Stop praying and start analyzing

There's an old industry saying that PR is "prayed for, not paid for."

There's an old industry saying that PR is “prayed for, not paid for.”

This adage highlights just how much guesswork has traditionally been par for the course in PR. But, thankfully, that's changing very quickly.

There's certainly no imminent crystal ball in PR's future, but as an industry we're sitting on a tremendous opportunity with predictive analytics to move our business away from well-educated speculation to more of a measured and sound process.

We've been saying that social media has made this possible for years now. But it's not until recently that the term “big data” emerged, confirming we've reached a tipping point at which there's enough data to apply predictive analytics with real precision and accuracy.

IBM, Recorded Future, and even Angry Birds, are just a handful of companies at the forefront of this - mining data to get a glimpse into future buying patterns, customer profiles, and what feels like an infinity of other possibilities.

The value for PR is numerous but, at its core, it's about mapping more strategic and well-timed campaigns than ever before. Imagine planning your client's launch schedule against all its competitors' announcements, news, and product releases. Yes, we do that now, but mostly based on historical patterns and refined hearsay – rarely true, predictive insight.

With these transformative possibilities comes an urgent need for the industry to develop a new comfort with data and analytics. I touched upon this in my first post, "Demystifying analytics." As big data evolves to provide real insight to what we do, so do the boundaries of our profession. It won't be long before clients expect their agency partners to offer forward-looking guidance based on quantifiable data and information sources.

While social media and real-time monitoring have already cracked this window, the door has yet to come swinging open. After all, predictive analytics goes beyond real-time monitoring and conveying insights on what's already been said, into using data to solve a much more complex puzzle.

We've been evolving, transforming, advancing, revolutionizing, and just about every other “ing” for nearly a decade now, so I'm not going to proclaim another grand shift with predictive analytics. Rather, I'm asking the industry to slow down and take a second look at that dizzying blitz of real-time and aggregated data we've been collecting. There just may be something prescient emerging.

Martin Jones is co-founder of Boston-based tech PR agency March Communications.

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