May
14

Facebook, “Instant Articles” and the Changing Face of Media

Robert Howard

Yesterday, the Grey Lady finally opened her arms to Silicon Valley. In a landmark partnership, The New York Times announced it will publish content, including articles, photos and videos, directly to Facebook. Nine other media companies, including NBC News, Buzzfeed and National Geographic, are also part of the initial deal.

Facebook, “Instant Articles” and the Changing Face of MediaAt its heart, this union offers a glance into how media companies will survive in an increasingly fragmented marketplace dominated by smartphones and waning attention spans. Forcing Facebook’s mobile users to open new webpages to read articles is clunky, inefficient and frustrating. On the other hand, so-called “instant articles,” hosted directly on the social network’s mobile app and by its servers, load quickly, present a sleek, responsive design that encourages users to stick around and, of course, feature ads that Facebook sells.

This partnership is the latest development in Facebook’s long, often uneasy history with publishers. The social network already drives pageviews (and ad dollars) to every major platform: Facebook accounts for up to 20 percent of traffic to news sites, according to the analytics company SimpleReach. 

Yet that spigot can be quickly turned off without warning. In what some saw as a veiled threat to force publishers onto the platform, changes to Facebook’s algorithm resulted in a dramatic drop in news content’s reach last winter: the 100 most shared English language stories had only 10.2 million shares in February, compared with 16.4 million in January.

Other challenges await. Aside from the ethical quandaries (what happens if the Times publishes an expose about the social media giant?), outlets must decide whether a larger audience and a cut of ad revenue justify forking over control of customer relationships, data and the reading experience to an outside platform. 

What is undeniably true is the line between publisher and platform is blurring – for whose benefit is still anyone’s guess.

May
05

Is SXSW worth attending anymore?

Emily Semmelman

Last month I attended the interactive arm of South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas on behalf of Powell Tate. With 30k+ attendees and 800+ sessions, SXSW is a premier gathering of interactive professionals, but its sheer size and craziness has people questioning its relevance and wondering whether it has jumped the shark.

Is SXSW worth attending anymore?

In an Ad Week commentary, RPA’s Time Leake says yes. We should attend SXSW because it’s crazy, just like the real world. Essentially, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Here are a few examples of how I saw fellow marketers live that belief:

  • Meeting a Real Consumer Need: When you’re at SXSW, you’re always connected – on your smart phone, your tablet, your laptop. It’s a common problem for SXSW-goers to need a battery recharge and find themselves without a way to power up. Mophie to the rescue! Mophie, a smartphone accessory company, set up a program where you would tweet to them that you needed a charge, and they would send their team of St. Bernard dogs to come find you and charge your device. St. Bernard dogs are known for rescuing hikers who are lost in the Alps, so Mophie did the promotion in partnership with the St. Bernard Rescue Foundation. 
  • Forging Smart Partnerships: It is difficult to stand out at SXSW, especially if you aren’t a brand with a natural tie to the event. Carefully crafted partnerships are a great way in. Two of the stand-out collaborations I saw at SXSW were Spotify/SoulCycle and Uber/ClassPass. Standing alone, SoulCycle and ClassPass are not perfect fits for SXSW (although they could be pretty smart for the post-queso, post-breakfast taco week following). But paired with smart digital brands, they found their place. SoulCycle worked with Spotify to offer live-deejayed cycle classes, and Uber and ClassPass partnered to surprise and delight Uber riders with ClassPass swag bags.
  • Making Connections Beyond the Splash: With 800 sessions, there is a lot of competition for attention from SXSW attendees. Parties and panels use flashy, clickbait titles to bring lots of people in the door. But in order to make a real impact, marketers need to make one-on-one connections too. The most successful SXSW events focused on building relationships with attendees. For example, the Spredfast Social Suite offered an intimate setting for SXSW attendees to listen to exclusive speakers, check out the hot eateries around town with the ATX Instagram Snacker Tracker and spend time relaxing and getting to know the Spredfast team.

For more on SXSW, check out a recap by Amanda Long from Weber Shandwick St. Louis here.

Apr
30

The Power of Patient Stories

Michelle Crowson

Three years ago, Mike Kukla walked into his doctor’s office with debilitating stomach pains. At 37, the doctor thought he was too young for cancer and didn’t order a CT scan. One long year later, Mike got the scan, along with a diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer. MITA: The Power of Patient Stories

Unfortunately, this meant the cancer was caught in its latest stage. Had Mike been diagnosed just a year earlier, it’s very likely his prognosis would have been more positive and his chances of survival greater.

