Putting a spin on data: media relations in the digital age

· Trends, Tricks of the trade

Australia’s lagging broadband speed aside, the amount of data we produce daily is astronomical. And it’s only set to increase. By 2020, there will be 40 times more bytes of data than there are stars in the universe.

This data economy has paved the way for whole new industries – tech giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook wouldn’t be where they are today if not for their complex algorithms which analyse trillions of data points on billions of people every day.

For traditional industries like media, understanding data has become a matter of survival. The changing ways we consume media has put a strain on traditional news outlets, which have seen major contraction.

But in true Darwinist fashion – data savvy media are thriving.

Australia’s most visited online news outlets (the likes of your News.com.au and Daily Mail) have seen readership surge through the adoption of a churn and burn publishing model, which feeds data on article clicks, shares and search performance straight back into editorial planning.

Successful online publications are agile, reactive and (thanks to data) understand their readers implicitly. As a result, their stories consistently climb to the top of our news feeds.

Media has evolved, it’s time we did too

Public relations professionals have traditionally relied less on data and more on experience to inform strategy, at least compared to their counterparts in other marketing disciplines.

You could argue that an industry built on relationships doesn’t have the same need to digitise its practices – but to really claim a deep understanding of today’s media, we need to start looking at the news cycle with the same analytical lens.

When applied to PR, data is an amazing tool. You can use data to predict news cycles and trends, discover the topics and content formats that track higher for social engagement, and even pinpoint the best day of the week or time of the day to go out with your story.

On top of ideation, data can help identify the publications and journalists that have the highest share of voice on a given topic, allowing us to better tailor the news we share with them, and ultimately get our clients’ word in front of the right audiences.

With journalists increasingly measured by clicks, shares and search performance, data allows us to unearth new insights and story hooks to turn a good story into a great one.

You don’t have to be a data scientist to get started

A tool you can get going with right away is Google Trends, an effort born from Google’s News Initiative to help journalists thrive in a digital context.

With 5 billion searches made on the internet every day, search data is a powerful tool for gauging public sentiment on current affairs and breaking news, which can be used to inform a direction of thinking, or even generate a story in itself.

Following mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, we uncovered a spike in public concern which provided a timely hook to the work our client, Greening Australia is doing to improve water quality in the region. News.com.au’s environment editor even worked the search trend into her coverage.

More recently, we worked with NT News on a story revealing Territorians made more searches on average around access to legal medicinal cannabis. The insights were coupled with survey data and commentary from Australian medicinal cannabis company Althea, allowing our client to add expert context to the data.

Digging for a story? Proprietary data is a goldmine

Most brands, consumer facing or not, are collectors of data. While their data might not seem like much on face value, when analysed correctly it could be just the type of information that journalists are hungry for.

For those unequipped to analyse spreadsheets or databases, there are others who will do the hard yards for you; Data Journalists are a new breed of journalist, exploring the vast amount of digital information being made available and finding digestible ways of presenting it.

We not long ago partnered with Fairfax Data Journalist Craig Butt to create traffic-led stories using Traffic Analytics tools from HERE Technologies, a global provider of mapping services and location data intelligence technology.

Thanks to a strong local appetite for traffic and congestion stories, the result was a series of in-depth articles rolled out across Fairfax’s mastheads utilising HERE’s powerful data and featuring commentary from HERE’s traffic and location technology experts. The data was brought to life through interactives displaying how traffic congestion impacts commuting, which are used in breaking traffic stories to this day.

The Fairfax team are so proud of this collaboration that they have twice put forward the joint project for Australian journalism awards.

And there’s no reason this approach can’t work with other industries. Any data that creates debate, sparks a conversation with audiences or illustrates the problem your brand is solving has the potential to increase awareness through column inches.

Just like we’re seeing with the media industry, the growing ubiquity of data has the power to transform public relations for the better – if we as communicators are willing to learn and adapt.

Written by Jordan Lambe · · Trends, Tricks of the trade
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