July 23, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Big Data and Open Data—can they help with PR efforts?

Big Data and Open Data—can they help with PR efforts?

“Big Data” seems to be one of those terms that many people use but in practice has yet to be truly adopted by a wide range of businesses. Thus far, it has been the big businesses that have the money to acquire the data and use it to effectively reach customers. It has yet to really filter down to advertising agencies, and it is even less likely to be used by PR firms.

Big Data has been used for sales for years

There are a couple of reasons for this, and yes, the cost is a big one. Much of the most useful data are likely to be proprietary, such as sales information. This type of big data has led to a small revolution in the targeting of sales and coupons—you might recall one of the earlier stories about the use of big data was a story about how Target used sales data to target its coupons and in doing so sent a teen coupons based on her purchase history. The teen’s father was not pleased, as the coupons were for cribs and baby clothes, which he didn’t think a teen needed—but, the predictive data were indeed correct: she was pregnant.

Big Data is now integrating with IoT

The use of big data for things like sales targeting is now common; we almost expect to be handed coupons that are relevant to us based on our purchase histories. It’s also being used in marketing and advertising to more finely target and deliver relevant content to audiences. Big data is even being integrated with the Internet of Things (IoT) so that billboards can deliver targeted advertising based on aggregated data from mobile phones. In other words, the program analyzes massive amounts of cell phone movement data and uses that to determine which advertising to place on which billboards.

How Open Data might change PR

We have not yet seen this type of adoption of big data use in PR yet, but I think it’s only a matter of time. One of the things that might crack through the PR/Big Data barrier is the increasing availability of open data.

Open data is, simply, data sets that are provided to the public. A number of U.S. cities have open data initiatives, including New York City, Boston, and others. A piece in Crain’s New York shows what kind of impact the open data initiative there could have on small businesses.

Applying the use of this type of data to the work of public relations will take some creativity on the part of practitioners, but the fact that there is no cost to acquire the data sets makes experimentation fairly risk-free, the only costs will be time spent on figuring out what can be done with the data and then implementing whatever ideas or plans arise.

Since open data sets are predominantly information collected and stored by governmental entities, the most immediate and logical PR community that may find benefit in its use is Public Affairs PR practice groups. Local government activity has the potential to deeply affect some industries, particularly when it comes to things such as permitting practices, municipal taxes, and zoning requirements.

The availability of large sets of big data with no out-of-pocket costs has the potential to change businesses—including the public relations business.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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