Since this diagnosis, in between rounds of chemo, Mike has advocated tirelessly to make sure patients get exactly what he didn’t: the right scan at the right time.

In March, he was one of 17 Right Scan Right Time cancer advocates who convened in Washington, D.C. to meet with policymakers about the need for access to imaging. These advocate meetings came at a critical time, just as Congress ramped up negotiations on Medicare physician payments. In the past nine years, Congress has cut Medicare payment rates for medical imaging 15 times, which limits access to life-saving scans for patients who need them. This year, the personal stories that Mike and his fellow advocates shared played an important role in making sure this didn’t happen again.

Two weeks ago, in a rare moment of overwhelming bipartisan collaboration, Congress passed a bill that fundamentally revamps how Medicare pays physicians. This time around, the bill doesn’t include any payment cuts that would threaten access to medical imaging. For millions of patients around the country – like Mike and his fellow cancer advocates – it was a victory.

The effort reinforced the powerful role of patient stories when delivering this type of messaging to audiences. Industry topics like “medical imaging technology” can be incredibly complex. When professional lobbyists take to Capitol Hill to talk imaging, conversations tend to focus on statistics and hard data. But patients like Mike bring a face and human experience to the issue and help lawmakers understand that it’s not just about the technology, it’s about giving patients better quality of life.

It’s about getting more time with family.

It’s about surviving cancer.

Meeting cancer survivors and patient advocates like Mike is one of the best parts of my job. Helping them turn their stories into meaningful action on Capitol Hill is more than a job—it’s an honor. 

Watch Mike share his thoughts on why access to imaging is so important to him and his family. 

Apr
22

Powell Tate Appoints Peter Carson to Lead Washington, D.C. Public Affairs Practice

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 22, 2015 – Powell Tate, the Washington, D.C. division of leading global public relations firm Weber Shandwick, has named Peter Carson managing director of Public Affairs. Carson will be responsible for overseeing public affairs work in the Washington office and providing strategic counsel to Weber Shandwick clients throughout the network.

“Peter’s Capitol Hill background and expertise in several important policy areas will help us continue our strong growth in the years ahead,” said Pam Jenkins, president of Powell Tate. “I’m confident that with his leadership we’re going to generate more opportunities to build our policy and issues management work across all industry sectors.”

Carson joined Powell Tate in 2007 and has led the Healthcare Public Affairs practice, in addition to working with the firm’s financial services clients.

“Companies and associations face not only increased external pressures but a more complex and rapidly changing media environment,” said Carson. “Clients are looking for smart, creative solutions and results in the converging social, digital and mainstream media worlds. Powell Tate has built a deep bench of top talent and expertise that is delivering those results.”

Carson spent 12 years on the staff of former Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT), five of them as Chief of Staff. Prior to joining Powell Tate, he worked for Ogilvy Public Relations. A graduate of Kenyon College, he resides in Alexandria, Virginia.

About Powell Tate

Founded by two of Washington’s most respected press secretaries – Democrat Jody Powell and Republican Sheila Tate – Powell Tate has been one of Washington’s leading public affairs firms for more than two decades, maintaining its bipartisan heritage while developing cutting edge programs that communicate across political aisles and multiple platforms. Recently cited as one of DC’s “Best Places to Work” by The Washington Post and Washington Business Journal, Powell Tate is the Washington division of Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading global public relations agencies and the only PR firm named to Advertising Age’s “A List.”

Apr
09

The Role of Purpose in Advertising

Paul Massey

Our client partners at BSR, a global nonprofit organization working with more than 250 member companies to build a just and sustainable world, have released a report with Participant Media, Transparency, Purpose and the Empowered Consumer: A New Paradigm for Advertising

It examines a central question: can advertising linked to corporate social responsibility (CSR) deepen engagement with consumers? 

The answer is a resounding yes. 

Content centered on CSR can build trust and affinity, provided that it is truthful and accurate, empowers consumer expression and dialogue, and is purposeful. 

In fact, as the report documents, there’s been an encouraging trend of major brands putting purpose at the center of their advertising. It’s a demonstration of how CSR is bringing purpose and profits closer together. This spans industries and includes:

The BSR report is timely, given the recent heightened attention to corporate engagement on social issues, from companies like Apple, Salesforce and Nike (client) taking forceful stands on the issue of LGBT equality in Indiana; to Starbuck’s effort, Race Together, addressing the complex issue of race in America. 

