Blogs  / May 20, 2014

Airing PR’s Dirty (Data) Laundry

by Team Onclusive

Let’s be honest. In an era when even the most challenged of industries are employing data-driven decision making, there’s no reason PR shouldn’t be able to catch up. As media mongers, we’ve long relied on vanity metrics to prove our work’s worth. From AVE (advertising value equivalency) to print circulation, these dirty-data metrics are often muddied with inaccuracies, and they fail to strategically inform our work.

Dirty Data is:

  • Incomplete
  • Misleading
  • Non-integrated

Think about the falsities of “print circulation” as a metric. Does the number of newspapers sitting in an untouched stack by the doorway of a coffee shop really equate to the type of exposure you’re looking for? Does that number help you decide what story to pitch next? Or, are you simply assuming the success of past campaigns? If the latter, you’re definitely playing with the little devil we call dirty data.

Reporting the success of a news story you’ve pitched using dirty-data metrics (aka “vanity metrics”) may show why you deserve your job, but it doesn’t tell you how to do your job better.

Before you blast off into a dark mood because you’ve just realized you’ve been working with faulty numbers this whole time, know that you’re not alone. It’s a problem within the industry and there’s already a solution out there — it just hasn’t been embraced widely yet. Why not be one of the first? I’m talking about improving your data literacy and applying clean data to your PR strategy.

Clean Data is:

  • Devoid of inaccuracies
  • Interpreted in a uniform way
  • The basis of a strategy that works

Here, I examine three companies — that have nothing to do with PR — to demonstrate how data-driven decision making help achieve better business performance. Think of it as “data inspiration.”

How could PR can benefit from similar business tactics?

squareData Beast #1: Square

Did you ever hear the story about the little, Seattle-based ice cream shop that got mobile and tablet payment provider Square to revert to an earlier version of software? The NPR article “Technology May Turn You Into A Bigger Tipper” outlines the stellar story of community-driven data and service.

In the merchant-preferred version of the Square software, customers were presented with a screen that suggested optional tip amounts before they could get to the signature page to complete their transactions. In the new software version, the tipping option appeared on the same page as the signature box. There wasn’t as much of an incentive to give a few bucks for a job well done, and tipping declined (in a huge way) instantly. Square’s solution? Revert to the preferred software version immediately and avoid the wrath of unhappy merchants (and potentially “bad PR”).

What the PR Industry can learn from Square:

  • Community feedback is invaluable data.
  • The ability to pivot on a dime should be a best practice for any business.

Data Beast #2: Rocketship Education


In public education, teachers typically cater to the middle of the class, developing their lesson plans based on the abilities of the medium learning level. But public charter school Rocketship Education uses data to do it differently. Instead of catering to one group of students, they teach with a flexible, blended learning model that allows for teaching in small group settings, and a number of other innovative ways, so that the students who need more face-time get it. Many schools don’t have the resources to do this, or the data to back it up.

The folks at Rocketship Education believe in sourcing a variety of data, not just state-required test scores. They employ four different types of assessments to get a better look at the whole picture. Teachers even have “data days” where they work with coaches to identify learning trends so they can make immediate adjustments to their lesson plans.

Lastly, the charter school advocates data literacy by making the test results available to students and parents, not just teachers and the school. Parents stay informed and students feel empowered when they know where they stand and what level they’re being encouraged to get to.

What the PR Industry can learn from Rocketship Education:

  • Data allows for personalization (in all types of industries).
  • Every industry has room for reform.
  • Data literacy is where it all begins.

kabbage logoData Beast #3: Kabbage

This forward-thinking financing platform provides lines of credit to small businesses based on summaries of their online seller accounts (PayPal, Amazon, Etsy, etc.). Users are given an available credit line almost immediately after they start an account because Kabbage looks at real-time business data (instead of individual credit scores) to decide how much they’ll lend to you. This is a phenomenally different approach from what traditional lenders do.

What the PR Industry can learn from Kabbage:

  • Real-time data allows for more instantaneous implementation.
  • When you break from tradition, you’re more open to innovation.

Now, the ball’s in your court. Will you be one of the PR people who search for ways to increase their knowledge of clean data and apply it to their strategy, or will you stick to what you know?

In case your wondering, the answer is behind Door Number One.