Blogs  / January 23, 2014

3 tips for crossing the PRTech chasm

by Rebekah Iliff

A few weeks ago Onclusive was mentioned in this round up story by Mizzen+Main co-founder Web Smith, which he posted to curated blogging platform Medium.

In that post, Web gave one particularly interesting insight into how the minds of both startup co-founders driven by numbers, as well as engineering-focused brains, tend to look at something as fluid and elusive as PR:

PR equation

The point?

Well for starters, and from my experience making the move from a mostly female driven PR firm to a mostly male driven technology company, if you want to get anything – yes ANYTHING – done in the future as a communications professional it will require major shifts in how you think and operate.

But before we jump into 3 key shifts that I’ve culled for your perusing pleasure, here are some interesting stats from IBM’s 2011 CMO study that give some context:

  • 79% of CMOs expect a high level of complexity over the next five years as data explodes and technology solutions are required for key decision-making.
  • 48% of CMOs feel prepared for this above stated complexity.
  • This leaves a 31% “complexity gap” that needs to be filled with new paradigms, communications strategies, etc.
  • 74% of CMOs will be focusing on customer analytics (aka data) to understand individual purchasing behavior as opposed to en masse purchasing behavior (markets).
  • More than two-thirds believe they will need to invest in new tools and technologies and develop new strategies for managing big data.
  • Likewise, nearly two-thirds believe they will need to change the mix of skills within the marketing function and enhance its analytics capabilities.

In other words: future marketers, PR pros, and communicators extraordinaire – all of whom generally take cues from CMO trends – will likewise need to make relatively significant changes in order to remain relevant.

The bottom line? Well, to keep up you must understand how to work with data as well with those who are responsible for the data (enter PRTech).

I am extremely fortunate to be in an environment where the talented engineering folks I work with don’t write me off as a dumb “former PR girl” or balk at my requests for tech assistance and data insights.

And this DOES happen at companies. A lot. To be frank, it’s an antiquated way of operating, but most organizations won’t catch on for another 3 to 5 years. Possibly 7. Oy vey!

This “open channel behavior” with my tech team allows me to unearth important information which in turn allows me to communicate better (and engage more effectively) with our customers, the media, and other core constituencies.

So whether you’re internal to the marketing team at a company (not just technology companies because most companies have IT or some tech component at this point) or you’re on the agency side, here are a few pointers for engaging those on the tech savvy end of the spectrum.

#1 – Understand their communication limitations

Not to be a generalization-a-list, but the truth is that the majority of those on the “data side” are male. And as anyone knows who has ever known anyone who is male knows…they are not necessarily winning prizes for “best-in-show communicators.” Therefore, it is highly unlikely they will be willy nilly offering up information out of the blue that will make you look like a rockstar.

What do you do? Ask. Figure out 3 to 5 key things at a time, put it in bullet points and support it with data as to why it’s important for you to know the answers. Then ask. And typically over food. Fastest way to a data-person’s heart…

#2 – Build an infrastructure for data gathering

Something that we’ve started implementing at Onclusive are monthly “data & insights meetings” which are held for the express purpose of, you guessed it, analyzing important data and insights from both tech and marketing.

It’s shocking what can happen when you provide a platform for cross-silo sharing. We’ve found some of our most interesting conversation pieces for the media during these sessions. Beyond that (and this goes back to the communications limitations point) it’s easy to assume that those who don’t readily volunteer information don’t have interesting information. But they often will reveal it if given the opportunity or a safe environment to do so.

#3 – Learn to speak their language

A few weeks before the holiday break we had a company brainstorming session about a product feature currently in the pipeline (cue “suspense soundtrack” for effect). Sharam (our CEO) instructed everyone to spend 20 minutes white boarding the most important aspects of the feature and how it would play into our overall vision of “increasing PR performance.”

Then we were all given a chance to present our ideas to the rest of the team.

Well, I’ll be damned if I wasn’t flabbergasted when our Chief Architect, Patrick, basically had the same vision as yours truly. Written, however, in a code-like structure to my very circular and text heavy explanation with lots of layers and arrows and stuff.

Below is a re-creation of our various white boarding outcomes. The exact information has been changed to protect the future product feature.

PRTech mindset gap

Beyond simply understanding communication limitations and building a structure in which fluid communication has a “home,” exists this last step, and perhaps the most difficult: marketers, PR pros, and anyone who depends on data must learn how to best communicate with those who own it. If you don’t, the responses will be (at best) vague and (at worst) incomprehensible.

In my opinion, these shifts will markedly improve your outcomes and set you up for success in the evolving business world where data becomes central to justifying your position.