Leveraging Data for PR – It’s a New World, Baby

By Colleen Martin, Principal, Zer0 to 5ive

I recently sat down to listen to the PRWeek webinar, “From Intuition to Insight: Leveraging Data to Refine Your Craft and Deliver Proven Results.” The main takeaway – that should be obvious for anyone who has been working in PR for more than a minute – is that PR expectations are growing, and clients are demanding a mastery of PR measurement.

It feels like it wasn’t that long ago that I was helping to print, three-hole punch, drop into sheet-protectors, and add to a binder – hundreds of articles, what we PR folks call “clipbooks,” to give to our clients as evidence of our hard work and visible results. But news has largely since transitioned away from being dominated by print, TV, and radio, into the online realm, via digital magazines, Instagram stories, TikTok videos, Instagram Reels, Facebook feeds, LinkedIn posts, YouTube channels, Medium blogs, Reddit communities, podcasts, and more that I am probably failing to mention. But without all kinds of tools, it can be difficult to put a “value” on securing coverage on these various channels.

Therein lies the problem – how do you measure the true value of PR? Data analytics is no longer a “nice to have” – they are a significant part of the PR role. Every PR person should (already) be thinking – how can we as PR pros most efficiently and effectively leverage data to demonstrate the value of what we do?

Cision and PRWeek’s sixth annual 2023 Global Communications Report found that analytics and reporting, or attribution and ROI, are top priorities for more than 38% of communication professionals; yet, with 50% of communications leaders struggling to convert data into actionable insights, it’s not surprising that more and more brands are turning to agency partners to help bridge the gap.

Measurement is not a buzzword. It is the best way to show the value of our work and help us to make better strategic decisions to move brands ahead.

The Economy’s Impact on the PR Industry

The media industry has announced more than 17,000 job cuts as of June 2023,  marking the highest year-to-date level of cuts on record, according to a recent report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

That means journalists are getting squeezed – pressured to write more articles, with less staff, while it seems like the PR field, like bamboo in a tropical climate, is growing like wildfire. The ratio now stands at 6.2 PR pros for every one journalist, which means we are all competing to grab attention from a smaller pool of journalists and fighting for the same ink.

A May 2023 MuckRack PR survey found that over 70% of PR professionals anticipate securing earned media will become more challenging over the next five years, and more than half are concerned about getting journalists to respond to pitches. Surprising? Not at all.

PR budgets also shrunk in the second quarter of 2023 and have not risen for more than a year, according to the latest IPA Bellwether Report. For those of you in the back who may not have been working yet during the last economic downturn, marketing budgets are often the first items to get slashed when things go south because PR and marketing are considered to be “soft” or “non-essential” costs.

Why Is There a Growing Focus on Data-Driven Insight?

Those of us who have worked in the field for some time know that PR is both an art and a science. It’s not lead gen, but contributes to brand awareness and credibility, and therefore, ultimately lead gen. Coverage by the media is the number one driver of credibility and should be recognized for its value in the lead gen funnel.

It can be hard for PR pros to try to explain everything we do in numbers because it’s not so black and white. But we can’t hide from the data, because it’s part and parcel of the “why” behind everything we do.

More CMOs are now reporting directly to the CEO – up 47%, according to a 2019 McKinsey study: Marketing’s moment is now: The C-suite partnership to deliver on growth. CMOs are now seen as strategic advisors by the business and need faster access to data to report to their boards and C-suite. The CMO’s rapport with the C-suite is crucial for establishing marketing’s role as a growth driver. The McKinsey study found that 83% of global CEOs said marketing can be a major driver of business growth.

A silver lining from the COVID-19 pandemic is that the C-suite now better understands what communication pros bring to the table and the impact of what communicators do.

Stay tuned for my next post where I will continue this discussion by sharing key things for PR people to know about PR measurement, the top use cases, where to begin with PR measurement, and how to leverage data in storytelling with the media.

To learn more about how Zer0 to 5ive can help drive visibility and industry leadership for your company drop us a line.