Geeks rejoice! Science joins strategy at the PR table

For me, the best PR programs, right down to a pitch, are always clever.

For me, the best PR programs, right down to a pitch, are always clever.

They are not whacked-out, bizarre gimmicks, but crisp, interesting, and attention-grabbing in a smart way that gets the message across to engage key constituents.

A little bit of art and creativity always have, and always will, be essential to our profession. The rise of social media — and obsession with traffic, community size, clicks, and conversions — now brings a whole new class of (dare I say) geeks to the forefront.

We're seeing the arrival and transformation of communications specialists into communication scientists. 

Although many of these skills are positions in their own right and not simply extensions of the typical PR skill set — we see an increasing number of specialists in areas like video production and search marketing entering the PR workforce — PR pros at all levels need a serious baseline understanding of the science behind Google, links, and optimization.

Take press releases. A press release headline that grabs a reader isn't enough. You have to grab search engines as well. Proper use of keywords and links can substantially affect a company's rank in search results for those keywords. Here's where a little knowledge of SEO matters because your keywords and keyword phrases are most certainly not your company or product names.

Of course, simply plugging the release into an online tool or flux capacitor to juice search rankings is a failed strategy. You start getting headlines like “Wild boars impale dozens in earthquake blizzard,” which will sound familiar to YouTube viewers who are often misled by headlines that are designed to boost viewings, but have nothing to do with the substance of the videos.

By gaining a detailed understanding of what brought people to their website, what content was most appealing to visitors, and, most critically, which people chose to engage with the company further, communicators can begin to apply a systematic approach to measuring true value.

These analytic techniques, which are so familiar to scientists, can now be applied to a profession that is all too often dinged for being driven by guesswork. 

A computer may beat Jeopardy champs, but it's not clever. It's not human. And with the influx of science, now more than ever is a time for PR pros to be clever and to embrace the data and careful analysis without losing the puns, twists, and occasional shocks. Science will never replace that but, like it or not, get used to a tight partnership.

Bryan Scanlon is president of Schwartz Communications.

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