Four ways to bolster your comms efforts - by any measure

Comms leaders from a quartet of distinct organizations champion the power data brings to all PR initiatives at this recent BurrellesLuce-hosted event in Atlanta.

All data needs to be qualified, says BurrellesLuce EVP Johna Burke. As such, the best use of data is balancing artificial intelligence with human intelligence. Photo by Erin Fuller

Using data to evaluate the success of communications strategies should be table stakes for PR pros. In numerous cases, though far from all, it has become so. Savvy professionals are now moving beyond mere reporting to analytics that allow them to predict outcomes, eliminate guesswork, and dovetail their data with other corporate functions. This helps align PR goals more closely with the those of the business overall.

However, this is more than a tactical discussion. It’s a philosophical one. Comms pros need to instinctively appreciate the importance of data to the point where they would not consider any initiative without it. That is certainly the case with the four leaders who headlined this BurrellesLuce-hosted event in Atlanta. Their presentations underscored how data-driven communications analytics – and a true understanding of how to best use them for your specific needs – are helping add unprecedented value to the PR function. Below we share some insights from this esteemed quartet.

Deisha Barnett, SVP of marketing and communications,
Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce
"Over the past year, we've grown our followers by 30%," reports Barnett. "We now have almost 40,000 followers and we're outpacing every chamber in the US when it comes to social media followers and engagement from our data."

To achieve this, Barnett and her team had to develop a keener understanding of how to measure more effectively.

Based on A/B testing, she found basic imagery and inspiring information was most effective for the organization’s audience. "It's what they were expecting from us, what they wanted to see, and what they were more likely to engage in," says Barnett.

Through further examination, the chamber has also reevaluated its Google search goals. "For us, it has become more important to be not the first result, but the Google snippet," counsels Barnett. "Can we be result zero? Can our information be that relevant and credible? Are we using the right terms as we're writing our web copy?"

Johna Burke, EVP, BurrellesLuce
Artificial intelligence is not a silver bullet for effectively driving business and can never replace human intelligence. In fact, failure to qualify data can actually be harmful.

"Machine learning and computers are incredibly good at counts and amounts," notes Burke, "but what does that really mean?" The best use of data, she continues, is balancing AI with HI – human intelligence.

"When you're looking only at certain data points that are only quantitative, if you aren't layering it with that extra human insight into what that really means to the business, that can be very dangerous," Burke explains. "Your biggest asset, no matter what your other skillset is, is your mind. It’s thinking. It’s being able to critically look at things and ask those questions."

Click to this video for a great example of the dangers brands can encounter when blindly relying on data without truly qualifying it.

Stephen Holmes, senior director, corporate communications, The Home Depot
"We're a very values-based company, but we're a very goals and measurement-based company," says Holmes. Home Depot employees are not only rated on how they meet goals, but on how they adhere to company values.

For a company focused on values, public perception is critical. Holmes measures public sentiment to generate data that can "show executives why the social media piece matters" and "what we need to be watching." The data Holmes collects also helps inform the C-suite about whether or not consumers really care about an issue, how much media exposure any particular issue is generating, and if specific issues are – or are not – having an impact on business operations.

"Nothing is internal and nothing is local," he explains. "Everything gets outside. Internal is external. That's how we operate."

Dean Trevelino, owner, Trevelino/Keller
An ultra-runner who averages between 30 to 50 miles a week, Trevelino says that an endless quest for media exposure can feel like "just logging miles." To be truly successful, comms pros need to harness the data they generate in service of specific business goals for their clients.

"I think about miles during the week, much like I think about media impressions and page views and likes and followers during the day when I'm not running," he explains. "Those are all numbers that show some level of effort and progress. It is what keeps us in business. It's why our clients are paying us every month, because we're showing them this data, but there needs to be a finish in mind.

"Think about the finish that your client may not be asking for," he adds, "the one that may change the way they acknowledge and reward your efforts."

The above is just a taste of these four leaders’ thoughts. For much more, see the September/October issue of PRWeek.

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