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Insights Incite: 8 Steps for Actionable Insights

Editor's Note: This post was originally published on and has been republished with permission. 

Today, public relations professionals recognize the advantages of data-informed communication: most subscribe to a platform and they have more data than ever. More and more corporate PR departments employ dedicated data scientists, as do even mid-size PR firms. As public relations evolves, the objective for public relations measurement, analysis and evaluation advances similarly; now, the goal is “actionable insights for better business decision-making.”

But what qualifies as an “insight” and what makes it “actionable?”

For one, “Insights Incite.” They provoke. They demand attention and they spark the communicator to respond. The foundations for actionable insights are good data, critical thinking and sector expertise. The desired output requires consideration, compels action and enables measurement for continuous improvement. As such, the goal extends beyond “real-time,” “dynamic visualization” and even “applied artificial intelligence” to uncover what the numbers mean to your business and which actions should be taken to improve.

1. Measure. . .and Measure Right

Every PR situation requires its own approach but every actionable communications research program holds these data elements in common:

  • Quantitative Data means “how many.” This may mean “the number of survey respondents” or “audience reach”. 
  • Qualitative Data reflects the tone and sentiment indicated in a survey response or in a social media post. 
  • Comparative Data indicates performance versus competitors, past performance and objectives. 

“Measure right” may be a matter of “what’s good enough.” For example, automated media analysis may be “good enough” for routine social media listening when the volume of content is too high. However, in times when the stakes are high – an emerging crisis, for example – the benefit of expert human validation provides greater accuracy and the potential for deeper insights at the speed of decision-making (not necessarily “real time”). 

2. Assess the Preferences of Senior Executives and Organizational Priorities

Actionable insights require relevancy; knowing in advance the predilections of senior executives and the objectives of the enterprise, and then focusing on them improves the likelihood that research findings will resonate. Most senior executives want to know:

  • What are the latest developments in our marketplace? What trends do we see?
  • To what degree are political, policy, and regulatory uncertainties affecting our business? How?
  • How are we attracting and retaining our best talent? What developments threaten our position as an employer of choice?
  • Is the senior leadership team operating as effectively as we can?

Most communicators want answers to such questions as:

  • Who are our target audiences? To what degree do we reach them now (and how)?
  • What are our intended messages? To what degree do target audiences credibly identify them with us?
  • Which channels most efficiently deliver our intended messages to our target audiences?
  • How do target audiences interact with our media channels and to what effect?
  • To what degree are we meeting – or beating – our objectives?
  • Are we investing our communications dollars wisely? How can we improve?

3. Segmentation Empowers Action

Audience segmentation analysis enables the communicator to operate with precision. A by-product of attribution technology and analysis, target audience data makes broad decision-making more manageable by isolating smaller sectors with more specific tactics. The resulting rise in performance should reveal a similar increase in efficiency as you do more with less and for less.

4. Context Drives Decision-Making

Good research, analysis and evaluation simultaneously reveal and add substance to the circumstances forming and surrounding an event, a trend or an idea. They also uncover the terms by which these triggers can be understood and assessed for decision-making.

Begin your public relations cycle with a landscape analysis to appraise your business, competitive and regulatory environments. Using the landscape analysis to formalize measurable objectives sets the stage for action by providing context to your performance relative to objectives, competitors, peers and your own historical trends.

If the communicator detects a shortfall or an opportunity, one can act to reinforce one’s advantage or remediate a deficit. Contextual insights and interpretive analysis (rather than descriptive analysis) disclose the degree to which your findings matter and the extent to which they affect the enterprise.

5. Compelling Visuals Reinforce Insights

While data-informed insights drive action, presenting actionable insights in ways that executives find engaging, accessible and digestible enables easier cognition, adoption and execution. However, visualizations without the “what, how and why” mean nothing. When done properly, infographics combine data-informed storytelling with visual appeal and digestibility.

6. Build a Solid Optimization Plan

The Six Sigma philosophy of continuous improvement applies “DMAIC,” an acronym referring to a data-driven quality strategy for improvement that reflects five interconnected phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. 

These break down as follows: 

  • Define the audience, the barrier to success, and the process to be improved.
  • Measure relevant data by integrating from a variety of sources.
  • Analyze data patterns to reveal gaps and prioritize opportunities.
  • Improve performance through actionable insights.
  • Control the process for continuous improvement by monitoring the situation over time, versus competitors and best practice.

7. Break down organizational silos

A PR challenge may require more than just a PR solution. As business counselors, we must remain open to the possibility that a challenge may be better served from another group within the enterprise. By sharing actionable insights throughout relevant parts of the business, we uphold the profession and defend our roles as business assets.

8. Hire Smart

W.E.B. Du Bois, the scholar and activist said, “When you have mastered numbers, you will, in fact, no longer be reading numbers any more than you read words when you read books. You will be reading meanings.”

Technology provides speed, accessibility and consistency but without the proper set-up and ongoing management, technology alone is not enough. The actionable insights process requires people who understand the business and who possess a combination of communications expertise and data science acumen.

Actionable insights require smart people to find the right data, to translate it into data-informed stories that communicate risk and opportunity and light a path for improvement through action.