It should come as no surprise that people are more active online every year. With this increased usage, it is becoming easier for people to access the kind of information that allows them to make purchasing decisions without the help of sales—or at least significantly delaying when they will reach out to a company. In fact, according to the market research company Forrester, the average consumer can progress up to 90% of the way through the buying process before ever contacting a sales person.1
As a result of this change, businesses have had to find new ways to engage with and learn about their customers. They often do so by creating appealing content to attract prospects and customers— think blog posts, eBooks, posts in social channels and press releases, to cite just a few examples—and then tracking how their customers utilize and engage with that content in an attempt to better understand them. For PR practitioners this shift is critically important. It means that in today’s digital age, in addition to building your clients’ brands, you also have the opportunity to use your own data-driven insights to fuel demand generation—and ultimately achieve your clients’ business goals.
Thanks to the development of various tools and technologies, over the past decade PR agencies and marketers have become increasingly skilled at following the trail of digital breadcrumbs that people leave behind when they consume and share content. By collecting and analyzing the vast amounts of data that people’s online activities create, they are able to gain useful insights necessary to generate demand successfully. That data typically falls into two main buckets:
Behavioral data. Data that can be collected any time people use digital earned, owned, or paid channels and that is useful for identifying trends about what people tend to do online. For example, you might be able to collect data about the navigation paths someone follows when visiting a website, whether or not a customer clicks a specific link in a press release, or when a customer engages with your client’s brand on Twitter. Tools like Adobe Analytics, Google Analytics, and GIGYA are useful for gathering behavioral data about owned channels (i.e., your client’s website, social channels), while marketing automation platforms such as Marketo and Eloqua, and other digital platforms like Google Adwords, Facebook Advertising and other advertising platforms will help you collect data about the campaigns you’re running.
Customer data. This includes historic and real-time transactional data, customer lifecycle data, and customer relationship management data. Prospects and customers typically provide this data themselves via forms, or customer-facing employees record it internally after the client or prospect interacts with the brand. All of this data can be used to anticipate consumers’ purchasing decisions and is typically collected in CRM platforms like Salesforce.com, Oracle, IBM or in other proprietary application databases.
As if that weren’t enough, additional data is also available from third parties. For example, your clients can purchase demographic or firmographic information to augment and enrich the picture they already have of their customers from their existing behavioral and customer data.
No matter what the source, however, gathering and analyzing all of this data is a critically important way to gain customer insights. Those insights can then be used to optimize all kinds of marketing campaigns—including PR initiatives—so that communicators can reach their target audiences more effectively, leading to better demand generation. In fact, PR and marketing teams can use data to gain a deeper understanding of their customers and their customer journeys, or to try to predict their behavior as they move down the path to purchase. Web analytics data, for example, can be used to optimize user experience on websites based on prior interactions, thus increasing conversion rates.
Plus, thanks to channel performance data, when you’ve got a campaign running you can see which channels, e.g., your social media, website, digital advertising, and PR activities, such as issuing press releases, engaging with influencers, and organizing events, are most effective and how to optimize them accordingly.
All of this means better attribution and a clearer path to tying specific marketing efforts, PR programs among them, to demand generation. For PR agencies, that represents a huge opportunity to demonstrate the value of your work to your clients, provided, as we’ll see, that you frame the information appropriately.
PR’s Big Data Opportunity
Not all that long ago, marketing and PR were considered more art than a science. The success of PR campaigns was typically measured in terms of earned media coverage and the corresponding ad equivalency value of that coverage. While earned media coverage remains an important KPI, with the emergence of new technologies, it has become possible to measure reach and impressions, giving greater insights into the potential impact that PR activities are having.
More recently, better analytics have taken things a step further, making it possible to measure the effect that PR campaigns— and even individual press releases—have on demand generation. In fact, thanks to data, it’s now possible to not only measure how PR affects buyers at specific stages of their buyer journeys, but also to attribute pipeline growth and revenue to your PR efforts.
The key to doing so is having access to the right data about your PR initiatives, which might include:
Audience data. The total number of people who saw or were or exposed to your PR initiatives (whether that’s reaching out to media and influencers, organizing events and speaking engagements, issuing press releases, or any other PR activity), as well as information about who those people are.
Engagement data. Information about whether or not people are, for example, responding to your outreach efforts, attending your clients’ events, engaging in social channels and reading your clients’ press releases. When it comes to press releases, in particular, this may also include data about whether or not customers and prospects clicked on specific links or shared the release with other people. For social engagement, media monitoring tools and platforms like PR Newswire’s Agility or MediaVantage, are helpful in measuring brand sentiment, impact of communications and media pick-ups. This data can be used to assess many aspects of the buyer’s journey, such as whether a particular type of PR announcement speeds up the process or for predictive analysis of user behavior.
Visitor data. The number of visitors coming to your clients’ websites as a result of your PR activities. In addition to measuring traffic, it’s also possible to track other useful metrics such as bounce rates and time on page, two important indications of engagement.
