6 Decisions You Should Never Make Without Data


Being a communications or public relations professional means having to make a lot of difficult decisions. Luckily, some of the toughest can be informed by data. Here are six scenarios that require data to make the right choice:

#1. Decide whether or not to invest more PR/social/marketing resources in a campaign.

This is probably the most common decision faced by every communicator. We just went through it ourselves with a promoted Tweet campaign. As exciting as it was to see the increased traffic to our website, ultimately it came down to a cost-effectiveness decision (see our article on the difference between ROI and cost-effectiveness). We did three different campaigns. One was very successful, one not so much, and one was a dismal failure. The one that worked best (in terms of cost per clicks and goal conversions) was targeted at large measurement events for which we offered a great solution specifically for the attendees. The one that was a failure was targeted at a broad communications event in a specific industry for which we had a great product for the attendees, but apparently the audience wasn’t particularly interested in measurement.

The conclusion: If you’ve got the perfect event, perfect audience, and perfect product, then promoted Tweets are worth the money. If not, then the resources are better spent elsewhere. So next time you’re faced with a choice on where to put your resources, agree on a definition of success; i.e. “what it will mean to have worked.” Then look back on the last three or four similar events or campaigns and see how they performed based on that definition.  What does the data tell you about what works and what doesn’t work?

#2. Decide whether or not to fire your PR agency.

True story: A banking client of mine was told by her CEO to “do an agency search” because he wasn’t happy with the PR results he was getting. My client wasn’t sure a search would be worth the effort, and wanted to know what data I might be able to provide.

So we conducted a competitive media analysis of banks in her sector during the period before and after the incumbent agency had been hired. The results were clear: The client’s bank had received more and better press coverage than her competitors since the incumbent agency had been in place.

We pointed out that perhaps she needed to have a deeper discussion around what the CEO’s definition of “happy” was. In the end, they cancelled the agency review. More importantly, by deciding to  looking at the data first, the client saved countless hours the agency review would have taken.

#3. Decide on the most effective strategy to launch a product.

Back in my days at Lotus we were debating what would be the best strategy to launch the product that would become Lotus Notes. The product manager wanted to do a major event, the PR person wanted to do a press tour. Luckily, we had data that showed that the last major event (that cost $300,000) was singularly ineffective at getting the key product benefits across to the media and key influencers. The data also showed that a $15,000 press tour we conducted had been very successful at getting key messages into our top tier media.

chart of effectiveness of press tour vs event

This data made the decision obvious, and saved us from making a $300,000 mistake.

#4. Decide which spokesperson to send on a tour.

Picking the right spokesperson to be the face of a new company or product is key, because not every product manager, or CEO for that matter, is equally effective at articulating the messages to a frequently confused and uncaring reporter.

I once worked with a major technology company that was in the middle of a very rocky financial period. Competitors were attacking from all sides and analysts were speculating that the company was on its last legs and likely to be on the auction block soon. During this period my client was organizing a press tour to launch a new technology platform, and was desperately trying to get her leadership team to do go out on the road for it. Leadership, however, wanted to send out the product manager.

Under normal circumstances the product manager would have been ideal for such a tour. However, we had data on all the key media outlets and it very clearly showed that financial uncertainty, not the new technology platform, was the focus of recent coverage.

The client took the data into her leadership team and posed the question: “Given the financial nature of the stories these reporters have been writing, do you think Product Manager X is the right person to answer questions on the tour?” The CEO quickly agreed to do the tour.

#5. Decide on which part of your budget to cut.

When we first began working with one of our travel destination clients, they had a large budget for display advertising, a smaller one for digital and social, and an even smaller one for PR. Then budgets got tight, and the organization faced a 50% reduction in funding. Fortunately we had data to help them decide what to cut.

Early on in the project we had agreed that traffic to the “Visitor Guide” page of the website was an acceptable proxy for demonstrating intent to visit. We had a year’s worth of PR data on both quantity of coverage as well as quality (using a bespoke Quality Index). We ran correlations between the “Visitor Guide” traffic, PR volume, and quality. Data showed a high correlation between the Quality Index score and web traffic. Correlation to PR volume wasn’t as strong. We then correlated media buy data with web traffic data and found that the correlation was much lower.

It was clear that high quality PR coverage was a better driver of traffic than paid media. So, when push came to shove, the PR budget remained intact, and the paid advertising was nixed.

#6. Decide whether to use outside celebrities or internal resources.

Shortly after UNICEF became my client, it decided to ramp up its social program. Luckily, UNICEF has an almost unlimited supply of celebrity spokespeople as well as a vast library of visual resources, including spectacular photographs and videos. The tricky thing was to decide what type of content and resources would make the most effective social presence.

We analyzed 3 months’ worth of social data to determine effectiveness and engagement. Effectiveness, in this case, was defined as generating comments and discussions that contained UNICEF’s key messages.

As it turned out, internally generated photographs generated a large number of Likes, but not much engagement. Endorsements by soccer star David Beckham were most effective in generating engagement, but resulted in few messages. By far the most effective in terms of message communication were the efforts of Mia Farrow, particularly relating to her tours of Africa.

The conclusion: For message communication, use celebrities like Mia Farrow, who may not have as large a following as others, but whose following is highly engaged in the issue. For new initiatives where generating engagement is key, use a broadly popular and very visual celebrity like David Beckham. ∞

Paine Publishing provides communications, PR, and social media measurement training. Katie Delahaye Paine, founder of Paine Publishing, provides social media measurement consulting and customized measurement services.

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