In 2019 Annual Conference

By Sarah Glendening, Central West Coast Chapter

Ryan Cohn knows the secret to making something out of nothing, at least in terms of PR. To paraphrase a quote, “You may not have a great news hook right now, but with data you can.” Recognizing that most PR professionals did not enter the profession for their love of math, Cohn was sure to allay attendees’ fear; the kinds of numbers he’s talking about can be our friend.

His prime example outlines a recent project his marketing company, Sachs Media Group, did for an annual swimming safety effort. Getting media attention about safety is not always an easy sell, but when you find data telling you that 45% of the population admits to urinating in public swimming pools – well, now you’ve perked the interest of major national media outlets.

If you’re still not convinced that data can and should be your PR ally, Cohn quoted Tim Berners-Lee, Founder of the World Wide Web: “Data-driven journalism is the future. Journalists need to be data savvy.” Data Journalists are a growing field, and more universities are building this into their curriculum. So Cohn poses the question, how can we feel comfortable providing raw data when journalists ask for it? And on the other side of that equation, how can PR professionals hold the hand of the journalists who need help with our data?

In answer, Cohn offers three keys to pursue:

  1. Know your data inside and out, and be prepared to die on your sword. Journalists might want to know methodology, they may ask for raw data. The more you know about your data, the more likely they will be to get your story right.
  2. Be 100% transparent – you have nothing to hide. Cohn’s example cited a ProPublica reporter who thought a study was dishonest because it didn’t include who sponsored the research. In this case, the sponsor was listed everywhere EXCEPT the press release, which is why they ended up in hot water.
  3. Be careful with how you word your takeaways. Data often needs to be incredibly specific, but journalists have a need to be incredibly concise. Be sure journalists are absolutely clear about what you’re presenting.

So how can we use data to create a story? Once you have the data, your press release can provide the context and recommended next steps that highlight a story that you want to tell. Here are Cohn’s categories for getting – or finding – the data you need.

7 Types of Data-Driven PR Programs

  1. Public Opinion Surveys – media wants to know people’s attitudes and perceptions. This can also be a go-to for journalists’ future need for relevance in other stories.
    • Surveys have shifted online, and are now more accepted as scientifically valid. And this costs a lot less!
  2. Privately Collected Data – collected within our own, or client’s, organizations.
    • Look internally. It’s possible that you already have really interesting data. The public may find this interesting as well. Journalists love to see telling trends about how customers are behaving. That information can be used up to years later in other related stories, earning publicity in stories without trying.
  3. Analysis of Publicly accessible data – analyze data that already exists in new interesting ways.
    • Bring the information to stakeholders to crowd-source the direction and interest of the population. Go to the gatekeepers to hear what they think it means, and get guidance and feedback. A bonus is that then those stakeholders also own part of it. In crowd-sourcing headlines, it is easier to collect personal stories to go with the data.
  4. Ongoing barometers – keeping a continuous data compilation to see how things change over time.
    • Example: Edelman, a communications firm, has a tool called Edelman’s Trust Barometer, which has been around for decades, measuring how trust changes each year. Their brand is ABOUT building trust.
  5. Easily accessible data for rapid response – so you’re not left hanging when reporters may come to you. They may consider you a thought-leader, and being ready may help counter a misconception about your organization or your message.
  6. Message Testing & Optimization – if you’re not building a program with data at the forefront, testing can make the story better.
    • Google Consumer Surveys is a great and inexpensive way to find out what headlines your targets may be interested in reading.
  7. Data Visualizations – helps people who may not be able to interpret the data.
    • Graphs don’t necessarily need a lot of numbers. Readers may just want to see the trends. Also, a great visualization plays well for social media engagement.

Cohen’s final takeaway is related to the title of his presentation. Authentically gathering data may surprise you. “Our intuition says the right news hook should be one thing, but when we get the data, we’re usually wrong.” Data can take us in new, creative directions we didn’t expect to find.

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Sue Ellen headshot2019 Dillin Fleischman and Member of the Year Award recipients, Space Coast Chapter