Future of PR and Communications in a Big Data World

Sarab KocharWith each discussion around ‘Big Data’, the term gets redefined and its importance in business processes and outcome reaffirmed each time. But this blog post is neither to define what Big Data is nor to recognize the importance of Big Data in the business world. My post summarizes a recent study of Big Data practitioners about the priorities and challenges organizations face in implementing Big Data initiatives. The post is to present some of the insights drawn from the research and what PR and communications can do to secure its future in a Big Data world.


Global organizational spending on Big Data exceeded $31 billion in 2013, and is predicted to reach $114 billion in 2018[1]. A global survey conducted by Capgemini of 226 senior Big Data executives across Europe, North America and APAC spanned multiple industries and across various Analytics, Business and IT functions assessed their organization’s approach to Big Data governance, data management, skill development, and technology infrastructure.

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The results indicate that nearly 60% of executives believe that Big Data will disrupt their industry within the next three years. However, organizations are still facing Big Data challenges and some of the underlying causes of these challenges outlined in the research are:

  • Scattered data: Organizations have not completely integrated their data sources across the organization and there is lack of robust processes for data capture, curation, validation, and retention.
  • Absence of a clear business case for funding and implementation: Organizations lack well-defined criteria to measure the success of their Big Data initiatives.
  • Ineffective coordination of Big Data and analytics teams across the organization: Organizations do not have joint project teams where business and IT executives work together on Big Data initiatives, there are scattered pockets of resources or organizations do not follow a top-down approach for Big Data strategy development.

The biggest factor for successful Big Data implementation as identified from the research is a strong operating model. The elements of the operating model include setting up a governance framework, building the right data management capabilities, developing a clear strategy to build analytics skill-sets, and creating the right technological foundation. Based on the survey findings, here are some points that PR and communications professionals can explore to start or advance their Big Data journey:

  • Define policies and procedures for management of data assets: PR and communications professionals should work to establish the procedures for data quality, security, and privacy and define rules for data prioritization, storing, and sharing of internal data.
  • Develop Big Data competencies: Advancing their analytical skills can help PR and communications professionals develop Big Data competencies. The need to up-skill existing resources, hire data scientists, partner with experts, and even explore different channels to source talent are some relevant issues to address.
  • Set up technological base for Big Data initiatives: PR and communications organizations and teams should explore ways to invest in tools for data governance, and data management. Evaluating which tools and technologies to use and how advanced is the portfolio of Big Data and analytics tools is a good starting point to assess current Big Data capabilities.
  • Establish a robust governance framework: PR and communications professionals should recognize the impact of strong leadership in receiving organizational support for Big Data initiatives. Creating a leadership role to signal the shift to a data-driven culture and establishing clear criteria and metrics to measure the success of initiatives are some ways of standardizing and strengthening a governance framework.

This checklist is just a starting point for PR and communications professionals to increase their chances of success in a Big Data world. Future of PR and communications in a Big Data world is significant and requires us to identify the unique data challenges, data science principles, and our approach to Big Data. A recent conversation on the IPR’s LinkedIn Forum explains why Big Data matters to public relations professionals.

As an industry, we need to first gather business requirements before gathering data or before we can identify trends, detect patterns, or glean insights. But most importantly, we need to align Big Data projects with specific communications and business goals. The Institute for Public Relations is working on a research project that will help identify the Big Data approach that can actually contribute to PR and communications. Understanding the approach, its methodologies, its data science principles, and its best practices is the key to the future of PR and communications in a Big Data world.

[1] ABI Research, “Unlocking the Value of Big Data in Enterprises”, September 2013

Dr. Sarab Kochhar works as the Director of Research for the Institute for Public Relations.

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