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Flacks must think like geeks to catch up with marketers

A wise man once said: "Data is the new oil". Indeed, you could barely move in 2013 for having the virtues of "big data" explained at length.

Jesse Wynants: founder of Prezly

Jesse Wynants: founder of Prezly

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The marketing industry has leaped on this opportunity. Modern marketers are deploying all manner of software tools to understand and process consumers' every quantifiable signal, while ad agencies are slicing and dicing numbers to super-target specific audiences and achieve unprecedented efficiency.

Creative communications has become a science. But, while marketers shine in this spotlight, the PR sector is stuck in the dark ages, holding on to a concept of their profession as a touchy-feely humanities discipline. If PRs are to catch back up in 2014, it’s time they started to think a bit more like the geeks who are racing ahead.

Using data in industry simply means logging the effect of the things you do – and then acting on that.

Over the years, the public relations sector has been poor at this. PRs like to think that their special knowledge of journalists’ individual quirks and preferences are stored in the computer that is their brain. But, in 2014, this doesn’t cut the mustard. All team members need access to the same information; stored digitally, it becomes far more valuable.

Every day, PRs send hundreds of press release pitches out in the ether, mostly to recipients identified merely by a topical category such as "lifestyle", selected from an off-the-shelf database. Then, they sit for hours, hoping for stories to be duly published, before their twitchy fingers pick up the phone to reporters, asking: "Did you get my press release?"

You no longer find this level of inefficiency in marketing and advertising. But it’s hard to blame PRs themselves – the tools of the workplace simply aren’t suited to the new possibilities. In 2014, Outlook, our flagship email client, still refuses to answer the "Did you get my press release?" question – and, if you think read receipts are the answer to your prayers, you haven’t spent 15 minutes manually counting them from amongst 200 mailouts. 

PRs deserve better. PR is and should always remain a business led by personal relationships and great stories. But, by turning the traces of those relationships in to digital information, data can help PRs whittle away non-profitable targets so that PR becomes the one-to-one craft it aspires to be.

They can start today. Whilst there are few tools geared specifically to supporting PRs’ data ambitions, there are plenty of ways in which professionals can log target journalists’ responses – after all, "data" is really just information.

Here’s an example of data’s value in PR – if routinely logging interactions with a target journalist shows, later on, that your last interaction with him was five months ago, perhaps it’s time you both went for a pint?

A lot of people in PR are afraid of trying new ideas. I think they must get in the water now before it’s too late. Technology adoption can intimidate many, but PR offices do not need to hire dedicated quants in order to use data to their advantage – what the profession needs is a basic upskilling in use of actionable data amongst every employee.

PRs should be under no illusion – new players like SEO firms are exploiting new opportunities such as content marketing to reach new sets of influencers; the tectonic plates beneath the sector are shifting. If practitioners are to stay relevant, it's time they started running the numbers.    

Jesse Wynants is the founder of Prezly    

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