Why data is a PR pro's ultimate BFF

In an industry built on carefully crafted language and phrasing, it might be a little surprising to think about data as a PR pro's most useful tool, aside from a Thesaurus and a lovingly beat-up copy of the AP Stylebook.

In an industry built on carefully crafted language and phrasing, it might be a little surprising to think about data as a PR pro's most useful tool, aside from a Thesaurus and a lovingly beat-up copy of the AP Stylebook.

Using data and numbers to build or support a story isn't new, but the results you can gain when you're strategic with that data may be.

Don't be intimidated by data
When people hear the word “data,” they think: time consuming, expensive to mine, and overwhelming to analyze. Don't hyperventilate. Breathe.

An insightful data set can turn straightforward news into a sought-after story. The most important thing to do is understand where the information will have the greatest impact, and keep your strategy focused in that direction.

Figures and stats can be your most effective instruments when it comes to creating news for a brand, because, let's be honest, sometimes there just aren't any recent company announcements, high-profile hires, or product launches to push out to the press. And, going dark is not an option. A news drought doesn't mean a brand has to go dormant until something newsworthy happens. Mining relevant industry data to reveal interesting trends is a great way to create your own news.

Take company news to the next level with original polls and surveys
At Harris Interactive, we've seen our data and other research used in some really interesting ways. For instance, Jumio, an online and mobile credentials management company, recently contacted us to conduct a survey around consumers' smartphone habits to illustrate just how ubiquitous mobile usage has become. By asking the right questions, their PR firm, Dotted Line Communications, was able to show that almost one in 10 adults admits to checking a cell phone during sex. That storyline drove widespread national coverage, with over 80 media mentions among top-tier media including CNN, CBS News, NBC News, Time, Fox News and more.

Tapping a poll or survey for newsworthy trends isn't just a good tactic to bring non-consumer brands into mainstream media; it can also be a great tool to give household names a boost. Netflix also turned to us this year to create a buzz-worthy report on a new type of digital “cheating” in relationships, AKA streaming “shared” TV shows behind a significant other's back. The study garnered exceptional coverage, including features in USA Today, The Huffington Post, and even making its way onto late night TV with Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Your backyard can be a data goldmine
Looking to a research firm isn't always necessary. Many companies need not look further than their own backyards for data that can be analyzed to determine relevant and interesting trends and stories.

One of the best uses of internal data we've seen recently is from The Search Agency, the largest independent US search marketing agency. It analyzes client data to release a quarterly study called the State of Paid Search Report, which details trends in paid search for the quarter across eight industries. The latest State of Paid Search Report, for the second quarter of 2013, released in July of this year, saw nearly 30 million impressions, from mentions in high-level publications such as The New York Times and TechCrunch.

Data will only go as far as your content marketing allows
Once you've done your research, either through a survey or by mining company-owned statistics, you should have an original data set that illustrates a clear story. Putting a comprehensive content marketing plan into action will make the most of your client's data, allowing you to tell that story to the media, in addition to using findings for other distribution channels, from their corporate website to their marketing collateral.

A press release is a great place to start, as any PR pro knows. However, when you're dealing with a larger set of data that reveals multiple stories, it's smart to break up the data for separate efforts, whether that means additional press releases or finding ways to use relevant stats in other materials. Aside from pitching the story to reporters, it's important to think about the other ways you can translate the data into original content: blog posts, bylined articles, infographics, and videos are all excellent ways to get more mileage out of your data story.

Tangentially, the same original data and research conducted for market or product research is often the most interesting story for journalists and bloggers. As such, original data is a PR firm's ultimate BFF, so remember to leverage it to both create and supplement compelling client news.

Mike de Vere is president of The Harris Poll. 

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