The data-day challenges facing many PR firms

Data.

Data, data, data.

In PR circles data has become the new black.

Or the new designer drug, depending on which kind of overt cynicism you want to go with.

There has never been a better time to use data as part of a comms strategy, this much is self-evident. After all, who in PR doesn’t get approached from the purveyors of fine analytics tools on a regular basis?

From Radian6 to Brandwatch, from SDL SM2 to Meltwater, and well beyond… there are literally hundreds – possibly thousands – of monitoring tools out there that will track and report back on mentions of you, your clients, their competitors, market trends, hot topics, etc.

I read a post by Danny Whatmough at EML Wildfire in which he talks about this very topic. It’s a good piece that stresses the importance of evidence-based strategies for PR and marketing.

It made me think about some of the challenges I’ve witnessed and experienced in my PR career when it came to PR people using data.

The single biggest problem, or so it has always seemed to me, is the preponderance of data-intolerant people working in PR. I’m not talking about the stereotypical fluffy bunny syndrome. But simply that a lot of smart people in PR are not comfortable around raw numerical data.

There is little to be gained from having an agency-wide desire to do more data-based stuff if the people entrusted with bringing that to life couldn’t be trusted to count time in a marching band (yes, I know that’s a rubbish analogy but I couldn’t think of another one).

For decades now, the education system in the UK (well, England & Wales) has encouraged pupils to choose between arts and sciences at the age of 14/15. We can hope this divisiveness will be less prominent in the future, but that’s not going to affect the make up of our account teams any time soon.

So, here is my advice – given as someone who has run their own PR agency and as someone who has lectured in PR at a university in London.

Start firing those people in your agency who are rubbish at maths.

No, wait… I don’t mean that.

But audit their data-related skills and abilities. Do it methodically and without emotion – this isn’t pass or fail, this is about working out how you can help your people perform better.

Nurture those who have an aptitude for data, help them become better at it.

As for those who find numbers utterly baffling, provide them with coping mechanisms… ways to break it all down and make sense of it. Perhaps you’d never let them loose on a major piece of research. But you’d certainly want them to feel able to understand it, critique it and explain it. Wouldn’t you?

So… go forth and multiply your data-aware account teams.