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Blogs  / March 17, 2021

Clearing the Two Biggest and Heaviest Cultural Roadblocks for PR/Communications’ Data-Driven Journeys (Part 2)

by Sunita Menon, Adjunct Lecturer, University of Florida, College of Journalism and Communications

In part one of this blog series, Sunita discussed the first cultural roadblock for PR/Communications’ Data-Driven Journeys – Lack of trust in a data management process and data analytics solution for PR/Communications earned media data domain. In this continuation, she dives into part 2:

Lack of prioritization of data-driven approaches for PR/Communications – is the other most common cultural roadblock – where at best, data becomes an after-thought or a project on the side and stays in the blind spot. Many in the industry agree and acknowledge that PR/Communications as an organization is way behind in adopting data-driven ways compared to their colleagues in marketing, finance, customer service or human resources as an example.

Why this roadblock shows up? Often this lack of prioritization stems from short-term/near-term focus and being in a reactive mode versus being in a long-term, strategic and proactive mode.

Three key focus areas where short-term approaches mar the benefit of strategic and critical thinking and planning:

  • Focusing on measurements and reporting as an activity instead of analyzing trends and patterns and adding more context for deeper and actionable insights – which can become capabilities embedded in various PR/Communications processes.
  • Focusing on campaigns as an event instead of a holistic and broad set of continuous, programmatic and interconnected actions under a common set of PR/Communications objectives, across various audience segments and influencers for sustainable PR/Communications impact.
  • Focusing on analytics for justifying their existence/ROI for budget as the overarching goal of the data-driven initiative instead of an analytical approach for actionable insights to enable PR/Communications’ critical mission of building/improving the organization’s reputation. A key point to remember is that PR/Communications mission of corporate reputation encompasses the broadest range of stakeholders of the organization – hence the ability to make the broadest impact for the business with a common platform to influence and inspire mutual understanding between the organization and all its stakeholders.

Specifically, because of the short-term or near-term thinking and planning, the team’s data-driven approach would be more focused on the trees while ignoring the whole forest! It is not that these actions often undertaken for short-term goals are not important – it is because they are the means to the end and not the end in itself.

First steps to begin removing the roadblock – There is nothing wrong in focusing on measurements and reporting it is only a problem when measurements and reporting is considered as the end in itself. An initial step could be to determine how the existing measurement and reporting capabilities answer your current business questions. Another step may be to analyze the patterns emerging from a series of measurement reporting over a period of time or bring additional context to generate a dialog with the PR/Communications experts and business experts. As an example, if you are using Onclusive’s suite of PR Analytics, you can both validate your assumptions about which content is delivering the most value for your brand, as well as discover less obvious stories, publications, and authors who are actually driving bottom-line impact for you and your competitors. Continuous focus on aligning measurement and reporting to specific PR/Communications goals for the business will be key to get out of making it an activity.

Similarly, using data-driven methods for campaigns is not an issue but it’s only one of many PR/Communications tactics among many. Strategic PR/Communications actions would have a holistic set of actions across storytelling, campaigns and influencer relationship programs – where storytelling creatively amplifies the company’s narrative and messaging in a rhythm; campaigns build on other related events and tactics and, influencer identification and relationship program adds an authentic voice to the company’s purpose and reputation for all its stakeholders.

On the same lines, using data-driven approaches for justifying a group’s existence or measuring ROI for budgets is not wrong either, but it limits the PR/Communications organization from setting and achieving the company’s higher goal of reputation building and improvement – which then builds a license-to-operate foundation for the entire company and drives positive behaviors across all its stakeholders, not targeted to customers and prospects alone. This is a huge loss of opportunity for PR/Communications to make greater and broader business impact!

We see this struggle to link PR/Communications actions to business outcomes when the team is expected to justify their existence or prove ROI or generate sales leads, because most often, the breadcrumbs leading from PR/Communications actions to business outcomes is not intuitive or more importantly agreed by others who can prove direct impact. However, we don’t see this struggle and confusion where PR/Communications objective is established as building/improving reputation – that must say something!

As the data-driven insight from the RepTrak company early speaks for itself – the stakes are high for reputation building and impacts the whole organization. If you follow the right path, the results will prove itself.

It is seemingly hard as each PR/Communications organization is at different levels of maturity (see my earlier blog on Maturity Model for Data-Driven PR/Communication). Until the reputation mission of PR/Communications is acknowledged and sponsored by the company’s senior most leadership team, and drives the key objectives of PR/Communications organization, it is hard for teams to raise the bar for PR/Communications to drive greater business impact.

As in any leadership structure, culture and tone is set and trickles top-down from the leadership team. Executive sponsorship alone can accelerate the transformation of PR/Communications organizational capability and expertise to be strategic, holistic and, future focused.

We have to start somewhere. There is a popular Chinese saying that ‘A 1000-mile journey begins with a single step.’ – teaching us that even the longest and most difficult ventures have a starting point; something which begins with one first step. Best wishes for the data-driven journey!