Increasingly, companies see engagement on critical social issues as a business imperative (no longer a nice-to-do), in order to advance their business interests and to bring their expertise and scale to tackle social problems. It’s encouraging that there is a rise in advertising that reflects CSR as a strategic business priority. It increases the likelihood that consumers will know more about which companies are contributing to both economic and social progress and reward them with their business and loyalty. 

Mar
23

Getting to the heart of a story

Lucy Jenkins

The conflict in Syria has forced nearly four million people to flee their homes. From a comfortable office in DC, it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to have to leave everything behind. As part of our work with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, KRC Research partner Anita Sharma and I had the opportunity to go to Jordan to see their dedicated staff in action and meet with the families now living in refugee camps. Despite going through some deeply traumatic experiences, I was constantly amazed at the resilience and generosity of each refugee we met. They could not have been kinder or more hospitable. (Anita and I lost count of the number of times we were invited into homes and offered tea!) Much has been written about the violence and conflict, but I wanted to share a few things I learned about the families, and how they cope, that might surprise you:

Insulation sheets can be used to make pretty cool toys.


The fruit and vegetables in camps can be better quality than those in many DC grocery stores.


Jordan gets a surprising amount of snow. Snow makes life a little tougher at the best of times, but through a winterization program refugees were given items such as blankets and gas heaters to help stay warm.


The largest refugee camp in Jordan has a 24-hour medical center where babies are born each week.


This was an amazing opportunity to see the reality that refugees and UN Refugee Agency Staff deal with every day, and to see humanity at both its greatest and toughest moments.


We’re excited to take these insights and apply them to the global branding work we’re developing for the organization.

Mar
20

Starbucks, Race and the Culture of Criticism

Lance Morgan

We live in a culture of criticism so it's to be expected that Howard Schultz is facing a crescendo of complaint for his decision to have Starbucks' baristas spice up their customers' lattes with a discussion on race relations in America.

Like Starbucks coffee, the foaming at the mouth comes in all shapes and sizes: it's a PR stunt that's doomed to fail; the baristas aren't qualified to lead the discussion; customers don't want to have it; it's ridiculous to address this subject in a matter of seconds over a coffee counter. The list goes on.

I demur. It’s unseemly for those who us who constantly bemoan our polity’s inability to have adult conversations (and I mean me) to complain when someone wants to encourage them.

Yes, the idea might not work. It might backfire. Some customers might be irritated. Some verbal, or physical, arguments might ensue. (For a really good essay on the pros and cons, see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s piece on Time.com.)

But maybe some constructive interactions will result. Maybe some stereotypes will be shattered. Maybe some common ground might be found among some uncommon pairings.

Anyone who has a better idea and a more public platform is welcome to try something else. In the meantime, as communicators, shouldn't we applaud the attempt at communications?

PS -- There is plenty of room for disagreement here so in the spirit of encouraging dialogue, please fire away.

Mar
05

Getting the Most Out of SXSWedu

Jennifer Hendrickson

After months of anticipation and marketing emails, SXSWedu – a component of the South by Southwest family of conferences focused on promoting creativity and social change in the field of education – is right around the corner. It’s time to dust off your cowboy boots and connect with edu-friends and colleagues from across the country. Before you go, consider these tips for maximizing your time in Austin:

  • Talk to Everyone: How often are you surrounded by educators and members of the public, private and nonprofit sectors focused on education? Take every opportunity to ask journalists what they're writing about and tell teachers about the campaign you're launching. The best feedback or inspiration might come from the person with whom you're sharing a power outlet between sessions.
  • Never Settle: If a session doesn’t live up to your expectations or capture your interest, duck out and join another. It may be uncomfortable to leave, but there will be too many exciting alternatives to stay in a session that disappoints. Give yourself permission to find those second-choice sessions that might prove more engaging. 
  • Think Before Tweeting: Don’t just be a part of the social media conversation around the conference – add something to it. Live tweeting memorable quotes from popular sessions is less likely to earn likes and re-tweets than paying attention to the discussion – offline and online – and then updating or replying with original thinking. In other words, being thoughtful is more important than being first.
  • Get Out: Austin is known for its distinctive food, music and culture. Find time to leave the Hilton and Convention Center and explore city before it’s overtaken by Interactive, Music and Film. At the very least, wander a few blocks and check out the storefronts and structures brands are building for those festivals.

Above all, enjoy! I’ll see you at #SXSWedu.

