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2018: The need for integrated insight

‘Public Relations Executive’ made it into’s ’10 most stressful jobs in 2017. Not a huge surprise considering the pace and highly competitive nature of the industry.

Timing is everything. The right story at the wrong time is worthless, and there are no prizes for 2nd place in the race for coverage and column inches. In the early days of PR long lunches and a black book of fleet street contacts helped to stay ahead of the pack. In more recent times creative genius has been at the heart of agency mantra’s but in the present era we are seeing a rise in content and creative fuelled by accurate and timely insight.

So, does the modern-day PR now need to add research skills to their already long and diverse list of expertise?  Fortunately, today’s communications professionals are blessed with access to a wide array of cost effective data access tools. Advances in new technology and techniques from opinion polling to deep audience insight continue at a pace. If you represent a top global agency then it is highly likely you have the support of a centralised insight team that work in tandem with you from pitch stage through to evaluation. But there are still hundreds of agencies that don’t have the budget to bring these skills in house and still want to compete.

Partnering with research agencies on an ad-hoc basis is the obvious solution. Many PR focused research orgaisations have built their offering based purely on providing research tools that deliver data that supports predefined headlines, quickly and cheaply. In fairness, this is in response to the market demand but this tactical approach is directly at odds with what proper research should be and in worst cases puts the brands and commissioning agencies at risk of ending up on a media blacklist or at the heart of a Fake News scandal.

Outputs formed using this tactical approach to research are frequently: 

·         Overly geared toward client expectations - creating a lack of trust

·         Built on preconception - resulting in misalignment with audiences

·         Based on past successes - preventing agencies from keeping up with current trends and providing any genuinely innovative talking points

We have seen the fallout of this with a reduction in the uptake of survey stories within the media, creative failing to resonate outside of the M25 bubble and a decline in interest from clients to allocate budgets for survey work.

So, what’s the solution? Firstly, a shift change is needed in the way research is perceived in the communications mix. At Vitreous World we work with agencies of all sizes and the one common theme is that all parties believe that research and creativity should not be considered separate. Research is a very creative discipline in its own right and when used the right way can greatly enrich the creative process, un earth fresh angles and provide a concrete platform to launch thought provoking campaigns.

Secondly, bring the research team in as early as possible. Allow them to understand the wider business needs of the end client rather than isolating the research brief to the needs of the campaign alone. This approach maximises the potential impact research can have from pitch through to evaluation. Content creation is of course at the heart of the agenda. If the data is sourced correctly it can provide a deeper range of insights that are truly fresh and in turn newsworthy. An integrated insight function with clearly defined goals will uncover the true market trends and increase the chance of building a successful campaign.

So why do we not see this process being employed industry wide? Creative flair in some cases is seen to be in competition with a data fuelled strategy and creates an obstruction for the two to work in tandem. Since the launch of our consultancy we have engaged with PR and Communications professionals at all levels. Research knowledge exists but in many cases there is a common perception it is a tool only used by the lazy looking for a quick fix/headline.

With a UK research spend circa £3 billion it is fair for us to assume businesses value data driven analytics.  Few investors would get behind any product developed without customer input or launched without a period of user testing. An agencies campaign is its product and we feel there is a huge opportunity to increase the chances of success through data. There is never going to be a guaranteed formula to building and timing that perfect piece of content but with a small leap of faith and an investment in the right expertise a truly competitive edge can be sustained.

With clients demanding more tangible return on their investment the move towards data driven content will continue. In the past 12 months, WeComms announced the launch of The Plus Network, a partnership of five specialist agencies aimed at offering an alternative to the agency monoliths. One of the five partners is YouGov, an international Internet-based market research firm.