For many companies, big data has proven to be a godsend for booming business. Enough tech companies have molded and shaped what big data can collect and interpret for just about any industry, affirming it to be a vital tool in the big and small business worlds. Some industries and markets like PR agencies, however, are still relying upon traditional acquisitions of business, kicking tech and the screens that come with it to the curb. The focus has always been on face-to-face, in-person relationships, but believing that big data will destroy that foundation for business is grossly mistaken.
The term “big data” is a bit of a misnomer, whether one sees it as an option only for “big” companies, or only for companies with large quantities of data. Big data isn’t just for the “big” guy—it can be used for small to medium to corporate businesses, it’s just a matter of harnessing and resourcing the data that can be collected. For PR agencies, it’s all too easy to say that big data isn’t the right solution to better cater to their clients. But one can see PR as a central organizing principle for business—which means that if they want to start thriving like the rest of their business constituents, relying upon big data is soon going to become a must.
According to Sam Whitmore, owner of Media Survey, most PR agencies have a CFO “that will look at profitability metrics but most agencies don’t have the skillset to identify signals.” These signals can be tantamount to a business as they could predict shrinking budgets or even growth, but too often PR departments still rely upon habits or instinct when it comes to reacting to clients. But big data isn’t meant to make the process more confusing, more technological, or even more hands-off.
Big data software can help bridge the gap between tools currently used for conversion and interpretation for potential buyers or business. Google Analytics can only get an agency so far. Agencies that use Google Analytics can track visitors to a website, their demographics and trends but the puck stops there. With the aid of big data software like marketing analytics tools (such as Oracle’s Eloqua or Hadoop and Hadoop Cluster), agencies can not only track website activity but it can also identify which visitors are most likely to buy PR services.
Of course, a main part of big data is the ability to analyze the vast amounts of information. In an HP campaign some years ago, the company was struggling against more popular, generic printer cartridges. But instead of solving the problem with a big PR campaign, they turned to data collection, specifically social media discussions. From this, they were able to collect information on who, what, and where were talking about them. After this, they discovered that two of their specific cartridge types appealed more to their target audience than others. They also found that their Facebook presence was a big hit among students and businesses. The end product of their campaign was Inkology, a digitally fueled content platform that has helped them not only raise their consumer engagement and awareness but most importantly sales.
LEWIS PR CEO Chris Lewis has stated that big data is already helping to impact the world of PR with search analytics, infographic journalism, campaign measurement and new tools and products. These tools and analytics can show agencies and companies just who is driving force behind conversations and what content they are really searching for, thereby allowing PR to tailor and deliver much more precise content that will help engage people and help them make decisions and then take action. Action that will hopefully be beneficial for that specific company and increase sales. This too, will help companies know just where to spend their media budgets. As seen with HP, rather than attack blitzkrieg-style with a PR campaign they smartened up their approach using data analytics and found just who they really needed to be targeting and where.
Most PR agencies have already harnessed the use of social, mobile, digital and online communications. These outlets themselves provide a rich harvesting field of big data. Reaping the data derived from these outlets can help PR pros better than ever as they are seeing these communications happen in real-time. A PR Week article says that the PR professional have always been seen as “jacks of all trades” allowing them to work across multiple departments and organizations through a plethora of communications challenges. Therefore, their ability to adapt and change is nearly instinctive, yet the fear of losing out on the in-person relationships still seems to hold them back.
What might be missed in this fear is that big data can only provide a more intimate relationship as it will give better and more precise behavioral information concerning clients and customers. Not only that, but as more and more companies and departments are relying upon big data to inform them of potential growth or disasters, it would seem archaic to stick in the traditional—outdated—sense of an agency and harness the great potential and aid that big data can be. Through big data, agencies will be able to keep pace with the ever fast-changing media and economic environment through hiring a far wider variety of talents; grounding their content, strategies and ideas with analytics and research; measuring their results and thereby adjusting their approach accordingly all in real time. This will allow agencies to remain the nimble and adaptable firms that they have been boasted as being.
Thankfully for smaller businesses or agencies, as big data has become more and more of a regular thing in business, it means that the tools have also become more affordable. Along with the affordability has also come simplicity. Deepak Advani, IBM’s VP, believes that this new simplicity of monitoring and insight tools has been a big step forward. “The tools had been so difficult to use that you required an army of PHDs to do something with this data. The tipping point is that the tools have become much simpler now. You can build a predictive model using three clicks.” Agencies and businesses no longer need an analytics expert to explain or interpret just what the data is telling them. They are also no longer buried under the overwhelming piles of data and content as tools can help to sort and analyze for them.
Anyone in PR still feeling doubtful should know that just because you start relying upon the numbers to help show you where to target and how, it doesn’t mean you’re going to lose that intuition and creativity that comes naturally to PR experts and pros. Advani has also stated that he too doesn’t believe “that intuition goes away. If analytics is giving you some thoughtful insightful information, people end up making better decisions.”
Though the army of PHDs is more obsolete than before, agencies will still need to evolve their hiring strategies as there is now a new call for those with more than just marketing disciplines, but also those with the ability to do smart communications planning. Overall, the traditional foundation of PR and the ever-evolving world of big data need to find a happy medium where reliable intuition and skillful data analytics overlap—otherwise, there is a chance that the PR industry will soon become irrelevant. As Israel Mirsky, head of emerging media and technology at Porter-Novelli, says, “We have to be better or we will be subsumed by the people that understand the customer better than we do.”