By Paul Quigley
NewsWhip CEO

This is the second in three-part series from NewsWhip. You can read Part 1 here.

Until recently, the signals used by communicators had two characteristics. First, they were always backward looking, monitoring yesterday’s mentions and conversations. Second, they were not capable of gauging impact, relying on inflated “estimated reach” metrics, or estimated AVE dollar values.

These metrics were OK for general campaign effectiveness reporting: the high profile publication mentions and fuzzy dollar value on earned media could be circulated to show that a PR firm did its job. The metrics did not need to be predictive, or even particularly accurate. A fuzzy, somewhat generous, rear-view mirror of a campaign and a mention in the New York Times was good enough.

Yesterday’s fuzzy metrics were never designed to provide a real-time, accurate map of reality. And an accurate map of reality - in terms of a news story’s flight path, the scale of a crisis, the  likely next moves in a conversation, and changes in public perception of a company - is exactly what communicators are being asked to provide today.

The shift from fuzzy, rearward facing metrics to a need for an accurate map of current reality is most acute in two areas where communicator expertise is most in-demand today: crisis management, and advising on corporate purpose.

Corporate Purpose and Taking a (Data Informed) Stand

At the last Holmes Report PRovoke conference, the most commonly occurring topic was the opportunity in guiding and helping brands with corporate purpose. Attendees saw a remarkable presentation from MSL India’s Touch of Care campaign for Vicks. Richard Edelman argued that the complexity of this work requires the subtlety and skill of PR professionals, and presents an industry-wide opportunity for PR. The opportunity is based on tectonic real world changes: 86% of US millennials expect brands to act on social and environmental issues, and 50% of that group have already boycotted a company for its stance on an issue (2017 Cone Comms CSR study).

But brands cannot pull their positions on various issues from the sky - or a boardroom workshop - and assume that their consumers will embrace and celebrate it. The best use smart agency advisors and high quality, real-world data to inform their decisions.

For example, NewsWhip works with the agency of a tech company that wanted to take a leadership position on labour rights at their west coast facilities. The CEO of the company felt the brand had a right to speak on the issue and would benefit from it. The agency team looked at 12 months of content engagement and social posts around related topics. They examined exactly which angles and topics within labor rights spark discussion and engagement on the West Coast, and the quality of that engagement.

Critically, when examining the overlap of the topic and the company, they saw negative narratives got strong engagement. Engagement data indicated that wading into the topic would be perceived as inauthentic, whatever the opinion (or passion) of the C-suite. The company had other areas of strong corporate purpose where it was perceived as having real authentic voice, so instead it stuck to those.

Corporate purpose will remain a growing area for PR agency advisors in the coming years, but to succeed, those advisors cannot base their counsel on vague, rear-looking metrics. They must use their creativity and their data to guide their clients toward the right stands to take.

As our Chief Product Officer Dervilla Mullan has argued, data does not replace intuition and judgment, it checks and enhances it. Accurate and predictive data will “improve the effectiveness of PR professionals by providing them with new, complementary intelligence.” That intelligence will be tremendously helpful in the complex world of purpose and politics.

Crisis Management

Brands and big companies are experiencing crises and issues at an ever increasing frequency: environmental, social, workplace, political, safety. As a friend at a major PR agency said recently, “the water level is rising.”

This change is driven by two forces: greater politicisation and sensitivity to issues (likely resulting from intensive social network use), and more frequent exposure of issues associated with companies (driven by the fact that every consumer now carries a video camera and transmitter linked up to those social networks).

This elevated level of risk transforms the importance of good in-house and external communications advice. The right response can greatly shorten a crisis and decrease its impact on a company’s reputation and market cap. And the right response can be made far more probable through the use of predictive, high quality, real-world data.

For example, Marshall Manson at Brunswick Review recently outlined such a situation:

Recently, a global business was facing a highly critical report from a well-known international NGO. They feared a tidal wave of bad media coverage all over the world that would disrupt their activities and erode sales. But within minutes after the report was released, predictive analysis told a different story. People weren’t reacting. There was little anger, except from constituencies directly connected to the NGO.

Within an hour of the report’s publication, the business chose to be reserved in its social media response, mostly responding to direct questions from customers. It managed the story with the small number of journalists who expressed interest, while making substantive changes behind the scenes.

Sometimes the best advice is to let a story run its course. Good data based on forward-facing analytics is a great foundation for knowing when to give that advice.

What’s Next?

The fuzzy metrics from the previous era of media monitoring had their place. When there was no data available on campaign effectiveness, and when PR was vying for attention and budget, reporting big numbers was the name of the day.

That era is over. The emerging core value in communications today is guidance on matters of critical importance around corporate purpose and crisis. That guidance requires real world data, predictive capabilities, and deep experience. Fortunately, this new era promises to make the discipline of communications more influential than any that has gone before.