Conversion data. The percentage of people who take a specific, desired action as a result of your PR activities. Examples of those desired actions could include anything from opening an email or visiting a specific page on your client’s website through to becoming a paying customer.
Industry benchmark data. Measure how well your PR efforts are performing relative to your clients’ peers and competitors. With these insights, you can sharpen campaigns, messages and releases, making them much more effective.
Sentiment and influence data. You can gain insights into the tone of the coverage that a press release or other PR initiative has garnered (be it positive, negative, or neutral) and how influential the journalists, media outlets, and social media accounts associated with that coverage are. Those insights can help you to focus your efforts on your clients’ best opportunities, providing better results while generating greater demand in the process.
Pipeline and revenue data. The dollar value of the pipeline or revenue that can be attributed to the conversions your PR efforts made possible.
Search data. You can find out how well specific pieces of content, such as press releases, are ranking on Google and what keywords and phrases people searching for when they find them. This information can be extremely helpful for future targeting purposes.
Press release reporting data. Detailed information about who is being exposed to your clients’ press releases and how they are engaging with your clients’ messages and content.
Once you have gathered these kinds of data, you can analyze them to gain actionable intelligence. You can then pass those insights along to your clients, helping them to run more effective PR campaigns over time. For instance, below are some examples of the types of insights you might be able to gain about your client’s press releases:
Which topics and themes resonate with your target audience most and are getting the best results over time
What impact does including images, infographics, videos or other interactive multimedia have on the success of your releases and other communications efforts.
What the appropriate keywords are to include in future releases to help increase the chances of discovery through search
Where the best places are to put calls to action to drive click-throughs
How seasonality, i.e., predictable changes in behavior that align with the calendar year, can impact performance
Collectively, insights like these can be used to craft better press releases in the future that are more targeted and effective, and that therefore drive greater demand.
Speaking the Language of Modern Marketing
While data is definitely the key to demonstrating the role that PR has to play in demand generation, that doesn’t mean you should simply bombard your clients with it. Instead, you’ve got to put that data into context for them—highlighting the most important insights that data has led you to—in a way that resonates with them.
The best starting point for this is to understand your clients’ goals and KPIs, establishing which data points are most indicative, and then aligning how you present your data with the language that your clients use. In other words, your challenge is to find ways to demonstrate your value using language that resonates with today’s marketers rather than traditional PR speak.
Leveraging Data to Prove Performance
As we’ve seen, collecting and analyzing marketing data has a number of benefits, not least of which is that it allows you to create more successful PR and marketing campaigns. Importantly, it also lets you bring additional credibility to your work by directly correlating it with demand generation.
For example, data empowers you and your team to talk about revenue metrics, customer metrics, and performance metrics— all things that CEOs and CFOs are likely to take note of. That’s why it’s not surprising that the C-Suite is taking a much greater interest in PR—and their agency relationships— than ever before and allocating greater budgets toward it accordingly.
As an agency, data is the key to bridging the gap in perceptions between what you’re doing and your clients’ bottom line. By reframing discussions using data-driven insights that align with your clients goals and KPIs, you have an opportunity to not only demonstrate the value that you provide, but also position yourself as a strategic partner capable of driving ROI.
In today’s digital age, in addition to building your clients’ brands, you also have the opportunity to use your own data-driven insights to fuel demand generation—and ultimately achieve your clients’ business goals.
Thanks to the development of various tools and technologies, over the past decade PR agencies and marketers have become increasingly skilled at following the trail of digital breadcrumbs that people leave behind when they consume and share content.
Better analytics have taken things a step further, making it possible to measure the effect that PR campaigns— and even individual press releases—have on demand generation. In fact, thanks to data, it’s now possible to not only measure how PR affects buyers at specific stages of their buyer journeys, but also to attribute pipeline growth and revenue to your PR efforts.
Data can be used to assess many aspects of the buyer’s journey, such as whether a particular type of PR announcement speeds up the process, or for predictive analysis of user behavior.
Insights into the tone of media coverage can help you focus your efforts on your clients’ best opportunities, providing better results while generating greater demand.
Put data into context for your clients—highlighting the most important insights that data has led you to—in a way that resonates with them.
ABOUT THE EXPERT: ASMITA SINGH
Asmita Singh is the Vice President of Marketing Operations at Cision | PR Newswire, where she manages the digital experience, reporting and analytics, and marketing technology. She has more than 12 years of technology, advanced analytics and optimization experience. Prior to PR Newswire, Asmita did various consulting assignments and held analyst positions at Standard & Poor’s and Unilever India. Asmita holds an M.S. degree in Integrated Marketing, from New York University, with specialization in Advanced Analytics and undergraduate Bachelors of Technology degree in Chemical Engineering, from Harcourt Butler Technological Institute, Kanpur, India. She also has a Certificate in Digital Marketing from NYU.
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1. Forrester Research, Inc, Lori Wizdo’s Blog, “Buyer Behavior Helps B2B Marketers Guide The Buyer’s Journey”