Mar
02

The Op-Ed Takes Some Sharp New Directions

Bob Brody

Photo by Shannon Hauser

In 1921, Herbert Bayard Swope, the editor of The New York Evening World, created the first-ever page in a newspaper that would be devoted strictly to opinions. Previously that page, appearing opposite editorials, ran book reviews, updates on high society and, yes, obituaries.

“It occurred to me that nothing is more interesting than opinion when opinion is interesting,” Swope wrote. So he “decided to print opinions, ignoring facts.”

Talk about starting something big. Today, the industrial opinion complex is exploding, with opinions delivered daily via newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

Still, the op-ed has undergone a major makeover in the 96 years since, with certain trends unfolding. As someone who has teamed up with clients to develop op-eds over 20-plus years, I’ve noticed that opinion pieces have taken three decidedly new directions. Herewith, some advice:

1. Do your homework. That edict from Mr. Swope about “ignoring facts?” Forget it. Your average op-ed today is more intensively reported and more rigorously researched, than ever before. And arguably no research is more highly regarded than original research, ideally presented as an exclusive. Opinion alone is no longer enough, so no authors merely pontificating from Mount Olympus need apply. Indeed, opinion pieces in some instances resemble reportage. For any opinion piece to be regarded as reliable, much less persuasive, it must be assembled from facts.

2. Download some data. No, this is a different proposition from simply doing research. With algorithms and predictive analytics ever available, everything in the universe is suddenly regarded as quantifiable. The mantra is metrics. Sometime soon I fully expect someone to claim that top-tier op-eds last year contained, say, 37% more data than in the previous year.

3. Get personal. Nothing is more convincing than first-person testimony, a this-happened-to-me scenario. Back in 2005, John Whitehead, former chairman of Goldman Sachs, took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to accuse New York attorney general Elliot Spitzer of threatening him by phone. Memorable. Shortly after, a former Goldman broker came out in The New York Times to chronicle the culture of greed he perceived that motivated him to quit the firm. Equally unforgettable.

While we're at it, one last tip here: aim for perfect. Standards for top-tier opinion pieces are more exacting than ever. The op-ed you submit for consideration should be as close as possible as good to go, or else nobody will even give it a second look. On the whole, editors at important national outlets accept pieces that require only minimal editing. A good rule of thumb is to shoot for love at first sight.

Feb
26

PT Breakfast Club: What’s On Our Plate in 2015

Jessie DuPont

From moms of school-age children to food manufacturers to farmers to federal government officials, everyone has a voice when it comes to what we eat – and a social media megaphone to share their beliefs and concerns. With battles brewing over GMOs, added sugars and menu labeling, and the release of the highly anticipated Dietary Guidelines, our plates will be full of food policy issues in 2015.

At this year’s inaugural Powell Tate Breakfast Club event, Helena Bottemiller Evich, food and agriculture reporter for POLITICO; Chase Purdy, nutrition and agriculture reporter for POLITICO; and Jerry Hagstrom, founder and executive editor of The Hagstrom Report and National Journal columnist, led a spirited discussion about the top food, nutrition and agriculture issues on the table.

In the current political environment, the panelists said it will be very difficult to pass standalone legislation such as the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, and projected the most interesting developments taking place in Appropriations. Meanwhile, they’re watching agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tackle food safety and food waste issues, among others.

The panelists also agreed the school lunch debate will continue with industry groups battling over market share. Meanwhile, many Americans feel strongly that the federal government should stay out of their kitchens and school cafeterias, and are wary of policies that purport to shape their family’s diet. Most likely, the panelists hypothesized, these fights will be waged at the hyper local level on a school-by-school basis.

Additionally, although the panelists noted an abundance of opinion in the food and nutrition dialogue, they lamented a dearth of solid reporting rooted in science and facts. This creates an even more urgent need for us to identify opportunities for credible experts – physicians, dietitians, researchers – to shape the dialogue and steer consumers clear of misleading “junk science.”

To stay abreast of these issues as they unfold, follow us on Twitter at @PTFood.

Feb
23

Too Much Information

Lance Morgan

Photo by Allen Brewer

Those of us living inside the Beltway are consumed by political minutiae. By consuming a daily diet of dyspeptic discourse about policies and candidates, we believe we gain insight into which party is gaining momentum and which candidate is best positioned to claim the White House in 2016.

But an interesting piece in the current National Journal calls into question the predictive benefits of all this information and jabbering. Alan Abramowitz, a professor of Political Science at Emory University, has created the “Time for Change” model for predicting presidential winners. Since 1988, he has correctly called the popular vote in each presidential election.

