-Joe Cohen, chief marketing and comms officer, AXIS
-Paul Gennaro, SVP, chief brand and comms officer, Voya Financial
-Mary Elizabeth Germaine, partner/MD, global research and analytics, Ketchum
-Ellen Gerstein, senior director, digital comms, corporate affairs, Pfizer
-Alan Sexton, CCO, Prudential Financial
-Dino Delic, director of insights and analytics, Meltwater
-Cole Weil, Head of Enterprise, Americas, Meltwater
Managing a brand’s reputation is a real-time, always-on endeavor that requires comms pros to remain well informed and ever agile. There is no more vital tool to do so than data and analytics. However, the mere existence and availability of data is not enough. The sheer volume of it necessitates the constant honing of skills to identify the right data, how to interpret it and use it.
Meltwater and PRWeek brought together two panels of industry leaders to help with precisely that through the offering of strategic insights and tactical guidance on how to harness data-driven analytics to gain important brand-reputation insights – and more.
“For something as difficult to manage as corporate reputation, especially for a global organization, it's going to take a lot more than the traditional communication function,” asserts Prudential Financial’s Alan Sexton.
He concedes, though, that many comms pros are still grappling with how to apply those tools and technologies in a way that allows them to derive insights. While data dashboards can be a source of invaluable information, they are frequently “packed with information and devoid of insights,” notes Sexton. “They often provide a rearview mirror, but don’t look forward. And the data is frequently not actionable.”
“It’s about being data smart, not data rich,” observes Mary Elizabeth Germaine of Ketchum. “You don’t want to just tell the story. You want to provide the implication for what comes next. The time is now for data in comms. As a discipline, we don’t capture and activate on data often enough. We are too reliant on going on gut.”
“What I need is not the ‘what,’ but the ‘why,’” reveals Pfizer’s Ellen Gerstein. “It's the storytelling that comes through the data that helps us turn it into something useful. For example, here's where I need to go with my content program, here's where social media needs to go, here's what our talking points are for executives over the next two weeks.”
Featured panel speakers were (clockwise from top left): Cohen, Gennaro, Germaine, Gerstein, Weil, Delic and Sexton.
A strong blend
When PR practitioners blend different tools and technology platforms, the result is greater interoperability, notes Sexton. “Nobody has all the answers, it requires a lot of collaboration,” he points out.
“While third-party data can feel overwhelming,” adds Meltwater’s Cole Weil, “there are opportunities to blend that information with first-party data to better inform some of the strategic decisions we need to make.”
To show this in action, Paul Gennaro of Voya Financial recalls how consumer feedback – combined with outside data – led the company to go back to market with broadcast advertising, after pausing at the onset of the pandemic, sooner than some other firms.
“We came out of 2020 with stronger brand metrics across the board,” he says. “Working together with research and branding teams was the key.” Gennaro advises comms pros to forge relationships and share data with other functions in the organization.
That sentiment is echoed by AXIS’ Joe Cohen.
“Truly integrated marketing and comms teams are complementary because they are trained to think differently,” he explains. Cohen believes marketing’s core strengths are its data-driven stance, deliberate approach to process and ability to speak the language of the business.
“PR,” he continues, “is more fast moving, able to seize opportunities to establish cultural relevance for the brands it represents and understands the brand reputation and the risks that come with that. PR also understands all the different stakeholder groups formed through cross-functional relationships and how to work horizontally across the organization.”
Panelists point to an explosion of employee-driven data as a huge influence on the way businesses hire, do staff evaluations and look at compensation. “You can just look at Starbucks to understand the differences that the explosion of in-market data dynamics had on that business,” shares Weil.
Gennaro adds that data on people with disabilities helped his team target that underserved community for financial-planning services.
“We rolled out a campaign called Invest in Something Special to encourage Special Olympics athletes to share their aspirations beyond the sport,” he explains, “and for every comment, like or share, we said we would donate $1 to Special Olympics. Our objective for the one-week campaign was 500,000 engagements. We ended up getting 940,000 engagements in one week and were finalists for ESPN Sports Humanitarian of the Year.”
The brand’s consumer data told Gennaro’s team that the number-one thing, within greater DE&I representation, that consumers wanted to see more in advertising was greater disability representation. That led to the launch of a commercial with disability casting that received positive feedback on social media, as well as direct emails from parents of children with a disability.
“We have approximately $15 billion in assets we've won specifically because of our program on inclusivity, disability and special needs,” highlights Gennaro. “There's an unparalleled brand lift when you have disability inclusion as part of your branding and marketing communications. The data was a huge factor in getting us there.”
At Prudential Financial, Sexton’s team uses natural-language processing to help guide the script for earnings calls. The team also worked with data partners to help inform how best to reach Black consumers and found that the demographic responded to different content based on their income level.
“That kind of micro analysis can be enormously helpful in guiding communication strategy,” observes Sexton.
The importance of goals
During the event, a dedicated period featured pre-submitted audience questions that focused on specific data challenges for which counsel was most sought. One such scenario posed to the panelists focused on the reverse engineering of campaigns.
Germaine notes that using research as the starting point for creating a strategy can be an effective method for planning a campaign.
“Creative ideas pop up all over the place, but we need to reverse engineer to find the data for why this creative platform works and how it will actually help our clients gain competitive advantage,” she says. “We have access to third-party data to see what types of content audiences are engaging with and what they are reading and sharing. That can give insight on whether a creative idea will work or how it needs to be tweaked.”
To a person, panelists also spotlight the importance of setting clear goals at the beginning of a campaign.
“If you design a campaign with business goals in mind, you know the numbers to which you must pay the most attention,” offers Meltwater’s Dino Delic.
“Define the goal,” adds Germaine. “Is it to improve and drive reputation? Are you trying to sell a product? Your strategy and tactics will vary depending on that business goal.” She cautions, though, that the objective should never be to get top-tier media.
“Top-tier media is a means to an end,” clarifies Germaine.
Gerstein notes how Pfizer continuously gauges results against set goals.
“We evaluate impressions, engagement, positive engagement, brand fit, all of the different values that go into our reputation,” she asserts. “And we reevaluate every six months to see what is working.”
Based on audience feedback, the challenge of measuring earned media is a topic for which many need assistance. The panelists provide some, particularly as it relates to presenting results to the C-suite.
“Earned media is best understood and appreciated when presented in the greater context of how it fits into the bigger picture,” advises Cohen. When the business goal is infused in the campaign and other function goals are overlaid in the campaign, success is easier to identify. If the goal is to hire talent, measuring the application rate after a campaign is one measurement. Lift in business is a tried-and-true yardstick, too.
Panelists offer a few other strategic tips. Even without a large budget, Gerstein says comms pros should look for that “one little spark that can illuminate a movement.”
Working with an influencer named Darrion Nguyen, the creator of Lab Shenanigans, finally got the attention of Pfizer’s C-suite.
“I was not gaining a lot of traction with getting people to understand why this was an important campaign for us until two industry publications talked about how cool it was that Pfizer was working with an influencer,” she reports.
Delic notes that people-centric campaigns always get attention. “The trick is putting people at the center of everything,” he advises. “Make it personal.”