In order to succeed and grow in a marketplace filled with aggressive new competitors, communications agencies must consistently strengthen their impact on clients’ reputation, revenue growth, and business success.
They are deploying research, data, and analysis to gain insight into clients’ audiences, guide strategic and creative recommendations, monitor program effectiveness and course-correct if necessary, and to demonstrate how their work favorably changed minds, influenced behavior, and achieved clients’ desired outcomes.
It is becoming a deciding factor in agency success, enabling more sophisticated, targeted, and agile campaign recommendations. It’s part of a business model shift in the agency world, dictated by emerging client needs and access to data sources not available before.
"Having data and analytics capability is table stakes," says Deb Brown, partner and MD of development at Peppercomm. "This is critical to the ecosystem of a campaign, from using data-driven insights to create it, understanding if it’s working, analyzing audience sentiment in real time, to measuring outcomes and determining success."
Many agencies are building research, data, and analytics capabilities, while some have created specialized groups to help them counsel clients.
"When you can prove your idea with fact-based data, you’ve given clients a reason to believe you can increase the probability of your – and their – success," says Natasha Kennedy, global MD of Fleishman Hilliard’s research, analytics, and measurement practice.
As client demand for data and analytics grows, finding the right balance for each client and each project remains important, especially when hiring and deploying staff, and determining what resource can be put against the effort.
"Most, if not all, clients want and demand it," says Antoine Haray, global MD of Edelman Insights. "But are they willing to invest budget toward it? It’s not realistic to spend $100,000 on research/analytics if the overall program budget is $200,000. But, it’s extremely risky to launch a $200,000 communications program without any insight generation or measurement built in.
"The key is to have the right research expert integrated onto the team to ensure data-based insights are a core component of the scope, and properly scaled to fit the client’s needs."
Full objectivity is required when it comes to evaluating campaign effectiveness and reporting results to clients, which data and analytics provide.
"It’s important to first go back to the agreed-upon key performance indicators (KPIs)," says Peppercomm’s Brown. "We use data and analytics to show clients which KPIs were met, and which may have fallen short and why."
Most important, data-proven results enable agencies to track how communication performance is impacting clients’ business goals and providing return on investment.
"Data and analytics are going to change the business model of PR," says Fleishman’s Kennedy. "If you flip traditional PR on its head and use data to drive campaign content, measurement as a point-in-time definition becomes obsolete. Instead, we’ll enter a never-ending cycle of analytics driving and running strategy and tactics."
Over the past several years we’ve seen that data and analytics blended with communications experience and insight can yield powerful results for clients – no matter the size. It’s a vital capability that agencies need to have in order to compete and survive.