Web analytics
“In this data-driven world, executives want – and expect – to see the connection between spend and conversion,” says Lewis PR CEO Chris Lewis. “Web analytics tell you far more than whether your messages are reaching people: they tell you if those people are taking any action as a result.” But if the conversion metric is a Facebook like, does that really demonstrate effectiveness?

Our investigation into PR and data is a three-part series. Jump to the following sections:

PR gets to grips with data-driven world
Case studies: Insight in action

Tooling up
There are now numerous tools and products available to monitor and analyse social media data - from both third-party vendors such as IBM, Radian6 and Sysomos and, increasingly, PR agencies themselves. For agencies, the trend can be viewed as a smart commercial ploy to build an extra revenue stream, but not everyone is fan of the approach. “It’s just not what agencies are good at and not always something their financial models can support,” says Porter-Novelli EVP Israel Mirsky who, nevertheless, launched a social media monitoring tool last year. “I don’t develop anything that I can get anywhere else. When I need a data view that I just cannot get anywhere, I will build it. It costs a lot of time and money and effort to build a valuable tool –and agencies that are trying to build tools are unlikely to be able to support the level of development cost and focus that a startup could.”

Shifting skills
Will the journalist contact book become a thing of the past? Unlikely, but requirements for better numeracy, insight and data management abilities are likely to become as important (particularly at an entry-level) as the traditional skills of intuition and access. “This means hiring strategies need to change,” admits March PR managing partner Martin Jones.

The collision with search
“There’s no point describing yourself as a ‘next-generation provider of recyclable pluvial liquid hydrogen and oxygen’ if what people are searching for is actually ‘water’,” says Lewis PR CEO Chris Lewis. “Keyword search volume is an easy way to identify the pain points of your target audience and PR pros are starting to use that data in their planning.”

Data-driven storytelling
The backlash against infographics may have already started, but there is little sign that the thirst for data-driven content is abating. This, says WCG director Brian Reid, poses a significant media relations challenge for the industry. “The raw data is out there, and the best reporters can now find and analyse that data on their own. Can we process raw data better than they can? Can we point out interesting trends before they show up on a journalist’s radar screen? Can we make publicly available information more beautiful or approachable or newsworthy?” If not, he adds, all of the number-crunching in the world will amount to an “empty exercise”.