Exploring Data Literacy in PR

As part of the PRCA Innovation Forum, our managing director and AMEC board director James Crawford, was asked to collaborate with fellow industry experts on its Data Literacy In PR Report.

The report looked at the use of data in public relations, including ways in which it can be used to inform strategy, decision-making, creativity, content, execution, and measurement. PRs should not only be words people but numbers and data people too.

As part of our contribution to the report, we took an in-depth look at the capabilities of the tools available, and how the data from these tools can be made more useful to PR professionals, with an improved data literacy culture.

The potential and limitations of PR measurement tools

There is currently a plethora of tools for PR professionals to use and subscribe to. Many come with a hefty price tag too, so it’s important to identify their capabilities and limits before taking out a year’s subscription. There is no single tool for measurement in public relations. Instead, PRs should adopt a stack of tools with different applications, that generate various forms of data. The job of the PR professional is to choose these tools and their metrics wisely and collate them into a dashboard for clients and decision-makers to review. For those commissioning the PR work, return on investment and attributing the success of a campaign are vital for justifying the spend.

Understanding and learning how to incorporate these tools into PR operations is the first step to using them effectively. Numbers for number’s sake won’t benefit anyone.

James Crawford, in collaboration with Stella Bayles, director of Coverage Book, offered their opinions and experiences of measurement tools, from the perspective of both a user and vendor.

For PRs, measurement tools can bridge the gap for data literacy, but only when they’re used in moderation. An overreliance can mean a lack of analysis or narrative to go with the results, instead providing a dashboard of meaningless numbers. Data from the tools cannot be taken at face value. Look beyond the numbers and understand what the data is saying. Tools are not always 100% correct or applicable in every circumstance. 

A good understanding of the tools is also needed. Become a ‘super-user’ – be curious and challenge the tool providers as to why their tool should make it to your tool belt. Without the right training or knowing how to turn the data into actionable objectives or results, the numbers are just data. Therefore, someone who has learnt to read and analyse what the measurement tools are saying will be far more effective than someone relying solely on technology to do all the work. Most providers offer basic on-demand videos for you to build your familiarity with the tool. But the best way to become a pro is to use it yourself. Put your latest client campaign to the test, or even analyse your website.

What tools are available for PR measurement?

The measurement tools landscape is everchanging. New and improved tools often come along, and it can be easy to jump to adopt them solely because they’re new or fashionable. While new measurement tools can be worth trialling it’s important to not develop a magpie approach. What is the new tool adding or replacing in your tool stack? The choice of tools should be closely linked to what they’ll be used for and what objectives they’re trying to achieve. Focusing on what data your team is planning to track and prove is essential and finding tools that supplement this approach is the best way to proceed.

A useful way of identifying what your communications strategy does and doesn’t need is organising measurement tools in the ‘vitamin’ and ‘painkiller’ categories. Vitamin tools are often useful or helpful, but not critical to have. On the other hand, painkillers are essential, and solve a problem or at least make it easier and more tolerable.

When should a new tool be adopted to the PR toolstack?

To use a tool effectively you first need a good understanding of what it does and the data it produces. How useful will that data be to the client or customer, and how does it need to be handled or presented for it to be insightful and understandable? If your measurement and analysis can be improved by the tool, then consider adding it. If it isn’t going to provide insight or aid decision making don’t overcomplicate your data studio dashboard.

Building a culture of data literacy in PR teams

In recent years, search, social media and analytics have formed new pages in the public relations playbook. The abundance of tools available to create data for each of them has been instrumental in forming research, campaigns, and brand reputation. However, tools and the data they produce are meaningless without the ability to read and understand data and use it to inform PR activity.

To create a culture of data literacy leadership is required. No matter the size or the scale of the organisation, if data literacy and a culture of insight, measurement and evaluation aren’t fostered through the organisation, then the adoption of technology becomes futile. But how do you build a culture of digital literacy? There are two key approaches.

The first approach is technology-driven. This typically involves off-the-shelf solutions provided by research and tech vendors, making it easier to gather, analyse and apply data findings to PR or marketing activity. This approach is often used by smaller teams, who may need the technology to do the heavy lifting. This can then be coupled with one or two senior members of the team who understand what needs to be measured and have a level of data literacy, who can then lead training for other staff members. When more people within the agency have this understanding, overall data literacy will go up. While the technology-first approach can be effective in the way it introduces effective tools into the team’s processes, human involvement is essential. 

The second approach is through culture and leadership. This involves an emphasis on learning and training within the organisation. PR teams should ensure everyone has good knowledge of the tools and data used, rather than it being siloed in an isolated measurement team. This approach sometimes sees an organisation hire their own data specialists but also supports its practitioners in improving their skills. Research and innovation have occurred, and these organisations might have developed their proprietary tools but also use existing technology to create aggregated data reports.

Both approaches can be adopted by small and large organisations. They must determine which is the best choice for their overall strategy and objectives. 

Further exploration and examples of these approaches can be found within the full report. Download your free copy of Data Literacy In PR here via the PRCA website.

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