How data can help you avoid making terrible campaign decisions

Marketers, PR pros and other communicators can do better than the Magic 8-Ball. Here’s how to cultivate information and use it to your competitive advantage.

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Being a communications or public relations professional entails making difficult decisions.

Luckily, data can inform some of the toughest ones. Here are six scenarios that require data in order to make the right choice:

1. Deciding whether to invest more resources in a campaign.

We just went through this ourselves with a promoted Tweet campaign.

As exciting as it was to see the increased traffic to our website, ultimately it came down to a cost-effectiveness decision. We conducted three distinct campaigns. One was very successful, one not so much, and one was a dismal failure.

The one that worked best (in terms of cost per clicks and goal conversions) was targeted at large measurement events for which we offered a great solution specifically for attendees. The failed effort targeted a broad communications event in a specific industry for which we had a great product for the attendees, but apparently the audience wasn’t particularly interested in measurement.

The conclusion: If you’ve got the perfect event, the perfect audience and the perfect product, then promoted Tweets are worth the money. If not, then the resources are better spent elsewhere. Next time you’re faced with a choice about where to put your resources, agree on a definition of success: “How will we know that it worked?” Then look back on the previous three or four similar events or campaigns and see how they performed based on that definition. What do the data tell you about what works and what doesn’t?

Related: How does your internal communications measurement stack up?

2. Deciding whether to fire your PR agency.

A banking client was told by her CEO to “do an agency search,” because he wasn’t happy with the PR results he was getting. My client wasn’t sure a search would be worth the effort and wanted to know what data I might provide.

We conducted a competitive media analysis of banks in her sector for the period before and after the incumbent agency had been hired. The results were clear: The client’s bank had received more and better press coverage than its competitors since the incumbent agency had been in place.

We pointed out that perhaps she ought to have a deeper discussion about the CEO’s definition of “happy.” In the end, they canceled the agency review. More important, by looking at the data first, the client saved countless hours that the agency review would have eaten up.

3. Deciding on the most effective strategy to launch a product.

Back in my days at Lotus, we were debating the best strategy for launching the product that would become Lotus Notes. The product manager wanted to hold a major event; the PR person wanted to conduct a press tour. Luckily, we had data showing that the last major event (which cost $300,000) was singularly ineffective at getting the key product benefits across to journalists and key influencers. The data also showed that a previous $15,000 press tour was very successful at getting key messages into our top-tier media outlets.

These data made the decision obvious, sparing us a $300,000 mistake.

4. Deciding which spokesperson to send on a tour.

Picking the right face and voice for a new company or product is essential, because not every product manager—nor CEO for that matter—is effective at articulating the messages to frequently confused or uncaring reporters.

I worked with a major technology company that was in a rocky financial period. Competitors were attacking from all sides, and analysts were speculating that the company was on its last legs and soon to be on the auction block. During this period my client was organizing a press tour to launch a technology platform and was desperately trying to get her leadership team to go out on the road for it. Those leaders, however, wanted to send out the product manager.

Under normal circumstances the product manager would have been ideal for such a tour. However, we had data on all the key media outlets, and they very clearly showed that financial uncertainty—not the new technology platform—was the focus of recent coverage.

The client took the data into her leadership team and posed the question: “Given the financial nature of the stories these reporters have been writing, do you think Product Manager X is the right person to answer questions on the tour?” The CEO quickly agreed to do the tour.

5. Deciding which part of your budget to cut.

When we began working with one of our travel destination clients, they had a large budget for display advertising, a smaller one for digital and social media, and an even smaller one for PR. Then budgets got tight, and the organization faced a 50 percent reduction in funding. Fortunately, we had data to help them decide what to cut.

Early in the project we had agreed that traffic to the “Visitor Guide” page of the website was an acceptable proxy for demonstrating intent to visit. We had a year’s worth of PR data on both quantity of coverage as well as quality (using a bespoke quality index). We ran correlations between the “Visitor Guide” traffic, PR volume and quality. Data showed a high correlation between the quality index score and Web traffic.

Correlation to PR volume wasn’t as strong. We then correlated media purchase data with Web traffic data and found that the correlation was much lower.

It was clear that high-quality PR coverage was a better driver of traffic than paid media placements. The PR budget remained intact, and the paid advertising was nixed.

6. Deciding whether to use outside celebrities or internal resources.

Shortly after UNICEF became my client, it decided to ramp up its social media program. Luckily, UNICEF has an almost unlimited supply of celebrity spokespeople, as well as a vast library of visual resources, including spectacular photographs and videos. The tricky thing was to decide what type of content and resources would make the most effective social media presence.

We analyzed three months’ worth of social media data to determine effectiveness and engagement. Effectiveness, in this case, was defined as generating comments and discussions that contained UNICEF’s key messages.

As it turned out, internally generated photos generated a large number of “likes” but not much engagement. Endorsements by soccer star David Beckham were most effective in generating engagement, but they resulted in few messages. By far the most effective in terms of message communication were the efforts of Mia Farrow, particularly relating to her tours of Africa.

The conclusion: For message communication, use celebrities like Mia Farrow, who may not have as large a following as others, but whose following is highly engaged in the issue. With initiatives for which generating engagement is crucial, use a broadly popular and very visual celebrity such as David Beckham.

A version of this post first appeared on The Measurement Advisor.

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