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Advice for the Data-centric Communicator

The evolved communicator recognizes the need for more than charts, graphs and data tables. is provided by CommPRO Global, Inc. (CommPRO) to give visitors the opportunity to read about events and share opinions for those interested in the integrated communications business sectors. is provided by CommPRO Global, Inc. (CommPRO) to give visitors the opportunity to read about events and share opinions for those interested in the integrated communications business sectors.

Today, every PR person has a “tool” and every communicator has data…usually too much data. With the advent of accessible technology for real-time content streaming and do-it-yourself analytics, more and more professional communicators have evolved beyond the “why measure?” to “what’s the best way to measure?” and “how do I uncover meaningful and actionable insights from the data I generate?” The goal? To provide communicators and executives with the support they need for continuous improvement.

The evolved communicator recognizes the need for more than charts, graphs and data tables. They apply critical thinking and data analysis to generate interpretive analysis, uncover actionable insights and enable strategic guidance for better business decision-making.

Many public relations practitioners are on the path to fully-realized data-driven communication. Whether you’re just beginning or well on your way, here are four suggestions to help you achieve research-based enlightenment:

  1. An algorithm is different from an insight.Computers enable people to manage routine tasks with speed and consistency, but they are absolutely literal. Technology does exactly what we tell it to do. This precision offers positives and negatives, since relationship building can be a messy business. So, while algorithms generate data quickly and inexpensively, they offer no understanding, intuition or context. Technology feeds big data, but humans drive understanding, interpretive analysis and strategy. The ideal combination for the evolved communicator is one that marries category expertise (communications as well as industry sector); statistical acumen and critical thinking; and purposeful technology.
  2. “Inquiry-based” research is different from “response-driven” research.Just as one-way “push” communication must evolve, so must the research we use for planning and evaluation. Some traditional modes of market research are threatened in the big data environment. Focus groups provide excellent directional views on customer opinion, but they lack the predictive insight of quantitative approaches. Quantitative approaches may be projectable, but they are limited by the rigidity of the survey instrument, which can inhibit spontaneous remarks. In our new communications environment, social media is emerging as an approach which is both qualitative (people expressing their opinions in an unstructured format) and quantifiable (unlike a focus group at the mall, some brands generate 100,000 relevant tweets in a month). In this way, one combines the qualitative insights one seeks with the ability to project to a larger population (but faster and less expensively)
  3. “Real time” is different from “right time.”Real time is essential for situations where the communications process (and the response) is more formulaic. However, complex reputation issues where stakes are high require more than just speed. It’s advisable to move at the speed of the decision-making within your organization. The best decision is not necessarily the fastest one. In these situations, “data” may not be enough: Providing the necessary insights and directional guidance takes time for the researcher to produce and requires the decision-making executive to thoroughly process the findings before acting.
  4. Your daily public relations activity may be your best research.Smart PR people use data analysis to conduct controlled experiments, which drive narrower segmentation and tailored messaging. Every day, our interactions with executives, peers and the media contribute to our collective knowledge. Research enables us to transform these experiences into data and

About the Author: One of the world’s largest corporate communications research and consulting firms, now part of the Cision family, PRIME employs more than 500 analysts and consultants who combine talent with technology to foster better business decisions among its global clients. Weiner joined PRIME as CEO in 2008. Weiner is a member of the PR News Measurement Hall of Fame and delivered the Distinguished Lecture in Public Relations at Quinnipiac University.

Weiner is a member of the Arthur W. Page Society, serves as a Trustee and the 2017 Chairman of the Measurement Commission for The Institute for Public Relations, and serves on the Advisory Board of the Museum of Public Relations. He is a member of the International Association of Business Communicators, the Public Relations Society of America and AMEC. Weiner sits on the editorial advisory boards of The Strategist and PR News. He is a regular contributor to PR Week, IABC’s Communication World, PRSA’s Tactics and The Strategist, and, as well as an active participant at conferences by The Institute for Public Relations, The Conference Board, ABERJE, the Association of National Advertisers, The American Marketing Association, The Arthur Page Society, IABC and PRSA. Since 1993, he has devoted his career to helping many of the world’s most respected organizations and brands to demonstrate and generate a positive return on their investment in corporate and brand communications. | @WeinerMark

A version of these tips first appeared in PR News and can be found in the PR News PR Measurement Guidebook Volume 9.

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