PR is still playing catch-up on data use

In the never-ending turf wars between marketing disciplines, effective use of data has long been an area where PR has failed to pull its weight.

Alec Mattinson: 'The more intimate the PR industry becomes with analytics, the more effective comms can be to encourage behaviour change.'
Alec Mattinson: 'The more intimate the PR industry becomes with analytics, the more effective comms can be to encourage behaviour change.'

While advertisers in particular look to consumer data to laser-target specific demographics, the PR industry has in the past given the impression its use of data does not extend much beyond (hopefully) up-to-date media distribution lists.

There is no doubt that digital has changed the game in terms of insight into consumer behaviour, but the comms industry still has further to go to get the most from these new research possibilities.

It is because of this that the ambitious database venture from, among others, TaxPayers' Alliance co-founder Matthew Elliott and ex-Labour digital guru Jag Singh, is particularly noteworthy.

A glance across the Atlantic suggests we have much to learn.

While last year's US Presidential election was characterised by a nausea-inducing 915,000 ads aired by the candidates, the campaigns were also light years ahead in terms of their use of data-mining and micro-targeted canvassing.

The Obama campaign brought a new sophistication to splitting the electorate into narrow segments and tailoring distinct messaging specifically for them. The concept is not new - but the scale of the data and analytics operation was.

Meanwhile, in the UK the major political parties are all investing in voter data, but remain some way behind and seem slow to react to the new technological possibilities for smartphones and GPS positioning.

It is probably no coincidence that US voter turnout remains near post-war highs despite the 'plague on both your houses' sentiment, while UK turnout has dropped significantly over the past two decades.

An in-depth understanding of public behaviour has far wider resonance that political campaigning.

The more intimate the PR industry becomes with analytics and the more detailed insight it achieves into what people believe, the more effective comms can become to encourage behaviour change, participation and engagement that goes beyond purchasing decisions.

For an industry yet to get grips with measurement after years of trying, genuine understanding of research and data is a huge challenge.

The explosion of digital has opened up a vast array of consumer engagement possibilities and communicators have flooded into that space to take advantage with genuinely innovative work.

Data is likely to become the next battleground - PR must stake its claim.

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