The new face of PR: mathematics, big data, technology and creativity

If public relations is to deliver the results clients crave, practitioners must embrace new ways of working. By Sandra Sinicco.

As professionals, we are surfing a digital wave that is increasing in speed and swallowing up everything in its path. Traditional PR techniques are no longer as effective as they once were: we are seeing a lack of trustworthy analysis on the real impact of campaigns on their targets, an overflow of information and a lack of accuracy in current methodological research. 

There are many examples that justify the pressing need to innovate our way of thinking – the clearest and most current being the disparity between pollster expectations and the actual results of the last US presidential election, which showed a strong misjudgement of the public mood.

Thinking about damage control in the Digital Age is something that will make PRs break into a nervous smile, while frantically trying to think up new creative ways of dealing with crises that quickly spiral beyond manageable. There is no control mechanism accurate enough to deal with the influx of information we are dealing with.

When we turn our gaze to the corporate world, we see multinationals incorporating start-ups into their teams, making evident the contrast between the old and the new, the bureaucratic and the spontaneous. This means that today, within one company we may have to deal with many different ways of conveying information.

The relationship between these contrasting ways of thinking has served to highlight major changes that are directly impacting the way PRs are able to manage communication strategies for each company.

Blindfolded flight

It is not wrong to suggest that we are flying blindfolded when relying on the old techniques of the Digital PR Age to get us through today’s Social Media Age. Over time, it becomes evident that not only do we need new methodologies to evaluate results, but also adequate technology to keep us connected 24 hours a day with relevant content to help plan and effectively come up with strategies. 

This brings forward the question: to what extent are we able to use maths, technology and big data to improve our performance? Moreover, do PRs have the power to develop specific communication tools that work inside corporations?

As professionals, we need to be able to rely on high quality technological tools to support companies’ bureaucratic activities and facilitate the analysis of trends and reports from different areas of the main operation, utilising those to help develop creativity, enable the connection with more targets and make sure information is current.

This way, we are able to identify dangerous situations and new opportunities before they happen or pass us by. The improvement of interaction between different areas of a company can and will be key to their success and growth. 

We also need to consider the fact that companies have become too complex to effectively manage their communications in the old format. Once, each managing boss would control their own area independently. Today, it is imperative to work together and incorporate into our way of thinking the different points of view that come with the skillset of each boss. 

Being able to consider all these variables may be the key to being a successful PR professional nowadays.

Council for brand protection

Understanding that there is a need for corporate change will naturally bring about a shift in the internal organisation of companies, where PR professionals and communicators will possibly be given the same level of importance as those working in finance, commercial dealings and corporate management.  Communication will be integrated into companies in such a way that a type of “council for brand protection” can be developed, required to come up with the skills to understand different points of view and work together in the face of tight deadlines, when dealing with treacherous waves that could damage the corporate image. 

Let’s consider a potential scenario faced by this council:

A company has made changes to their organogram. Will the PR managers be able to integrate and develop to meet the needs of their Finance team, Technology team and their CEO, so as to attend to the demand for better tools to manage their brand? 

It is likely they won’t be able to meet these needs. This is because there is a shortage in PR professionals with the skills to understand the importance of maths, big data management and artificial intelligence, and use those to decide if a proposed tool will fit their needs in an adequate way. 

This lack in skillset is not entirely up to the professionals themselves – we have to consider if the current educational institutions are adequately qualifying future PRs for the market demands they will face.

For example, is a PR professional working today capable of choosing the most effective out of many Big Data Solutions for each client?

Next big wave

There are so many suppliers and creators offering Big Data management tools that the expected way to decide between them would be to focus on the one that worked for your competitors. This is a tried and tested way of proceeding, and has worked for years. But that was before: Now, we don’t know where the next big wave is coming from to knock on our doors and wash over our sense of security. It could come in a matter of hours, and it can gradually increase with every passing second, as is the nature of the internet. When it comes to management tools, this becomes something to uniquely consider.

A recent presentation by Gartner stated that “marketing is so inextricably linked to technology that by 2017, CMOs are projected to spend more money on information technology and analytics than CIOs.” Although marketing professionals are accustomed to working with numbers and being under direct pressure from investors to meet commercial demands, the same statement should apply to PR professionals. 

We might not face this direct demand in the same way, but we share similar concerns. We are expected to foresee scenarios and trends, as well as come up with creative ideas to add value to the brand.

Multitude of networks

In conclusion, surfing each wave in the Social Media Age means PR professionals have to be able to combine maths, knowledge and creativity. In the current scenario, there is a multitude of networks being formed, by both PRs and stakeholders, constantly protecting brands and sharing values.

These networks are then surrounded by another series of networks formed exclusively by stakeholders, which serve as background for different networks and so on, infinitely. These chains are connected through social media – with the use of apps and online news resources, which amplify word-of-mouth information in seconds.

All these chains form together a universe of constant chit-chat that can go from a subtle rain to a flood in a matter of hours.

Customers are much more empowered these days. Therefore, as professionals, we are involved in a learning process that has no end. Working efficiently is no longer a question of just producing communication messages based on the perceived knowledge we might have gathered from the customer; it is about shaping and observing their behaviour with the help of powerful mathematical and data tools. We must become aware, not only of their real needs but of what they will require in the near future.