PR companies are turning to data to help inform strategies, writes Alan Keane.

Public Relations has a long-standing uneasy relationship with data. Some argue that it de-personifies what should always be a people-oriented profession.

However, what if that data can identify the wants and needs of your target audience far more accurately than traditional forms of measurement? Do you still discount its worth to your firm?

For those still hesitant to incorporate data into their planning, its worth remembering that data isn’t the problem. Failing to understand it is.

Dismissing the use of data out of hand will do nothing to enhance your business prospects. However, if you do decide to use it, it’s imperative that you understand what it is illuminating.

Whilst it’s a wonderful thing to be able to reel off the social media followings of key influencers to your clients when proposing a collaboration, what do those stats actually mean?

If there’s little engagement by those followers with the influencer’s content, then their following may as well be that of an anonymous Twitter egg troll.

Data is your friend

When PR folk grumble about the rising use of data, it’s likely because they see it as a threat to their traditional ways of working. However, when embraced, data can streamline your business and enhance the traditional values of PR such as media relations.

Mining relevant information from data can lead to more targeted audience selection and message development. Moreover incorporating data and automating elements of your business such as media lists, campaign reports etc. can free you up to undertake the high-value tasks like providing the human touch with clients.

Don’t over rely on it

In 2016, polling data was used to inform the world that Brexit wouldn’t happen and Hilary Clinton would be president. It was there in black and white (or blue and red in the US). However the stats presented merely confirmed what many wanted to believe, and didn’t offer the opportunity to delve into the reasons people would vote in the way they did.

Many Trump voters were silent Trump supporters, particularly in the middle and upper classes, as whilst they supported his policies, it may not have been popular to voice this in their social circles.

Did this mean that the campaigns that ultimately lost out took their foot off the gas through complacency? Perhaps not. However it’s very easy to subconsciously relax when the polls have you ahead. Just ask Theresa May.

Don’t use data to post-rationalise something you’re about to recommend. Use it early in the process.

The best analogy here is that you shouldn’t use data as a drunk uses a lamppost; for support rather than illumination. Trying to shoe-horn data into a pitch or plan late in the process just to back up something you are going to recommend anyway is self-defeating. If you use data in the correct way from the beginning, you will be able to more concisely identify the messages that will have the most impact, and the audiences they will have the most impact on.

There’s still room for gut instinct

Of course, for all data can do for your business and your clients, there is still room in the industry for brave souls with intuition and their finger on the zeitgeist. If everyone is using data, what will make you stand out is your ability to marry analysis with gut instinct. When you have spent years working for a client, the invaluable knowledge of what consistently works is equally as good as any mountain of data.

Alan Keane is an account handler with Plunkett Communications.

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ September 2017)© to order back issues please call 016611660

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