NEW YORK—Cohn & Wolfe is expanding its commitment to data and analytics in public relations planning and evaluation by joining The Data Alliance, a group dedicated to enhancing WPP operating companies’ access to data-driven capabilities.

Founded by media buying company research consultancy GroupM, Kantar, WPP Digital and knowledge-based marketing firm KBM Group in 2011, The Data Alliance was developed to foster collaboration, share knowledge and connect data across the Group. It has now been expanded to include both Cohn & Wolfe and ad agency JWT.

"The decision by Cohn & Wolfe and JWT to join The Data Alliance more formally reflects the growing importance of data in driving creative and communications programming," said Mark Read, CEO of WPP Digital. "In 2014, we expect WPP agencies to continue to take advantage of the breadth our data assets and we are very pleased to see these agencies invest in this Group-wide collaboration effort to make WPP even stronger in this area."

“We have always recognized that research is critically important and we have always used research,” says Cohn & Wolfe chief executive Donna Imperato. “But with a huge amount of real-time data now available, we need to get even more serious about it, and integrate it even more thoroughly into our creative process.”

Imperato believes that public relations—which has a greater ability to adjust in real-time—can benefit particularly strongly from improved access to data.

Chad Latz, global president of Cohn & Wolfe’s digital innovation group, believes that The Data Alliance will provide the right kind of information to enhance the firm’s creative work, complementing the information C&W as traditionally received from its subscription to WPP’s BrandZ and Brand Asset Valuator resources.

“In the past, we have been able to access a lot of perceptual data, which told us what consumers think about brands and products and companies,” says Latz. “What we will get from The Data Alliance is actual behavioral data, which will tell us what consumers are doing, online and in the retail environment. Those two things in combination will give us a level of detail we have never had before.”

Latz says the firm will now be able to provide clients with more advanced behavioral understanding of consumers; more refined creative ideation and content targeting capabilities aligned with these insights; and enhanced measurement effectiveness.

Imperato acknowledges that clients may not yet be ready to buy big data solutions from PR agencies, but believes the investment will pay off in other ways. “It will make our client work better and more measurable and help our clients sell more product,” she says. Moreover, she adds, if public relations firms don’t commit to this kind of data-driven approach, they will increasingly lose out to competitors from other disciplines.