PR Needs to Transform Its Mindset on Data to Focus on Growth and Analysis

This post appears courtesy of the IPR Measurement Commission and originally appeared in PR News.

Please assess the state of PR measurement.

PR is still playing analytics catch up with other communications disciplines. While there are leaders making significant strides in this area, public relations as a whole has been slower to innovate, particularly in the data and data science space. The industry continues to discuss the data evolution conceptually – as a thought-leadership topic—rather than pushing aggressively for a real industry-wide data transformation. PR analytics discussions are shifting increasingly from Big Data to machine learning and AI – which is encouraging. But, this shift makes salient the technical talent gap in the industry, which is a significant risk particularly as it relates to future proofing the industry. Unless this skills imbalance is addressed, en masse, the gap between conceptual understanding of the potential of analytics and the technical ability to realize that potential will only widen.

Another challenge is the nature and quality of the data currently used to evaluate core aspects of public relations. Earned media measures are increasingly disconnected from the realities of a media environment where audiences are more apt to consume news in their social feed than on a publisher’s news site. The industry as a whole must push for broader availability and adoption of earned content-level and audience behavioral data.

Why do some brand communicators still resist implementing measurement programs? Please offer 2 tips to overcome these hurdles.

For so long, measurement has been considered a performance tool – a way to prove success or failure – but really measurement and analytics are best used as planning tools to improve the work. A mindset shift is required – less reporting and more consulting and opportunity identification. We should be actively using data and applying it to future work versus reporting on past activities.

Across the industry, we have to do a better job of communicating and then demonstrating the value of a build mindset specific to data. Data is a critical ingredient for growth – but PR tends to not treat it as such. Data builds relationships and data builds business – agency to brand and brand to customer. Overcoming resistance means focusing on how to build more with data, rather than report it.

We realize everyone has preferences, but what have you found to be the most successful method of reporting and presenting PR analytics to the C-suite?

We are increasingly finding that data is less valuable to our clients, particularly those in the C-suite, when presented as part of a program recap deliverable or scheduled reporting call. We are working to infuse data and analytics into all of our client discussions particularly those at the most senior levels. We are leveraging data and insights on an ongoing basis to inform the work and to build and reinforce relationships with clients. When measurement and analytics are integrated into the work and part of an organizational habit of bringing forward new thinking and opportunities to our senior clients, they see value in it. When measurement and analytics are disconnected from the core work, reported as a stand-alone research exercise and backward looking, it is less valuable.

Please discuss three characteristics of effective dashboards.

The best dashboards are clear and simple. Avoid building in too many different elements, colors and chart types. While there have been many advances in data visualization, more sophisticated designs can be less clear to end users. Sometimes the best representations of data are the simple standard pie and bar charts. They may not be sexy, but they are clear and less taxing on audiences to interpret. Interpreting a dashboard should not require a stats degree.

Research has shown that color accounts for 60% of acceptance or rejection of an object, so select color-schemes wisely.

Make sure to incorporate contextual elements. Incorporate trend charts to show performance over time. Consider factoring in performance versus competitors and performance against goal data or indicators with clear and concise language outlining key learnings and implications.

It seems so many brands miss the importance of including qualitative and quantitative metrics in their measurement efforts. When you see that from a brand you’re working with, what do you advise?

We adhere to industry best practices when advising our clients on media measurement, which includes incorporating both quantitative and qualitative metrics. However, because content analysis is still largely a manual process with significant resource implications, we know that incorporation of qualitative metrics is not possible for every assignment. Incorporating measurement and analytics into marketing plans from the onset helps in that regard – it’s easier to plan for the resource investment in advance than at the end of a campaign.

We see so many brands still adhering to AVEs. Is this a good thing? Where does WeberShandwick stand on AVEs?

We advise our clients against using AVEs and we reference materials developed by leading industry organizations, such as The Barcelona Principles, to support our position. When working with clients that have used AVEs historically, we advise and work with them to phase out AVEs and incorporate valid metrics – often drawing on education and best-practice materials such as the Integrated Evaluation Framework (IEF) developed by the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC).

Unfortunately, until a similarly cost effective measure tied to currency is developed, the complete eradication of AVEs will be difficult.

Open question: please discuss any measurement topic we’ve not covered in the above questions. Thanks.

The Need to Break with Convention

In the measurement and analytics space, the PR industry needs to be bolder and more open to breaking with convention and experimenting with new types of data and data partners. Wearables and biometric data, as well as clickstream data, have the potential to dramatically change how and what we can measure. We must experiment more with these types of data sources and understand how best to apply them to public relations work – both as part of our program evaluation and our data storytelling. To achieve new insights and create more value through analytics, we must more aggressively pursue new and better inputs.


Allyson Hugley is the President of Weber Shandwick’s Measurement and Analytics Practice. Allyson is a member of the IPR Measurement Commission. She is also the former co-Chair for the North American chapter of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC).

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One Comment

  1. Thanks, Allyson, for this really concise and insightful summary of the on-going PR / Research challenge. I think you are totally correct about the “skills imbalance” that you note between PR and analytics practitioners. (But you may be giving the PR practitioners a little too much credit when you write that they conceptually understand all the implications of use of Data / AI.) Most important, I think, is your emphasis on changing the paradigm for use of analytics in PR to the planning phase (and backing away from the retrospective “report card” (‘cover your a–‘) motivation behind so much PR analytics (which is a self-corrupting and self-corroding exercise). For a little inspiration, I’d suggest everyone look at the 10 profiles of Adweek’s 2017 “brand geniuses” http://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/brand-genius/# These people are marketers/communicators who are — really — data driven.

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