Sandra Ericson|Oct 28, 2013

It never ceases to amaze me how much can change in a year.

At PRSA’s 2011 International Conference in Orlando, creative storytelling was the name of the game. In 2012 in San Francisco, reigning in your customers’ passion for the greater good was all the rage.

So what’s the buzz ribboning through this year’s largest gathering of public relations pros on the planet? Mathematics and statistics.

What?! But we are PR people! We aren’t supposed to do math. (That’s my excuse every time a restaurant bill comes that I don’t feel like figuring out.) I’m in PR – I do words, not numbers.

Well, all aboard the numbers express everyone. Two words have entered the marketing lexicon that are changing how we measure, design and execute our programs: BIG DATA.

Now, more than ever, PR is being based on facts. And I’m liking it.

I recently attended the Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication’s (AMEC) Symposium for an update on how the industry is implementing the Barcelona Principles and to discuss some practical applications of the theories. Here’s my list of the top five most interesting things happening in PR measurement at the moment:

1. Get Data or Get Out

Anyone out there watching Showtime’s new series “Masters of Sex”? It’s sexy science and we just got our own breed of it. Harvard Business Review named “data scientist” the sexiest job of the 21st Century. Big data is a big buzz word, but it’s having real applications in PR measurement and across the board.

Have the creative Mad Men of the ’60s turned into the Math Men of 2014? Perhaps. The question is, how will we use it to our advantage?

2. Psychic Analysis

The use of data is becoming so prevalent that it’s not even enough to measure results during or after your program to assess your goals. Some CEOs are expecting you to call the ball in the air, according to Mark Stouse of BMC Software.

Effectively using data to predict exactly how well you’ll do on your objectives, even before you implement them, is the wave of the future.

3. PR Wins the Marketing Mix

With an industry emphasis on PR outcomes (business results) rather than outputs (impressions or advertising value equivalency), many have convinced their organizations to add PR into the marketing mix modeling. That’s a huge boon for our industry.

Overwhelmingly, when modeled against advertising, direct point of sales and other marketing functions, public relations – with its lower cost margins – is being recognized as the most efficient driver of sales.

4. Neuromarketing

Speaking of “Masters of Sex,” I think Glenn Kessler of HCD Research is watching a little too much of it – in a good way. In what apparently is not the future but the present, Kessler’s company is using biometrics to find out not IF your customers liked your content but WHY. Using heart rate, skin and facial screenings, Kessler’s company can test subconscious responses like attention, arousal and emotion.

For example, Disney wanted to know why people were visiting the park’s website but not clicking on the “plan a vacation” link. It turns out people were so emotionally connected to the park video above the link, they couldn’t turn away. The video moved elsewhere and the link got more action.

5. Narrative Content Still Reigns (But Use Data To Tweak)

Well, thank goodness some things haven’t changed. From Verizon transforming its press room to eliminate news releases exclusively for editorial, to Coca Cola re-envisioning its corporate website as a digital magazine, we’re still focused on telling stories. And it’s working better than ever, thanks to our ability to tweak the content in real time.

In addition, the analytics we’re able to showcase, such as the volume of visits to business or e-commerce pages from that story-based content, are earning us more dollars than impressions or advertising equivalencies ever could.

In summary: More data equals more dollars. Even more exciting? PR is starting to generate some never-before-seen respect from CEOs, CFOs and the like.

We always knew what we could do; now we’re starting to show it.


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