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Can Data Inspire the Golden Age of PR?

The Holmes Report featured a remarkable interview with WPP Chair Sir Martin Sorrel. The marketing magnate proposed that data and social media may inspire a golden age of PR.

One has to wonder if this could really be true. After all, PR is often swept under the budgetary rug when compared to fellow department brethren like advertising and interactive development.

Sorrel cited one of the key reasons for the underfunding of PR: ROI. It’s been historically hard to determine what PR gets you.

But data is changing that case for the better. And as analytics improve, data may be the catalyst for dramatic increases in corporate PR spending.

First Touch Attribution

Today’s marketing tactics that get funding prioritization are based on last touch attribution, specifically, the tactic that converted a lead into a customer. Email marketing, ad retargeting, direct mail and mobile incentives are prime examples.

PR struggles to compete with last touch attribution. You can’t measure when a story, blog post, social media update, a referral or a review triggers a sale. Even in the old days, the best you could do was compare coverage to column inches and offer the dreaded and indefensible ad equivalency rates (AVE).

Data has and continues to change this. Today, most analytics programs and marketing automation systems are capable of tracking first touch attribution. First touch still needs a final touch to convert, but PR can at least share statistics other than views and reach. Now, PR can show how it generates leads, and further, influences the customer through the buying cycle.

First touch is a very big and important reason for PR pros to become analytics savvy. It is a means to justify purpose and investment.


Sir Sorrel thought the biggest impact that data offers is the ability to research. With more data available you can analyze just about anything, including social.

In PR, you can use data to research what customers say about you, who is really influential, how your product needs to improve and more. In many ways, social data can give you a live pulse on how the market is embracing or rejecting brand products, services, and even campaign messages.

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Data derived from social media can be used to create research that’s not only interesting to the company’s executives and marketing team, but also its stakeholders. In fact, original research is a common tactic among brand journalists and content marketers seeking to stand out in a noisy vertical.

The same is true for PR. Data, accompanied by research, is another way for PR to analyze and better understand its relationships with stakeholders.

All of the additional benefits make it a win-win for the CMO, too. Data strengthens PR’s role (and budget) in the corporate world.

Data has a big role to play, not only as a means to understand stakeholder perceptions, but also to provide genuine research and to show PR’s direct impact on sales. With such uses, data could indeed usher in a golden age of growth for the PR sector.

Image: Diego da Silva, Michael McCauslin, Surian Soosay (Creative Commons)

Tags : measurement

About Geoff Livingston

Geoff is president and founder of Tenacity5 Media, a digital marketing agency that provides content marketing and social media services. A former journalist, Geoff continues to write, and has authored five books. Follow him @geoffliving.

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