Big data obsession is treasure trove for comms

The Harvard Business Review recently put some teeth to the notion that businesses are increasingly being driven by data with a story that broke out the amount stored by various companies through 2012.

The Harvard Business Review recently put some teeth to the notion that businesses are increasingly being driven by data with a story that broke out the amount stored by various companies through 2012. Walmart, for example, collects more than 2.5 ”petabytes” of data every hour from its customer transactions.

For some perspective on this, one petabyte is equivalent to 1 million gigabytes or about 20 million filing cabinets' worth of text. Companies are storing a lot of data.

Businesses love this data, of course, because it helps reduce human biases from our decision-making, ultimately letting them play “moneyball” on everything from pharmaceutical development to asset valuations to supply chain efficiency. It also happens to be a goldmine for PR.

Consider this New York Times story about the rising cost of childbirth in the US, which was developed using an insurance claims database. Likewise, this story about the world's top innovators was made possible by aggregating global patent-filing data.

The same principles that make these vast troves of data so attractive to the C-suite also have an uncanny knack for attracting top-tier press coverage. Just as senior managers of large corporations now need their decisions to be supported by quantitative evidence, journalists are more likely to cover a trend if the empirical proof is there to support it.

Intuitively, all PR pros know this. Unique data or proprietary research has always been a proven path to success, but few in the world of communications have managed to systematize the process of aggregating and packaging corporate data to create news.

Increasingly, those who want to wield serious influence in the business press will need to unlock their inner quants, break down data silos in their organizations, and start number-crunching their way to the next great headline. The data is there…it's up to us to leverage it for storytelling.

John Roderick is president of J. Roderick Inc., a strategic communications firm in New York. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

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