Listening to the right numbers

9th November 2017

When it comes to demonstrating the business impact of brand comms, the discipline of analytics is growing in power.

We know that the mechanisms for earned media have changed a great deal in the past few years. A couple of decades ago, earned media existed in newspapers, on broadcast shows, and in the early online news. Nowadays it also seeps across social media, digital channels, aggregators, and so on.

This in turn means a lot for the way we assess the metrics involved. Taking the New York Times as an example: the printed newspaper might have a circulation of three million, but its Twitter account has a following of roughly 40 million. In fact, some back-of-an-envelope calculations put the reach of the newspaper’s print circulation at less than 5% of its total potential global reach.

One might think that this is good news for us. It does give us bigger numbers after all, and many earned media case studies now include impressions as a proof point of their effectiveness.

But how many impressions are good? Five million is a big number. Twenty million is bigger. But 88 billion impressions, as I’ve seen quoted? That’s roughly 12 impressions for every single person on the planet.

Analytics is on a parallel journey

The truth is, it really doesn’t matter how many impressions you get. Brand owners care about how well the business is doing, and if the work we are doing is helping to drive it.

These days, we also have an increasing number of data and analytics tools to help us not only plan, target and come up with fantastic insights that drive original creative ideas, but also talk our clients’ business language by demonstrating ROI, effectiveness and real value, well beyond AVEs and impressions.

Only by embracing this world can we deliver true value. We need to be thinking about how we and our clients want (or expect) our work to have an impact. And then collect data on it, and measure ourselves against it. Did we change people’s attitudes? Did we change people’s behaviours? Did we generate sales?

This is actually great news for PR. Grabbing attention, engaging audiences, and driving change is in our blood. It’s what we’ve always done. We just need to make sure we are using the most appropriate and accurate data and tools to prove it.

Where do we go from here?

Data on its own is a cost. It’s the strategic action we can take from it that turn it into a business lever.
One of the interesting areas about working in analytics at Weber Shandwick is moving data on from just being about “results”, to making analytics actionable in the short and long term.

Our focus and attention is increasingly turning towards how we can use advanced analytical techniques to impact businesses across the whole spectrum of marketing and communications. Using data as it comes in, to adjust and shimmy towards turning results into immediate action. Improving things on the fly.

For instance, with the real-time unstructured data we have access too now, and by using natural language processing, machine learning and AI, we can explore topics and trends that people are not only talking about online, but also what they really mean. Which stories and conversations overlap, and where we can move into to make a difference.

We can understand the tone and personality of text, and its authors. We can get clarity on the factors that make a story go viral, and we can isolate the influencers and detractors that will make a difference. And we can demonstrate that these actions are having the effect that we and our clients want to see.
And we can do all of this at the same time. The whole picture of what analytics can do for brands truly is bigger than the sum of all these components.

A final point of caution: the growth in data processing and understanding gives increasing power to brands and agencies that invest in analytics. With that power comes great responsibility: our industry must take extreme care to ensure we always uphold the highest ethical standards in our efforts to help clients understand and connect with their audiences, for greater business success.