Can you do PR by numbers?

Earlier this week, LinOpinion GolinHarris, launched ‘The Bridge’ for India, a real time monitoring system that helps communicators capture trends from both social and traditional media to plan campaigns. A sign that the Indian PR business is becoming increasingly sophisticated in the use of data to come up with customised plans.

If you are a PR professional of the future, there is no way to avoid aligning the ability to contextualise data with other PR skills; the market is already heading towards real time marketing for PR campaigns. The challenge remains to create budgets for this demand.

Real Time Marketing

The client’s need for real time marketing is growing.

Simon Ruparelia, Head of Digital, Asia, GolinHarris, feels that  RTM allows marketers access to their consumers at times when they would be most receptive to the brand messages, allowing them to reach their target audience in new and creative ways. And there are benefits to this. Simon says: “Our own study (GolinHarris Global RTM Study 2012) carried out over five markets showed that when consumers are exposed to real time marketing, there was a 20% or greater increase in the likelihood to learn more, discuss and consider a brand’s message. In an increasingly competitive and fragmented media landscape, what brand can afford not to take advantage of that?”

Clients now demand greater analysis when you pitch for new business

The new market demands of intelligent, timely and relevant listening around a brand, means that if you pitch for new business or even while creating PR campaigns, just plain old media coverage and sentiment analysis isn’t going to cut it anymore.

According to Simon Ruparelia, a platform like, “The Bridge focuses on 3 key areas – insights (what do people care about right now), narratives (what do they want to see, hear, read or do) and delivery (understand the most appropriate channel to reach the target audience).”

Many PR professionals say that clients expect a well thought out plan based on data. Some agencies in India are beginning to pay for the benefits of the data analysis to create strong pitches for new business.

Aseem Sood, CEO at Impact Research and Measurement and Director at AMEC feels that clients are not demanding research directly. But, “clients are demanding ‘evidence based approach and advisory’. Clients want to see the evidence of why the PR agency is proposing what they are proposing. Thus, PR agencies have to invest in good research to support their story lines.”

John W. Hayes the UK Marketing Manager for Vocus UK, says that he personally wouldn’t consider a pitch unless it had been well researched first. “It’s one thing to go to a prospective client and tell them that you have a dedicated team and offer a creative solution but if you don’t understand what the company actually does you’re making life very difficult for yourself and probably wasting your prospects time (I receive these kind of calls every day). This is particularly important if you are pitching to clients offering niche services. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution in PR. To be truly successful you need to get under the skin of the organisations you are working with or pitching to and this means research.”

Marc Cowlin, Director of PR, Meltwater says: “PR professionals are beginning to demand data at every stage of the PR process, whereas a few years ago data was used primarily for measurement. Data can be used to research journalists, understand brands, their competition and the industry. This data incorporated into a PR strategy, planning or the pitch itself can add immeasurable value to the PR process.”

How can data help you?

At the campaign planning stage, Neelima Khanna, Chief Executive, CARMA International India, points out that, "communication research offers immense choice of which areas should be worked on, as well as underline what worked well. Similarly, research based pitching of a communication plan enables a PR agency to determine the right direction/focus and create more conviction in the client about the communication strategy being proposed.”

Neelima adds that, “The gains for the PR professional in the organisation is that he or she is able to create greater buy in/budgets as the communication process is now regarded as following scientific values of cause/effect/results."

Aseem feels that good research enables PR professionals to, “discover potential opportunities for a client prospect e.g. if the media research suggests that they are not seen as a thought leader in the industry whereas the competitors have done that effectively, then they are able to propose that to the client.”

Simon offers examples of using data to tell effective stories: “In Los Angeles, the Bridge team helps Nintendo by tapping into what’s hot in the news and in social conversations online. They were able to leverage the Academy Awards when a Nintendo character lost out to another animated film. Furthermore, when Oxford declared “Selfie” the word of the year, the team responded with a selfie of one of the characters’, taken using a feature of their consoles“.

John feels that technology based data solutions help PRs build a comprehensive picture of the media landscape surrounding the industry of potential clients, giving them a competitive advantage, not only when they pitch to the client but also when they pitch to the media.

Marc agrees that, “better data, incorporated into pitch planning and execution, can be used to better target journalists and understand the reporters that make in onto your media list.”

Marc adds that with the help of data tools these media lists can then be contextualised, “rather than simply searching for a journalist based on proper beat, we return journalists that are already writing about the subjects you're pitching. The better the context, the better the pitch, the better the result”.

But the biggest challenge in using research for pitches is the lack of budgets and time. Aseem says that he doesn’t think people are scared of data driven conversations. Aseem draws attention to the fact that, “in the PR domain it’s the lack of resources (normally budget, capability or time) that leads to less data driven conversations. Often, PR agencies get very little time to prepare. We have seen cases where PR agencies are called in to pitch within 3 days, which at times may be a too short a deadline to prepare. Most PR agencies do not have internal research teams. If they have budgets, they are able to take research support. If not, they make do without such research. Clients need to realise that they need to give sufficient notice to PR agencies for pitch preparation. And PR agency heads need to provide budgets to the teams preparing for the pitches.”

Tips for using data in your daily PR life

For better media analysis, Neelima offers the following tips: “Don’t just look at the number of mentions generated but also determine the favourability of these news mentions. Don’t just look at the count of mentions for your company but also understand the context of these news mentions. Don’t just look at the count of mentions for your company spokespeople but also understand the external commentators (analysts, NGOs, academics, partners, Govt., regulators). Who engaged with your brand? Don’t define audience reach of the news story as circulation reach of the news media but determine the quality of messages/perceptions the news story generated.”

John offers the following advice: “Great data is not a magic bullet. It will however enhance your personal relationships with clients and the media – which is what great PR is all about. Learn to use data in a very human way.”

Aseem suggests that, “every time you make an argument or push an idea, think about how you can support it with some factual data. Please understand that your idea may seem obvious to you but the receiver needs to link it to some facts to believe it. E.g. you advise the client to make paid media training mandatory for every senior spokesperson of the company. The client may see this as an additional expense. But, if you support this request with data showing that key message delivery in resulting media coverage has been 50% higher in the case of trained spokespersons vis-a-viv untrained ones, I am sure the client will have no reason to not buy your idea.”

Aseem says it’s also important to not just summarise data, but rather synthesise it. When you summarise you restate the facts, synthesising involves combining ideas and data to allow an evolved understanding of the situation. When you see data, ask yourself what that means for you or your client or your PR campaign. The answer to this question will make the data interesting for you. E.g. After reviewing the media coverage data, you tell your client:
"60% of the media articles, after the last media conference, had at least one key message in them". This is an effective summary of the data, but... So what? Is this good or bad? Is it surprising or expected? What does it mean?

Now, instead of summarising the data, if you were to tell your client: "60% of the media articles, after the last press conference had at least one key message in them. This is worrying because, historically, all our press conferences resulted in 85% of media articles with at least one key message. We believe the reason for this decrease is that we were not given an opportunity to brief the spokesperson properly."

“Which one of the above, do you think, provides more value and meaning? Which conversation would the client value more?”

While there is anecdotal evidence of agencies getting and creating budgets for research and real time marketing, it is far from being a fully-fledged trend. However, as clients demand concrete proof for planned outcomes and higher budgets, the PR business will have no choice but to adopt contextual data at every part of the PR process.

Written by Paarul Chand

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