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



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A famous line from the longest English poem, ‘The Rime of the Mariner’ by the 18th century poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge is – ‘water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink’. One could say the same when it comes to organizations – ‘data, data everywhere nor any insight to learn!’. We can all agree that there are a myriad number of reasons across the business transformation dimensions of people, process, and technology that lends itself to this very common scenario.

In my twenty-plus years of experience in leading global enterprise business transformation initiatives for international companies, our teams’ collective experience (and our clients’ teams as well) was this – it is relatively easier to design/redesign and implement a new business process, or to design, build and deploy a new technical solution, but the single most critical transformation dimension requiring heavy-lift change management actions in any organization, is the people and culture side of things. Yes, culture eats strategy for breakfast (to quote Peter Drucker) but also if I may add, it can easily return for lunch, hungrier this time around, if culture is not addressed! This is an industry-wide phenomenon and not simply limited to PR/Communications.

Organizational culture consists of the collective values, beliefs, norms and principles which influence the behavior of people as members of the organization – akin to a ‘corporate personality’. Culture also includes the organization’s vision, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, environment, and location.

In this blog, let’s explore the two biggest and heaviest cultural roadblocks (and the most common) on the path of data-driven journeys, specifically for PR/Communications, i.e., the earned media space. The insights shared here are a combination of my personal experience and learnings in leading data-driven transformation initiatives, as well as the numerous conversations I’ve had (and so grateful for!) in the recent years with PR/Communications executives, leaders and, professionals across agency, in-house, education, research, collective groups and a number of Comm Tech data platforms.

1 – Lack of trust in a data management process and data analytics solution for PR/Communications earned media data domain – is the most common cultural roadblock for data-driven PR/Communications. Often this lack of trust stems from fearing a) what if the data does not show the full and true impact of PR/Communications actions taken by the team? b) what if the PR/Communications team can’t accurately interpret/explain the nuances in the data analysis? and, c) what if the results from the data does not align with what we know from our gut instincts and intuition with years of experience? There are very valid questions and must be asked and answered!

Why this roadblock shows up? – There are two sides to this lack of trust in a data management process and data analytics solution. On one side, the Comm Tech data platforms’ capabilities and offerings are still growing and maturing its capabilities (see my earlier blog on data-driven excellence framework), and it is not easy to simply select a data platform without a thorough evaluation of the platform’s data scope, features and functionalities and more importantly, ensuring that it matches PR/Communications’ business needs. This evaluation also requires to some extent on the part of the evaluator, to have a good understanding of earned media coverage’s data landscape – what’s out there in terms of technical capabilities and best practices for earned media data sources and data processing.

On the other side, the dots connecting data and technology with PR/Communications’ day-to-day process and overall mission and purpose is not so intuitive at the outset for the team and requires a lot of exploring, testing and discovering to bring them along this data-driven journey.

First steps to begin removing the roadblock – To do its part, the Comm Tech data platforms can demonstrate and convince (with hard evidence) — the breadth and width of data that is consolidated, integrated and processed, along with data quality and analytics processes to derive insights from the data platform – while being open and honest about the gaps in automation, integration, features and functionalities. This openness and transparency can build curiosity and engagement on PR/Communications teams side, and more importantly, it can build credibility and partnership between the two teams to embark on this data-driven journey together – both sides learning and co-creating the solution for PR/Communications to make a significant business impact.

Without trust in a data management process and solution, the data-driven journey does not even begin. Even if it does, the effort is often short-term focused and limited to reporting measurements that generates no dialog – indeed a huge loss of opportunity in deriving insights to help learn, make decisions and take meaningful actions for business impact!

(to be continued in Part 2).