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PR and Data: How to Use Data to Define and Refine Your Strategy

PR and Data

Joe LaMuraglia spent the last 10 years in various roles in the Communications function at General Motors — most recently running Chevrolet brand communications on the east coast of the U.S. Joe has a B.A. in Public Relations from N.C. State University, an M.B.A. from Thunderbird School of Global Management, and he is a member of the inaugural class of the LGBT Executive Leadership Program at Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

We spoke with Joe on our weekly podcast. Here was some of his expert advice on the topic of using data to improve your PR strategy. 

Gina Dahlia: Why is the saying "all coverage is good coverage" no longer accurate?

Joe LaMuraglia: When I was younger, if you got coverage by a media outlet, there was a really good chance that your customer, your ultimate customer is going to be reading that coverage. These days, there are so many outlets out there, that you can't take that chance, that if I'm selling an organic cookie, and by some chance a meat lover's website picks it up, that's not gonna make any sense. Yeah, we got coverage there, and they might have millions of readers, but are they the right readers?

Joe LM

GD: So how should a public relations firm, or a person, use data to design a PR strategy?

JL: I'll use an example in my recent past at General Motors. We used to have PR practitioners all over the country. We had a broadcast strategy at General Motors, where we gave ourselves gold stars for all this broadcast coverage that we were getting. I did a data analysis, I looked at where we were getting coverage, and then I overlaid where we needed help from a sales perspective, and where we under-indexed in our sales around the country. Well it turned out that all the coverage we were getting was in the middle of the country, where we were doing really, really well on sales. Where we weren't getting coverage and broadcasters in this case, was in California, southeast, southwest, and up the east coast.  We were giving ourselves this great gold star for all this coverage we were getting, but it was in areas where it wasn't really helping move the needle. So what we did was took all that data, stood back and said "okay, working with our vendors, these are the targeted areas where we want coverage." Whether it was everybody wants coverage in New York, that's a huge massive market, but Providence, Rhode Island, Boston, Massachusetts, Baltimore, Maryland. These were key target markets, working with our marketing colleagues that they needed coverage in, and we needed help in in terms of sales, and we went after these very specific markets, instead of... what I like to say, what we used to do is we sprayed and prayed. We hoped that the right people heard us.  We used data to take a step back and really target where we wanted to be.

GD: What was the outcome of that strategy, once you looked at it and analyzed it?

JL: A lot changed.  That data analysis changed a lot within the company, from where we deployed our people, where we deployed our energy and where we deployed our vendors. We used to have public relations people in five different areas around the country. When we did this analysis, we realized wow, okay, we're spending a lot of time and energy in places where we don't need help, in the Midwest, in Texas, et cetera. And we deployed people to the coast. We changed where we were focusing, our energies solely went to those target markets.  Our expenditures went down overall, and actually our coverage went down in raw numbers, but the right coverage went up. We started getting hits in these smaller target markets that we knew were gonna help move the needle and did help move the needle.

GD: You mentioned using data to refine a PR strategy. What do you mean by that?

JL: You put out a new vehicle, every person that makes their living writing about cars is pretty much going to write about it. What's hard is the next step, what do you do next, after that initial coverage comes up?  We worked with marketing to make sure that we knew who the target market was. You really need to start understanding the other disciplines within a company to really refine your strategy. Because we wanted to know who the target markets were for the vehicle, where we needed help geographically, and then we went after outlets that aligned on top of those. Well there was data out there that said about 17% of pick-up truck buyers are women. We used the data to convince everybody within the company that this was a market that was untapped, and we had this amazing program and we got fantastic coverage off of it, in outlets that probably would have never written about a pick-up truck.

GD: How do you make sure you are measuring the right KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators?

JL: One of the first questions I always ask when I'm working with a team, or working with my superiors is what does success look like. Going back to the first item we discussed, not all coverage makes sense, not all coverage is good coverage.  What does success look like? Having that conversation at the beginning of any campaign, leveling the playing field, making sure everybody's on the same page, and understands what success looks like, then we can go after those KPIs.

GD: So how can the PR function leverage data gathered by other functions within an organization to achieve both communications function and the overall company goals?

JL: Anyone that's in marketing in a large company,  or even a medium sized company, knows that they're swimming in data. Understanding what the ultimate goal of the campaign or the company is important. My challenge to PR colleagues is to work with the marketing colleagues to understand where they're going, and what data they have, and then see what overlaps. It doesn't always overlap, they generally don't understand what we do, and a lot of times we don't understand what they do. There aren't enough PR practitioners out there that really understand data. And I think as we move forward,  all of this is just melding together. Working with your marketing colleagues, understanding what data sets that they have, what their KPIs are, and then figure out where is the cross-over, because there is a lot of amazing information out there that you wouldn't normally know in a traditional PR practice.

GD: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to look at their data and how it can help propel their product or their company forward?

JL: My biggest advice is to ask as many questions as you possibly can. Sit down with the people interpreting the data and ask them questions.  What does this mean? What do you measure, how often do you measure? Where is this data set coming from, how old is it? How do you use it?Because that's really, really important. Make friends with people in your marketing function, to understand what data they're using to make decisions to target. They're buying ads, in GM they're spending millions and millions and millions of dollars purchasing advertising. They don't do that lightly, they spend a lot of time understanding where these outlets are. Doesn't it make sense for us to know that as well, so we can target similar audiences. If you're just starting your career, and you're, let's say you're in university or graduate school, take as many statistics data courses, market research courses as you can, to really understand that, because that's going to help you refine your PR strategy in the future. Especially now that everything's just starting to merge and melt together.

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