5 tips for using data-driven thought leadership to power your full PR program

by | Jul 21, 2023 | Public Relations

Data-driven content has increasingly ruled the media landscape—especially in response to trends of consumers distrusting the media. Journalists have relied on research more than ever to back up claims, shore up the integrity of their writing and ensure their pieces are rooted in facts. Additionally, the media landscape has also become increasingly more crowded, making it even harder to cut through the clutter to reach reporters and target audiences. Therefore, communications professionals who want to catch a journalist’s eye for either their brand or their clients amid this atmosphere must reimagine their thought leadership efforts to be more data-driven.

And it doesn’t stop with earned media. Among many data-driven strategies is original research, designed to bolster public relations efforts across all aspects of the Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned (PESO) model. After finding success in amplifying data-driven thought leadership for clients across industries, I’m happy to share the below tips for using data to inspire brand longevity.

Envision the headline you’re looking to land, and work backwards from there

When it comes to their coverage, reporters are prioritizing new, unbiased research as opposed to promoting a brand itself. That said, when it comes to creating a survey to drive headlines, it’s important to be well-versed in what the media has covered and how a particular trend or topic landed in the news, and also be in tune with the whitespace to help drive survey development.

When designing the survey, consider including questions that, regardless of the responses, could still make for an interesting headline. And by approaching the headline from a slightly broader perspective, you’ll be sure to encompass your research in its entirety rather than leaning toward specific results. For example, if you represent a home services company and are planning a survey that polls consumers about their perspectives on investing time into their home, consider questions where the responses in either direction make for an interesting story. This could look like a question that asks consumers how much time they spend maintaining their lawns; either way, if consumers say they spend 1 hour or 20 hours a month doing so, it makes for a good story hook. Ultimately, this strategy will help increase the probability of catching a journalist’s eye due to the relevance of the broader trends the data can clip into.

To supplement the data, utilize unique insights from a thought leader to not only provide industry context but also showcase company expertise and an understanding of what the research shows, inherently building credibility. A thought leader’s expertise will support the integrity of the data while also tapping into the nuances of the industry at large. In that same home services example, you could pair the data with insights from a SME at your brand who can speak to reporters about DIY trends and tips for consumers to make the most out of their time investment—regardless if they’re spending 1 or 20 hours a month on their lawn.

Use data responsibly

Communication pros must be mindful of using data and the inherent presenting headline responsibly, so as not to preach clickbait or present unconscious biases.

For example, we see a lot of headlines around how Millennials and Gen Zers are “quiet quitters.” However, Pew Research recently examined reports from Gallop and other highly reputable surveys, and found that other generations are quitting and job hopping just as much. That wouldn’t get the headline but it does stereotype the Millennial and Gen Z groups.

When using data for any type of campaign, make sure to remove any unconscious biases – take a hard look at the materials you’re planning to put out there externally and consider any stereotyping or unintentionally inaccurate messaging that should be reframed.

Leverage data beyond earned media to be promotional

Once you have the survey results and have combed through the data for interesting findings, the next step is to identify distribution channels. For earned, leaning into the aforementioned approach can help cultivate coverage; however, doing so also means staying objective with limited-to-no promotional language.

That said, owned channels provide a better opportunity to be promotional because you’re in control of the narrative, and can intentionally position the brand in a positive and credible light, while also leaning into key messages. For example, materials such as corporate news announcements and blogs can inherently help demonstrate a brand’s relevance within a particular topic or trend. Specific to data-driven thought leadership on owned channels, consider executing a blog series on your brand’s website that shares the original research data, as well as how the findings tie back to the brand.

Use paid media to amplify reach

While brands who focus on executing a strictly earned and owned campaign can still achieve meaningful results, incorporating a paid strategy into a data-driven program can maximize reach and drive greater results.

Consider tactics such as paid editorial programs in partnership with key publications where you can control the message but are still able to layer in your research data coupled with thought leadership. In addition, mat releases—in partnership with a syndication vendor—are another tactic to distribute data-driven thought leadership at scale.

Budgets are a consideration here, but there are vendors who can achieve results without breaking the bank.

Sustain audience engagement by gradually rolling out findings on social

Amplifying original research on social media is a great way to stand out to online audiences while broadening reach and increasing engagement. For example, secured earned media placements are great social fodder to showcase the credibility and value of the data.

Similarly, a series of posts on social media that breaks down a mass amount of data into more digestible pieces can be used as a tactic to maintain your audience’s attention and extend the life of your research. This could look like a gradual series of 1-2 key statistics alongside supplementary thought leadership copy, posted at a time that—when together—tells a larger story.

The strategy here is to tease findings out, rather than sharing them all at once to keep people engaged over a period of time. In addition, with shared media’s visual nature, creating infographics or other graphics can showcase the data in a more digestible way to users who may otherwise not understand it.

Original research is a key tactic to insert your brand into newsworthy and timely conversations. If you—or your client—are going to place meaningful investment into a survey, it’s important to not only “work backwards” to achieve results that are headline-worthy, but to also maximize those findings across a number of channels, as relevant.

Madison Frankel
Madison Frankel is an Account Director at Red Thread PR.