Porn, prom dresses, PR: Bill Tancer talks data

Bill Tancer has been hailed as the leading authority on what people are really doing online and what it means for business and society.

You want to know details about online porn behavior: who searches for what, how often, and what sites they visit after? Bill.

Or perhaps you were wondering what time of year teenage girls shop for prom dresses. Surprisingly, this is also Bill. We don’t question genius.

He’s all about data, search, and what the hell everyone from Marilyn the mom to Joe the juvenile is doing, and the implications of that behavior on buying habits and trends.

In a shining example of just how geeky he can get, I bring you this recent @billtancer tweet:

@investingmom Tuna searches are on the rise… pic.twitter.com/8fq1iy55he

Currently the General Manager of Global Research for Experian Marketing Services and perhaps best-known for his New York Times Bestseller “Click” – to us AirPR folk Bill’s just one of the gang. As our trusted advisor and friend (and additionally my secret pro crush along with Steve Jurvetson – you won’t find THAT online) he has been an integral part of our insanity growth over the past year.

Enjoy his insights and words of wisdom. He’s like, one of the smartest people on the planet. Oh, and he will also know whether or not you have read this.

Rebekah Iliff: You’re all about search and data. So, give us the goods: how can PR pros use search behavior to create more compelling narratives around a brand?

Bill Tancer: I’ve been able to show executives and marketers how consumers search for their brands and products. This data often informs brand positioning and targeting and can also be informative in terms of crisis communications. For example, we worked with analysts around an auto-recall and found how people were searching for the information; knowing how they searched we pushed out paid ads to reinforce positive messages which offset negative messages that were showing up in the organic listings.

PR pros can learn a lot from search and educate themselves more adeptly on how products are consumed. In terms of new, emerging brands or companies, search behavior around existing, similar products can inform how we craft a PR plan.

RI: But wouldn’t you agree that PR likewise affects online behavior?

BT: Yes absolutely. A great example of this is an experience I had with Hulu. Right after they came out of beta we did analysis of who was visiting and found the #1 age demographic was 55+. I published this information and some PR folks from Hulu got angry and emailed us telling us we were wrong.

Before they launched, the site was getting traffic from search and social networks. After the PR push, where they secured stories in the New York Times and USA Today, the traffic started skewing older because of those outlets’ audience. It created this anomaly in traffic. This is a perfect example of how PR efforts can change behavior and why it’s imperative that PR targets are aligned with a products’ core audience.

Word to the wise: traditional media may not be the right way to launch emerging companies and more emphasis should be placed on niche digital outlets and social.

RI: How many times have you been interviewed do you think?

BT: Probably over 1000 times. It’s ranged from in-depth newspaper and magazine interviews about my book (“Click”), to live radio and television segments where I do more of an “expert analysis” on online behavior. I even did 1.5 hours with Elizabeth Vargas on 20/20.

RI: Wait, did you talk about online porn behavior with Elizabeth Vargas?

BT: I did.

RI: How was that?

BT: Not awkward. Well, not for me at least. But I just get jazzed up about the data and don’t really think about the actual content. Did you know 10% of online traffic is from porn and that 78% of that is from males? Women tend to search for creative stories and erotica, but men just want…

RI: I see how this goes.

BT: The pictures. They want the pictures. I have the data.

RI: I 100% believe you.

In related news, what are your tips for interview prep, what do you do to get in the “zone”?

BT: One great tip I got back in the days of media training is to walk in with three points you want to get across. That’s it.  Whether it’s a journalist who wants two minutes, or a reporter who wants an hour – I go in with three points.

RI: Explain this a bit more. Why three?

BT: #1 – It causes me to think about structuring what I want to say. In other words, how I’m telling the story.

#2 – It allows me to control the interview.

#3 – For me, this makes interviewing fun, it’s like a game – where I always try to go back to those three points. Bonus: in a confrontational interview it allows you to turn the interview around, back to your key points.

RI: You just gave me three points about your three points. You had some SERIOUSLY good media training!

Speaking of publicists, describe PR in one word or phrase.

BT: Black box. Mysterious. And by the way, providing clarity to this “black box” is what makes working on this problem with AirPR so exciting.

RI: What makes a PR pro easy to work with?

BT: I think what I look for most is someone who shares my passion for the data. I’ve had external PR folks that seem to be messengers. The ones that are successful are the most passionate.

RI: And what is the thing that drives you the most nuts?

BT: Probably over all the years (roughly ten at this point) what irks me the most is the lack of communication. Ironic.

This can be everything from understanding of what we are trying to accomplish, to granular of how something has been pitched and what I can expect. A high level report post pitching doesn’t close the loop. I want to understand why something was successful or not. Give me the rationale.

RI: So you want more of an analysis of the process?

BT: I can’t tell you how valuable that “post mortem” of the PR process is. I always think there are ways I can improve. For example, after I did a couple interviews with Fox Business News, my publicists realized I was rushing the third point; they coached me how to make better use of the time – how to really get to each point without looking rushed.

I owe a lot of my success in PR to being open to improvement. Founders and executives should understand it’s a two-way street.

RI: What excites you most about what we are building at AirPR?

BT: Going back to the first time I talked to Sharam, as soon as I heard about the problem he wanted to solve I couldn’t help but think of the data by-product that would come out of his vision. And ultimately, what this would mean for refining PR.

The most exciting thing is being able to open this black box, insert a method and provide the industry with a standard way to improve on PR efforts, ultimately creating a metric. This allows me to apply what I’ve been doing last ten years to PR.

RI: What has been your favorite part of this process?

BT: It’s in the discovery. We have this great idea of how we are going to measure PR; I get to become the detective. No one has explored this before and it’s exciting to think about all the tools we have at our disposal. Data sets…the questions that we can ask. It’s intellectually exciting and the implications of what we are building are game-changing.

RI: Any insights on the future of PR and media?

BT: We are at an important inflection point, where social has become ubiquitous across segments and into “late mainstream.” Things have become a lot more conversational. Cell phones are smarter, tablets are smaller. Things are converging and consumers have access to information at all times.

The marketers challenge: knowing how to empower the consumer with information while engaging in more meaningful conversations. Beyond that, doing a rigorous analysis of what is and isn’t working.

RI: And this is where data comes in.

BT: That’s right, it’s always about the data.

Bill TancerAbout Bill Tancer

Bill Tancer is currently the General Manager of Global Research for Experian Marketing Services. He is the world’s preeminent expert on online behavior and author of the New York Times Bestseller Click: what millions of people are doing online and why it matters – unexpected insights for business and life. Brilliantly adept at understanding the patterns in online data, Bill also speaks on what our behavior means – how we think and act, as consumers, citizens and Net surfers, as well as emerging trends and how we interact with one another.

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Follow Bill on Twitter: https://twitter.com/billtancer