Is the PR industry lagging behind other marketing sectors in data analysis?

by | Sep 8, 2016 | Big Data, Marketing, Public Relations

Many people involved in the PR industry agree that the business needs to start making sense of the volumes of data available. There are no widespread metrics, analytics or KPIs. This stands in stark contrast to related industries like product marketing and advertising. Data analysis has been important to these industries for decades. The development of the Barcelona Principles is a big step forward for public relations, but it isn’t enough. The whole industry must practice a great deal more data analysis or it will fall even further behind other sectors of marketing.

The example that marketing has set

Marketing has always been data driven, and that dynamic has only strengthened in the past few years. Digital marketing is entirely based around data analysis, and always has been. Google Analytics is probably the most well-known tool in the marketing industry, but it is certainly not the only one. There are hundreds of other tools, and more are popping up every day. These programs allow companies to get enormous amounts of data distilled down to a few usable metrics. This can increase the efficiency of their operations enormously if used properly.

The data can tell analysts many things. It can tell them which demographics they’re successfully reaching, and which they need to work on. This, in turn, tells marketers where and how they need to spend their money. It is inconceivable to anyone in marketing in this day and age to not analyze a large amount of data when making any major decision.

The problematic mindset in the PR industry

The prevailing philosophy within the PR sector is that the business is more of an art than a science. That is, subjective feelings often play a large part in the decisions made by PR professionals. This is how things have done in the industry for quite some time, and many PR professionals are somewhat resistant to change as a result. This is especially true of veterans of the industry, who have been involved since before the Internet was such a major factor. Younger PR professionals often don’t resist change as much, but they are not often high up enough in the company to make changes in corporate culture.

How the PR industry could change

While the mindset of PR being an art form certainly needs to change, there are some aspects of the business that can’t be summed up in statistics. It’s hard to measure the impact of an article in a major publication, for example. However, there are ways to quantify how many people have read it, and how many people have shared it on social media. Of course, these metrics don’t track how many people see and share the piece years and years afterward. More problematically, there is no way metrics can track the importance of each user. It only takes one powerful person to see an article and change the course of a company’s future.

The more one looks at the PR industry, the more difficult the problem of integrating quantitative data seems. However, there is a way. Whilst tracking users may not work in PR, those in the industry can look at statistics based on the success of past PR strategies. Every PR company keeps records of their campaigns, so it won’t be hard to get objective data from their past failures and successes.

It is vital that new strategies based on quantitative data be communicated to the client. Otherwise, they may feel out of the loop. Personal relationships with clients are very important in PR, and this should stay the same, even if other aspects of the PR industry change.

Leveraging data

The process of leveraging big data should be better utilized in the PR industry. Analytics of published articles are just the tip of the iceberg. A client’s website traffic, for example, can be infinitely useful. The timing and demographics of users can reflect the success of PR campaigns, if analyzed correctly. This is just one possible outcome of a PR agency using data to inform its practices. The possibilities are nearly infinite, if these data streams are analyzed properly.

Jeremy Sutter
Jeremy Sutter is a freelance writer and former mobile marketing manager at Adobe.