Incredibly, the model is based on only three variables: the incumbent president’s approval rating, the GDP in the 2nd quarter of the election year and the number of terms the president’s party has occupied the White House.

So we yammer on about the size of the media buy in Montana’s 3rd Congressional District (trick factoid), or the new app that allows campaigns to post campaign ads in your cereal bowl (trick factoid, I think) or the other communications wizardry that dominate modern campaigns and coverage, and very little of it actually matters. The quality of the candidates and the campaigns, and other variables, do make a difference, but only at the margins.

Although political pros don’t buy the theory – probably because acceptance would deny them the opportunity to buy the items their current incomes now allow -- it does make some sense.

The vote for president is intensely personal. Do I like the guy in the White House (yes, guy, until Hillary or Elizabeth or Sarah get elected)? How’s the country doing? Haven’t the Ds or Rs been around too long? Answer those questions, Abramowitz said, and you can pretty much guess who’ll win.

Abramowitz handicaps the 2016 race in the piece, (“Predictive Intelligence,” Feb. 14). It’s worth a read. As Mark Twain once said: “Interesting, if true.”

Feb
04

A Digital Strategist Reacts to a Teenager’s View on Social Media

Lauren DiPaola

Millennials will soon surpass Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest demographic group, so it’s no surprise that marketers are showering them with attention. With a population of approximately 75 million, Millennials represent almost 25 percent of the U.S. population. By 2017, these digital natives are projected to spend $200 billion annually, and brands are clamoring to understand how best to market to the largest consumer generation in history. 

A recent series of posts by teenager Andrew Watt (Part 1 and Part 2) have garnered industry attention and reignited a dialogue on Millennial use of social media. I was particularly struck by the reaction of social media scholar, Danah Boyd, to Watt’s opinions of the most popular social platforms. While Watt shares his observations on his generation’s use of social media, Boyd’s “old fogey” rebuttal reminds us that broad generalizations can be dangerous. These differing perspectives highlight the fact that Millennials are hardly a homogenous bunch, and the conversation underscores several strategic imperatives for developing an effective content marketing program:

1) Establish a platform strategy - With the list of social platforms growing by the day, it is crucial to define (and redefine) marketing campaign goals and continually reassess social media platforms that resonate with target audiences. Focusing efforts and resources on audience-relevant social platforms helps ensure strategic pay-off and improves the chances of developing a responsive community for your campaign. We must continuously evaluate our approach to ensure we are tracking with our audience interests.

2) Stand out in the crowd - People produce and consume A LOT of content, so social news feeds are crowded. On average, there are 1,500 stories that could appear in a person’s News Feed each time they log onto Facebook. People want to be intrigued and entertained, so successful marketing depends on creative campaigns that stand out and immediately captivate your target audience. Rather than creating messages that appeal to “insiders,” use focus groups and market research to help inform your creative approach.

3) Understand content curation - As we already know, content is king. Social platform algorithms help users personalize their feeds to feature content that will generate the most engagement. Community insights either gathered through research or through social platform analytics (like Facebook and Twitter) allow you to tailor your messaging and increase your engagement opportunities. It’s not a one-size fits all space -- unique messaging based on audience interests helps drive campaign success.

We live in an age of almost limitless audience data that affords marketers the opportunity to personalize creative and increase campaign effectiveness. As marketers look to engage an extraordinarily diverse and social media savvy population, it’s never been more important to do your homework and invest in a strategy that affords your brand flexibility to adapt as key audiences – and social trends – evolve. 

Feb
02

Jokes are No Laughing Matters

Lance Morgan

Two of the sports world’s most visible people provided a nice lesson last week in the benefits and liabilities of using humor when speaking with the media.

In his annual Super Bowl press conference, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about the conflict of interest inherent in the NFL’s paying for a law firm to investigate “deflategate.” Whatever you think of the question, recall that Tom Brokaw once said, “There are no bad questions. Only bad answers.” Goodell gave one. In his response, he rhetorically asked whether the inquiring reporter would pay for the investigation. In a private conversation, the remark would have been amusing and sensible. After all, if the NFL isn’t going to pay for the probe, would the media, or anyone else? But in the press conference setting, and uttered without the trace of a smile, Goddell’s answer was sarcastic, defensive and not at all funny – and he was pilloried for it.

