DataComms conference shows how PR and comms must get better at data

DataComms 2022 Adam Vincenzini and Stuart Bruce

Last week I was one of the speakers at Communicate magazine’s DataComms conference. It highlighted how important it is for PR and communications professionals to understand and make better use of data. As well as my session, there were lots of fantastic speakers and these are some of my key takeaways.

The conference opened with a fantastic keynote from FT data journalist John Burn-Murdoch. He showed some great examples of how the FT uses data visualisation to make data easier to understand. He emphasised that, even though they are visualisation the right words are important, so they need clear titles and labels on the axis. He also showed examples of where some explanatory text was added to the graph, and it instantly became easier to understand.

John shared an interesting visualisation of research to show how people look at charts. It clearly shows the importance of the title as people look to read what it is about, before moving down to the actual chart.

DataComm - eye tracking a chart

Two useful insights came from the Q&A. Marianne Morgan, director of research and analytics, at Citypress asked what PR people could do better when pitching data led stories. John’s answer surprised me as it’s something I’ve been recommending since the mid-00s – make the full data set available, not just a few choice statistics. It was something Todd Defren highlighted in 2006 when he published the open source Social Media News Release template. It’s disappointing that 15 years later PR and communications people still aren’t getting the basics right. He also said it was even better if he could speak direct to the analytics team, although that’s more difficult as often it might not be possible if it is external partners.

The second was my question about the difference between designing for desktop, mobile and print. Originally, the FT took a one size fits all approach, but today it realises the importance of creating different versions. The priority is now mobile, which makes up 75% of the FT readership.

DataComms - Andrew Thomas

DataComms – Whose data is it anyway?

I did a joint session with Adam Vincenzini, the director of global communications at Philip Morris International. We talked about ‘Whose data is it anyway?’. We both had a similar answer in that it’s not the ownership of the data that is most important, but who has access to it and how it is used.

Communicate publisher and event host Andrew Thomas asked us both to sum up our session with our key takeaways from it. Adam’s was to be pragmatic and patient, which is great advice as making more effective use of data isn’t a one time thing or achieved with a magic wand. It will take longer than you think and will have lots of hurdles to overcome, but the benefits of getting it right are immense.

My top tip is it’s about culture before technology. Too often, people focus on the data and technology tools to get it, analyse it, or present it. Culture is always more important. It’s about getting the PR and communications team to embrace data and want to use it. It’s about getting people in the rest of the company or external partners to share the data with you and collaborate on using it to improve business performance.

Too often, people are afraid to do this because they see it as a threat, rather than an opportunity. We work with clients to help them overcome the many challenges of unlocking the power of data. This includes helping to navigate the minefield of finding and accessing the right data (which often involves overcoming internal politics) and providing training and professional development so PR and communications people can benefit from it personally, as well as for the organisation.

As a DataComms Awards judge I particularly enjoyed the Aldi case study from Citypress’s Marianne Morgan. I loved this entry as soon as I saw it. What made it, so good wasn’t that it was flash or different, but that it just did everything right. Both Marianne and me are AMEC members and advocates of its Integrated Evaluation Framework and this case study is a fantastic example of how to use it. It also helped that it was clearly written with three specific objectives at the start and the same three specific results at the end. It was a worthy winner of the DataComms Awards Grand Prix.

As I anticipated, author Sam Knowles presented an energetic and informative talk which presented a new take on Garbage In, Garbage Out with Quality In, Quality Out. He set out his six universal principles for asking smarter questions. I look forward to reading Sam’s new book Asking Smarter Questions, when it comes out in August. I’ll write another book review on the blog (until then you can read my review of Crisis Proof and Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns.

DataComms - six universal principles of asking smarter questions

Other speakers at the conference included: Mike Robb, co-CEO of Boldspace; Matthew Couchman of Commetric; Greg Hobden of Living; and Shahar Silbershatz of Caliber.

I was also a judge of the DataComms Awards, which were presented at a ceremony following the conference. Winners included Commetric for ‘Best use of data for an integrated campaign’, Vattenfall and Caliber for ‘Best use of data to assist reputation management’, and Chronos Sustainability and infogr8 for ‘Best corporate storytelling through data’.

You can see the full list of awards winners on the Communicate website.

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