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Tech and big data on their own don’t make PR campaigns

It is how those elements are integrated into the narrative that will be decisive

Gulf News

Are PR agencies today adequately equipped to meet clients’ fast changing needs? And by that, I ask whether PR consultancies have the in-house capabilities to effectively leverage big data by gathering and analysing it in an efficient way? And make use of the insightful findings to develop game-changing communications campaigns on behalf of their clients?

Many established consultancies and seasoned consultants out there would claim that data-driven PR campaigns are already supporting corporate communicators with their strategic recommendations. But big data, in spite of what its name may imply, is big only by name and volume, not effectiveness.

In fact, it is the small data, the refined extracts of its bigger brother that is most relevant and useful to the marketing community. But in order to get this purified form of meaningful and filtered data, one would need three things: the appropriate proprietary technological platform, teams of qualified data scientists, and a new breed of communicators who combine social media savviness with traditional strategic PR expertise.

With the exception of the latter, the first two prerequisites are quite costly and rare and therefore absent from the tools and human resource capabilities of legacy PR agencies. Perhaps this is the reason why the CEO of Publicis, one of the top four advertising groups, said in an interview with the “Financial Times” that advertising and IT will meet through mergers and acquisitions.

But even an M&A frenzy can’t guarantee that clients would be able to finally receive the type of intelligent insights backed up by strong creative and strategic communications recommendations in one package and from a single source. Simply because the silos between different companies within the big advertising networks are almost impregnable.

Not to mention the fenced trenches that will divide them from the acquisition targets of an IT industry that speaks a different language altogether.

The coming together of the two industries, advertising and IT, needs to be seamless, a romantic union of two willing parties and not like an arranged marriage, so to speak, if the objective of the relationship is to be long-lasting, successful and therefore beneficiary to clients. And that is only possible in the case of smaller, forward-thinking outfits, agencies born during the digital era, with people, practices and methodologies already attuned to the social media age.

Recently I was the recipient of an analysis regarding the level of engagement around Dubai’s World Government Summit in the social media world from a respectable media monitoring group. The most prominent insights in the study had to do with the most popular channels and languages where social media conversations about the Summit happened. The most popular themes of the forum were also listed.

While the figures mentioned in the study make for great newspaper headlines, they can hardly be considered the type of meaningful insights that would help the organisers of this respected forum take advantage of, to improve their communications strategy for the 2019 edition of the event.

And that’s because technology-led companies alone are not able to grasp the actual, real needs of the marketing communications sector. A point that reinforces the need for a match made in heaven between technology and PR firms.

Clients need to exercise real influence by identifying new engagement opportunities through workshops, personal interviews and analysis of their digital footprint. They need to visualise social media and digital data as nodes and links and make it easy to see who has the most influence and how influencer relationships evolve.

And they need to translate insight into action by developing and implementing tailored communication programmes to mitigate reputational risks, engage with top influencers and amplify their brands. It’s about taking big data and cascading it down to smaller, meaningful and insightful bites of information that can actually make a difference.

Technology can be tailored to every exacting need. As long as it is seamlessly integrated in environments conducive to collaboration, it can truly deliver on the demands of modern engagement.

— The writer is a communications consultant and author of “Back to the Future of Marketing — PRovolve or Perish”.

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