Data has always been important in communications, but it has never been more critical than it is now. In today's world, newspapers are facing increasing pressure to cut costs and produce more news in less time. At the same time, companies are producing massive amounts of content to try and earn share of voice. If you want your business messages to cut through, and to earn endorsement through editorial opportunities, you need to make sure that you are providing journalists with more than just marketing material. Instead, you need to ensure that you are providing stories and analysis that are both relevant, and backed up by solid data and facts.
A changing media dynamic
Between information available on social media, various dynamics within the global economy, and a rise in the number of companies pushing out content on a daily basis, there really is no such thing as a 'slow news day' anymore. In fact, as competition for space increases, there is no room for PR pitches that don't provide journalists with all the elements that make a viable story. This is one of the reasons that data should be so integral to everything that we produce. A big part of any communications professional's job is speaking with the media, and my personal experience has been that more editors are telling me that they really like a story idea, but that they need more data to back it up and no longer have the time to find it themselves from other sources. When it comes down to it, you can have the best idea in the world, but if you don't have the facts and figures, it's going nowhere.
Regular media coverage means filling the gaps when there's no news
Everyone in the communications industry is aware that the threshold for what counts as news is getting more stringent, but we also know that for most companies, news is often in short supply. This is particularly true in the B2B sector, where it's harder to find news stories that have implications for a broader audience. One journalist at a national newspaper recently told me that there's so much competition for space in the news pages, that even company results from some of the biggest companies aren't making the grade.
What this means is that if your client or your business wants to build a successful communications strategy they have to find ways to engage the media that don't involve splashy news announcements. This has always been true, but what is becoming more apparent is that one of the best ways to do this is to provide trend data or analysis. In particular, companies that can take a more outward looking view, and create content that looks industry-wide rather than at their own business, are able to position themselves as experts and earn their space in the media.
A company is not a credible witness to its own success
We expect a company to say that it is amazing in its own marketing materials and this means that this testimony is rarely seen to be credible. We are not in the business of telling people how good we are, that's what the 'paid' space is for. Instead, what we are trying to do is gain endorsements for our products and services through the media. What this means, is that if you want people to believe in your company, you need to be able to back up everything you say with credible data, case studies or analyst opinion. Data is not just important for creating the news hooks, it needs to underpin everything we do, whether we are getting involved in features or updating customers on a new service or product.
The great data black hole
The important role of data in communication is, I think, clear, but the main problem that we face in the communications industry is that there seems to be a data black hole in most companies. Gone are the days when businesses were able to spend masses of money on proprietary research, and many companies find that much of the data they have within their businesses is proprietary. Where information could be shared, lots of executives are worried that putting it in the public domain could either alienate their customers or clients (particularly where that information is part of what is being sold), or that they will be giving too much information to their competitors.
All of these concerns are perfectly understandable, but what is apparent is that those companies that have either found ways to unlock new data streams, or have been bold in what they can share, are gaining share of voice and positioning themselves as leaders in their field.
Big data has been one of the biggest buzzwords of the last few years with industries racing to see how they can use the vast stores of data that they have to improve everything from sales, to customer service, to performance. Now though, is the time for businesses to begin thinking about how that data can be used in their communications efforts. The businesses that crack this first will find themselves light years ahead, while their competitors are left behind. It is clear that one of the biggest challenges for the communications industry will be taking a more analytical approach to content creation, and helping our clients to find compelling data to share. Only then, will we be able to build communications strategies that work.
A colleague recently remarked that data is the "iron ore of our new digital economy" and I couldn't agree more.