NEWS8 November 2013

Get with the data or get left behind, warns government comms executive

News UK

UK — The executive director of government communications, Alex Aiken, believes that the PR industry’s focus on creativity instead of data is damaging its standing in the boardroom.

Speaking at the ‘Does PR need more geeks?’ event last night – organised by PRmoment in partnership with Mynewsdesk – Aiken went against the grain in urging that his PR colleagues focus on data, not creativity. Aiken is responsible for the effectiveness and efficiency of government communications.

“The PR industry is its own worst enemy,” he said. “Professional courses are teaching creativity, not metrics, which is resulting in too little understanding of business analysis.” He went on to explain how the government’s lack of evaluation had led to a poor understanding of the effectiveness of its own communications: “The government has cut its spending on communications from £1bn to £500m since 2010, but we don’t know whether we’re being twice as effective or half as efficient as we didn’t evalute. It’s impossible to know.”

Aiken believes that the “new curriculum” for government communicators (and for the PR profession in general) should focus on four key areas: data analysis (in particular segmenting audiences); content design (infographics, films and other ‘novel’ ways of sharing data); influence builders (“we’re moving from deference to preference – consumers are making their own decisions now, not following leaders”); and evaluation.

“Bring your data and leave your creativity at the door,” he said.

Other speakers at the event included founder Mark Borkowski, who spoke about the importance of harnessing technology and understanding the power of the crowd, and head of marketing at Mynewsdesk, Adam Cranfield, who agreed that the PR industry needed to improve its understanding of big data in an era of “algorithms and information gathering”.



11 years ago

For goodness' sake ... Lloyd Kirban was going on about this some 25 or more years ago with his "What's the impact" work. Wasn't anyone listening ?

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11 years ago

I have to disagree with Alex when he places the blame for a lack of distinction in the measurement of PR on the emphasis placed on creativity in the industry. It is more to do with the difficulty in defining PR’s effect on a business’s prosperity against other factors, such as marketing. It’s not simple. The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) got the best minds in PR together in June for a summit. And the conclusion was made that there is no single definitive measure of PR. Even data-driven market researchers agree. It was self-defined ‘pollster’, Elmo Roper, whose company was bought by GFK in 2005, who said that ‘measuring public relations effectiveness is only slightly easier than measuring a gaseous body with a rubber band’. However, putting a system in place is essential for proving the impact of any campaign in achieving its goals. At Mustard, we measure the outcomes, rather than outputs of our PR coverage. So we measure the outcomes (coverage) from our outputs (press releases, synopses and pitches to publications or journalists). We look at a series of factors such as the value of the publication in how much it reaches the desired target audience and what are the ‘opportunities to see’, the prominence of article within the publication or site, the positive or negative tone of the coverage and the extent to which it communicates the right messages. And from that we come up with a numerical score. Measurement effectiveness and efficiency is important to PR – and the industry knows it. Creativity is not stifling the ability to do so; it is the lack of distinguishable data available. Read more on Mustard’s methods here:

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