Why the PR Industry Must Get Smarter About Data and Analytics

February 7, 2017
By Zach Cutler


The trend in the marketing world today is a focus on big data. There is an increased demand among businesses for cold-hard evidence that they are getting their money’s worth.

I believe that it’s time we in the PR world make the shift toward being more data-driven and adjust to market trends.

Now, I say all of this from a place of great respect for the PR industry. In fact, I have worked in PR for my entire professional career. In college, I held a position at Ogilvy PR, and after graduating, I started Cutler PR. So, I have spent considerable time in the industry on both the business development and account management sides.

Along the way, I couldn’t help but notice that PR is plagued with a lack of KPIs, metrics and analytics. This is unfortunate, because using more data-driven strategies can inform smart decision-making and iteration, increasing the chances that  campaigns will be successful.

And while the recent development of things like the Barcelona Principles is a good start, I believe that traditional PR must continue to work on becoming even more data focused. This will help PR firms yield better results for their clients and enable the industry as a whole to better compete against other marketing disciplines.

Marketing is now data-driven

The explosion of digital marketing this past decade has given chief marketing officers access to tremendous treasure troves of data of which they are using to their advantage.

Hundreds of analytics tools and dashboards such as Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, and Spring Metrics allow businesses to drill deep down into the data to gain valuable, granular insights about what is working and what is not. They can now see where their dollars are most effective, which demographics are most interested, and more.

Digital marketing is a science that can easily trace outcomes to marketing efforts in real time, enabling marketers to adjust and tweak their strategies accordingly.

The traditional PR discipline, on the other hand is much more of an art than a science. While it may focus a great deal on qualitative metrics, it lacks quantitative ROI measurement. There is a “magic factor” to getting a cover story in the New York Times or Forbes -- which can change the trajectory of a business in ways that are hard to quantify in terms of exact impact. Such effects are very hard to measure.

Nonetheless, PR professionals must think of creative ways to measure outcomes in a more quantitative way.

Predict outcomes based on past performance

I recognize that one cannot quantitatively measure ROI from a great story in the immediate days, weeks, or even months following a publication date.

Sometimes, an entire year or more may go by after a story is published about company X before a potential customer, investor, hire or other stakeholder comes across it, leading to a positive outcome.

The solution is to look at past outcomes in the aggregate, which can inform what may be expected as a result of specific PR activities performed.

Those expectations should be communicated to the client so that when a decision is made, data is available that makes an argument for why dollars should go toward PR versus another marketing medium such as SEO or digital ads.

Leverage data from other sources

Leverage data from other sources, such as clients' website traffic to paint a broader picture of business outcomes resulting from specific PR activities.

Incorporating quantitative measurement and prediction of outcomes into traditional PR will be healthy for the industry. It will increase transparency and trust between agencies and clients, inform better decision-making and, ultimately, generate stronger results. To compete in today’s data-driven world, the traditional PR industry must progress in its ability to measure and analyze outcomes.

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Categories: PR, Data & Analytics