On the other hand, Tiger Woods showed a lighter side that’s been frequently missing during his years of golf domination. Following a horrendous round of 82 (we should all have such troubles) at the Waste Management Open, Woods could have easily avoided the media – and probably would have not very long ago. Instead, he opened his press availability by saying “I’m only here to avoid the fine,” a quick-witted and laugh-out-loud funny reference to the Seattle Seahawk’s vocally challenged running back Marshawn Lynch. After an obviously painful round of golf, being able to laugh at yourself – and make others laugh with you – can’t help but make a positive impression and may be a sign that Woods realizes his image doesn’t just depend on what he does inside the ropes.

So if you’re keeping score at home, the results this week are: Self-deprecation 1, Sarcasm 0. Not a bad thing to remember to tell our clients.

Jan
20

International Trade in the 114th Congress: What to Expect

Jim Meszaros

Business groups and U.S. global companies start 2015 with optimism that the Obama administration and Congress can work together to address major items on the U.S. trade agenda this year.

The first task is for Congress to give President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) without ceding its own authority to shape agreements. Sen. Orrin Hatch, the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of House Ways & Means, both want to move TPA forward early in the session, to ensure the initiative is not overshadowed by other issues as the year progresses.

Simultaneously, the administration is working to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a comprehensive trade agreement being negotiated among 13 countries across the Pacific, by mid-year, so it can be submitted to the Congress for ratification. How quickly these talks are completed depends on whether the U.S. and Japan can agree on trade liberalization in key trade sectors, such as auto and agriculture.

With a new European Commission now in place, negotiations will also continue on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Brussels. Progress has been slow on these talks, with the most difficult issues yet to be addressed.



Other items on the U.S. trade agenda include renewal of the expired Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program and the African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA), which expires in September. Congress must also reauthorize the Export-Import Bank’s charter by June 30. And USTR will be working to advance the post-Bali multilateral Doha agenda in time for an end-of-year WTO ministerial. Finally, as the administration moves ahead on agreements, they will want to demonstrate they are monitoring enforcement of trade laws, especially with respect to China.

Bilateral cooperation on trade this year will be dependent on larger issues dividing Democrats and Republicans, from immigration to health care and tax policy. Equally challenging, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress must build a coalition of pro-trade supporters within their own caucuses to patch together the majority needed advance legislative initiatives.

With the U.S. economy now in its sixth year of growth and job creation, companies and business groups say improving America’s global competitiveness should be at the center of U.S. policymaking in 2015 – and that includes jump-starting America’s trade agenda.

Jan
07

Cutting Through the Hype: A Data Science Primer for PR Pros (Part 1)

Chris Rottler

Whether you’re talking about big data, data science or analytics, one thing is clear: there is a lot of buzz and hype when it comes to gaining a competitive advantage from data. In this blog series, I want to focus on the potential of data – both big and small – and applications and approaches to quantitative analysis in the area of communications.

It’s not hard to see why there’s so much confusion around the utility of data. A quick review of the Harvard Business Review’s data analytics section, for example, reveals a volume of articles and perspectives that can leave even data scientists, let alone managers, not tuned in to the industry, confused.

To clear things up, let me first answer this: What makes big data distinct today?

There is some consensus – depending on who you ask – on what makes big data unique, and it comes down to the “Four V’s”: volume, the scale of the data; velocity, the rate at which data is generated and captured; variety, the different forms of data; and veracity, the uncertainty of the data available. Put simply, big data is distinct today because we are generating, analyzing and applying more data more quickly than ever before. To put this into perspective, we now create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. That is so much data so fast that it has been estimated that 90 percent of all the data in the history of the world has been created in the last two years alone.

Another important aspect is the affordability of capturing, storing and analyzing large data sets today. What was once only financially feasible to a handful of organizations is now a viable method of analysis to anyone who wants to make data-driven decisions.

So does a data set need to be big to derive any value? Of course not, and for the most part, the approaches to analyzing big and small data sets are similar, minus some technical considerations that are specific to working with big data.

So where does analytics fit into a communications campaign? Analytics can be broken down into three categories: descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analysis. These map to various communication activities, including – but not limited to – audience research, advanced segmentation, optimization and evaluation. In this blog series, I will discuss some of these areas in more detail and outline relevant approaches, whether it’s applying a data mining algorithm for advanced audience segmentation or using basic statistical analysis to measure content performance on social channels.

The veil of big data and data science is thick. Hopefully, this series will cut through some of the noise so PR pros can approach data systematically and use it as a strategic asset.

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