People often say that relationships lie at the heart of any public relations effort. It’s certainly hard to dispute that since “relations” sits right in the name of the profession.
As a result, many perceive public relations to be more art than science. Relationships are part of the core human existence. Most people in the PR profession possess an innate desire to engage with others and receive a real psychic benefit from making these connections.
A profession that relies on relationships for success must be more about gut instinct and experience than analytics, right? Not so fast. When two people seem to have a good relationship, it’s often said that they have “chemistry.” That’s science.
In fact, most dating services rely on data and science to enhance their match-making skills. They don’t randomly assign potential couples, but instead collect as much information from participants as possible to make the best connections. As important, they collect data on these results to improve their algorithms going forward.
Excellent public relations certainly relies to some degree on skills often described as “soft,” like relationship-building, but there’s no doubt that the results can be improved by integrating “hard” fact-based knowledge and activities.
That’s where the concept of data-driven public relations comes in.
To some degree, PR has always incorporated a data element. When the first communicator tore out a story from the earliest newspapers, they were engaging in news clipping, an obvious form of data-gathering. When the telephone came along and people began collecting the numbers of journalists on sheets of paper, in little address books, and eventually a Rolodex, they were gathering data to help enhance their PR efforts.
Today, technology makes more data more accessible to professional communicators. As an industry, we’re awash in services that will help you gather information, slice it, dice it, manipulate it, and (hopefully) learn from it.
We’re now even seeing agencies themselves adding proprietary data-driven software tools to their arsenal, rather than simply relying on third party vendors.
As the lines between public relations and marketing continue to blur, we will see even more demand (and hopefully innovation) on the data-driven PR front. As a general rule, marketers have been using hard data for longer than most “traditional” public relations professionals, but this is rapidly changing.
It’s important to remember that data-driven communications isn’t just about numbers. Data comes in many forms and includes databases of clips and contacts. It can encompass open-ended survey questions just as easily as quantitative results.
The pace of innovation in public relations data provides many opportunities for communicators to adapt and improve. The brainpower going into this field helps to ensure that we can move beyond some of the earlier efforts at brining science to PR that no longer stand up to close scrutiny, like Ad Value Equivalency (AVE).
The continued evolution in data-driven public relations knowledge, tools, and services will help make all of us better communicators – if we’re willing to learn and leverage these assets.
Using data enable us to spend our time more effectively and efficiently, tailor better messaging, and ultimately deliver stronger results for our bosses and clients. That’s a good reason to embrace a little bit of hard science to enhance the relationships at the heart of public relations.