I am an unrepentant public relations, marketing and advertising geek. A grad school professor once advised me to ensure I saved and went through the varying pieces of direct mail marketing collateral I would invariably receive (I do) and survey them for content, clarity, and design, to “see what worked and what didn’t” (I still do). I open letters from nonprofits looking for donations, from companies looking to sell me something, from area businesses looking to get me in their doors. It interests me to know where the “ask” is placed, if its placement is random or designed for maximum effect and if the page elements make good logical or design sense.
Communications professionals of all types should be a demographer’s dream. I, for example, complete tons of surveys, sometimes for remuneration, sometimes for free. I answer them honestly and completely. As a researcher interested in such things, I include lots of comments. I understand there is valuable information on audience composition, spending habits, income, education and life activities to be gleaned from the effective use of demographic data. I wonder then, why more companies, regardless of size, aren’t using proven research methods, along with new media channels and the information they provide, to improve their public relations, marketing and advertising efforts.
The economy’s near collapse has frightened established companies and neophytes alike. Costs are being slashed across divisions and throughout smaller organizations. Public relations departments, often left out of product development discussions or otherwise denied a seat at the long-term strategy table (and usually placed at the front of the line for cost-cutting measures), are being slashed or excised completely. The attendant knowledge drain can cripple companies looking to engage new audiences, retain existing ones, or make inroads into previously untapped markets. These days, many seem content to adopt a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” approach to public relations, marketing and advertising. While established companies can make it in the short-term executing this strategy, smaller, less-established companies cannot. It’s a bad long-term bet for companies of any size.
The variety and scope of media and the means through which to parse the data produced through their use can seem overwhelming. Audiences are more fractured and data more granular than ever. Companies reasonably ask about the efficacy of media like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and the like as tools to grow their businesses and increase their client bases. Each attracts certain audiences and collects, displays and saves data about these audiences. These data can help companies tailor effective public relations, marketing or advertising campaigns to fit the desires of said audiences. Each channel, then, becomes its own survey instrument, a means through which to effect consistent two-way communication with audiences and craft strategies designed to make the best use of the data gathered as a result.
Companies use data every day to make informed decisions about consumer habits. The more of an item a consumer buys, the more of that item a company will produce and sell. Public relations, marketing and advertising departments can use data gathered from disparate sources – focus groups, surveys, social media – to show companies how to deploy resources to maximum effect. That these practices are still not standard throughout the business world speak to stilted thinking and a lack of planning. As evidenced by the recent economic unpleasantness, lack of attention to detail, particularly in a company’s communications efforts, can prove deadly to businesses of all kinds.
Benjamin Daniel is a communications professional with more than a decade of experience producing all kinds of media, conducting all kinds of campaigns and research and generally making a nuisance of himself in service to his clients.