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Matt Allison is CEO and cofounder of TrendKite.
If there was a PR utopia, it would look something like this: Businesses would send journalists timely, interesting stories. Journalists would receive an ongoing supply of quality information. Readers, in turn, would grow enthusiastic about brands, turning media coverage into a conduit for sales and investor interest.
But, we do not live in a PR utopia.
Some would say what we’re living is actually closer to a Mad Max scenario. By adding a measure of objectivity to PR, ‘big data’ may get us that much closer to the ideal. It’s been a long time coming.
The confounding artistry behind PR
In today’s world of tight budgets and understaffed publications, pitching stories to journalists can seem on par with selling ice cream trucks to Siberians. Journalists are tired of picking through hundreds of ill-conceived pitches to find information that is actually useful. In order to pass scrutiny, stories must immediately display value to a publication.
Conversely, trends in the news are changing all the time. Every publication has its own way of deciding what to write and report about. It takes dozens of hours of research to find the publications that might write about your brand. Establishing relationships with reporters, writing pitches that work, following up and building on existing relationships is another matter altogether. That’s not to mention the legwork involved with sifting through other types of media, from blogs to social, to decide where your efforts will have the greatest impact.
No wonder businesses are investing so much in public relations.
By 2014, companies in the United States will be spending $4.4 billion on PR, private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson predicts. Between 2009-2014, spend on PR and social media together will reach $8 billion.
Even with that handsome spend, companies are asking themselves: Where is all the money going?
Results depend on who you ask
Even with billions pouring into PR, businesses are hard-pressed to find a way to quantify the effect of media coverage on their bottom line. While your storm-tracking software may, for example, experience spikes in coverage during hurricane season, how do you maintain sustainable coverage throughout the rest of the year, when the media isn’t focused on your industry? What is the normal or baseline level of coverage for your business?
The answer varies, depending on who you’re talking to. There are no agreed-upon standards for quality.
Every PR agency measures results in its own way, whether through impressions, number of visitors referred from a media outlet, Tier-1 coverage or other metrics. For many years, companies have faced a frustrating lack of transparency in understanding how PR affects their bottom lines.
The final frontier for big data
From farmers to manufacturers, a number of major industries have already adopted big data to provide quantitative insights into which activities affect profit, and how. Perhaps due to the complexity of the media, PR has lagged.
But big data is finally inserting itself into the media. We’re already growing accustomed to tools such as social-media sentiment analysis and automated content generation. Next, big data will clear out the smoke and mirrors of PR.
Here are just a few examples of how that will play out:
- Instant access to a compilation of industry and media trends will give you the data you need in order to create targeted, newsworthy pitches.
- You’ll be able to see links between types of content, reader sentiment, reader demographics and types of coverage. As a result, you’ll figure out which kinds of stories are most interesting to which vertical, and focus on the verticals that are most important to your bottom line.
- Because you’ll be able to measure how content travels through not only the media, but through social networks, you’ll be able to see the full impact of each of your pieces of content.
- Big data metrics will help inform new, industry-wide standards of PR success, such as an impact score.
- You’ll have the data you need in order to establish that long-missing connection between publicity and profit.
In today’s shifting media landscape, PR can result in more head-scratching than hits. By adding metrics to the notoriously opaque art of communications, businesses will finally have the clarity they need in order to streamline their PR efforts—and create on-point, specific and relevant ideas for the media to cover as part of this new and improved process.
Good ideas + good data = a win-win for companies and reporters.
Matt Allison is CEO and Co-Founder of TrendKite. Matt is passionate about providing a more intelligent way for people to digest news and about developing a more transparent way to understand its impact. Before TrendKite, he founded two other startups and worked for the Meltwater Group. His educational background includes a B.S. in Economics and a minor in Engineering Entrepreneurship from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. Follow him on Twitter @TrendKite