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Using data-driven communications to grow influence in the boardroom

Communications and PR – like advertising – can be hard to measure. But is this the reason why PR often doesn’t secure the accolades it deserves?

Studies continue to show that businesses undervalue PR with only one in ten senior public relations professionals securing a place on the company board, and almost four in ten (37%) agency and consultancy workers considering themselves unable to influence their client’s final communications strategy. Yet, as industry professionals know, PR has the capacity to make a sizeable impact. A comprehensive, measurable, and rigorous communications strategy helps to meet business goals by attracting investors and new customers, as well as proactively enhancing reputation.

So although PR has a tangible impact on business outcomes, the real problem is that these outcomes are not being understood or recognised.

If communications and PR professionals want to earn greater credibility and enhance their boardroom influence, they must change this situation. And to do that, it will be vital to harness data as a means of demonstrating their commercial contributions.

1. Speak the same data-driven language

It’s no small irony that one of the key elements limiting the perception of PR — a sector founded on communication — is the way practitioners traditionally present strategy and results. It is too often the case that members of the C-suite may not appreciate the important role a strong PR strategy plays in meeting business goals because some practitioners don’t communicate in a language they understand: using data, metrics, and analytics. Senior executives are accustomed to basing decisions on solid figures and rigorous evaluations of trends, so plans and reports laden with PR jargon don’t cut it.

In a world fuelled by digital technology and data, our industry must focus on targets and strategy that fit with other business teams’ goals and objectives, including; sales, marketing, and product development. My own background as a data analyst, CMO, and Managing Director proves invaluable when establishing the key commercial drivers of a client’s business — and how PR plans need to be designed to achieve them. I am also delighted to see research increasingly being integrated into PR strategy, including pre and post-programme testing to demonstrate movement in perception and secondary research to show how share of voice and other metrics shift as a result of PR activity. But such remarkable thinking is only truly effective when combined with the ability to translate it into clear, data-driven discussions that secure attention and buy-in. 

2. Focus on tangible business priorities

While securing coverage of any kind might seem like a positive outcome, securing it purely for the sake of gaining column-inch kudos does not position PR professionals as valuable assets to the C-suite. Directly linking strategic goals with unique client objectives — such as boosting brand awareness or sales — is imperative for the true worth of PR to be acknowledged.  

PR professionals must therefore work closely with multiple teams across client firms to identify specific business objectives and outcomes, as well as understand their key stakeholders and what media they consume, before they begin to create a targeted and tailored strategy.

Once business needs are established, measurable objectives should be set so results can be continuously monitored and shared with the C-suite in terms they understand. It goes without saying that it’s essential for key performance indicators (KPIs) to be highly refined so that the effect of PR activity can be tracked in granular detail, and demonstrated convincingly to the C-suite.

3. Say what the C-suite doesn’t want to hear using data-driven arguments

Finally, we should not be afraid to push back and tell the C-suite when they’re wrong. This includes situations where a CMO demands specific placements without realising such a tactic is unlikely to meet the objective of their sales team, who need to engage the attention of prospects unlikely to read the publication.   

Saying yes will not gain respect further down the line when KPIs are missed, and rarely result in long-lasting relationships. As PR professionals, it’s our job to comprehend the commercial drivers of our clients’ business and make recommendations that are best for them, challenging the brief and perceptions as if it were our own business. Most-often this is best done using data and insight to prove the point to CEOs that demand hard facts.

There are some great examples of businesses in our sector working in partnership with the C-suite and demonstrating how PR actively moves the needle. But change needs to happen faster. Data-driven marketing is at the heart of how most businesses operate, and for PR and communications to thrive and grow, we need to follow suit. It’s time to champion the data-driven power of communications so it receives the kudos it deserves.

Victoria Usher is Founder & CEO of GingerMay, a multi-award winning strategic marketing and PR consultancy. Victoria was recently crowned Industry Leader of the Year at the PRCA Dare Awards 2018 and is on the judging panel for the PRCA National Awards 2018.