Contemporary Public Relations: The Place of Big Data By Stanley Olisa


Just like every other human enterprise, the field of public relations has continued to evolve, with new technologies, trends, and practices. Some of these inevitable innovations are disruptive, altering the traditional model of professional public relations practice. While some practitioners have embraced these changes, others, especially the conservative, have been averse to these novelties, probably because they have become so accustomed to the stereotypes of conventional PR, to the extent that they are now psychologically wired to oppose any deviation from the status quo. But no one can bridle the wave of technological innovations.

Contemporary public relations has gravitated from a ‘business of relationships to a business of terabytes.’ It is within this context that we situate the practice of ‘Big Data.’ Big Data has permeated public relations. This is apparently understandable because the PR profession is predominantly data-driven.

For PR efforts to be strategic, the practitioner must painstakingly research to obtain data which will inform his strategy development process. In traditional PR, there are standard tools deployed to achieve this, both before the campaign and after the campaign. The post-campaign ‘research’ takes the form of evaluation and measurement.

Big Data has come to stay in PR. No one can controvert this assertion. However, are its boons being fully harnessed in Nigeria’s PR space? Also, do our practitioners now have a comprehensive grasp of its complexities and application? The answer is ‘no.’ This is consequent upon factors such as digital illiteracy, lack of access to digital technology, professional conservatism, low investment in digital, etc. Big Data can be applied in several ways when running PR campaigns and, in fact, every other form of marketing communications project.

It helps professionals effectively analyze an organization’s internal cum external environments, with the corresponding interplay, and develops approaches for setting more apt objectives, more strategic positioning, and an appropriate audience targeting.

Big Data application produces a broader impact- it creates more opportunities to measure and accentuate the value which PR is adding to the organization. With Big Data, the PR professional can cogently show the contribution of PR to the overall business, not just reputational capital.

Landscape analysis is an essential function of public relations. This is often called ‘environmental scanning.’ Normally, the landscape analysis informs the PR practitioner of the interacting variables in the operating business environment such as media trends, marketplace dynamics, and competitive PR activities. This knowledge arms the practitioner when making communication decisions and defining tactics.

However, Big Data takes it further by expanding the scope of this analysis to reveal general economic pointers, regulators’ activities, client and competitors’ business results, investment opportunities, societal trends, and other factors which may bear upon the existence of the organization.

As a corollary, Big Data enables the PR practitioner to better analyse the opinions, attitudes, needs, preferences, and behaviour of his organisation’s stakeholders. Big Data has made PR more analytical. For instance, with Big Data, the practitioner can comfortably analyse variables like his company’s digital news mentions, share-of-voice, social media metrics, all of which provide helpful insights for subsequent communication efforts.

Every PR campaign is driven by objectives reflecting what the organization seeks to achieve through communication. We all know the regular objectives of increasing brand awareness, raising corporate profile, achieving positive publicity, etc. These lines have become so commonplace that they no longer sound real. In my years of practicing strategic communications, almost every PR proposal has those lines or some of them.

But Big Data encompasses goals which directly impact the fortunes of the organization such as beefing up operational efficiency, generating interest from key stakeholders, reducing costs, attracting and retaining the right talent, etc.

Thus, with Big Data, the PR professional can accomplish more and add more value to the organization. Such value becomes very visible, and he will not face the hurdle of always having to prove the worth of PR in the organization. Over the years, proving the worth or showing the results of PR has been a subject of professional and academic discourses. In fact, some believe that effectively measuring the impact of PR is impossible, a mirage of some sort. It’s a challenge.

This explains why several company owners do not pay serious attention to it. They only do reactive stop-gap campaigns. But with Big Data, you can see the tangible results produced by public relations efforts. This way, it becomes clear how PR is adding to the bottom line.

Similarly, people tend to evaluate the success of PR campaigns based on positive coverage by target media, raising awareness, influencing attitudes, and the like. But in Big Data PR, the practitioner is able to show how PR is positively shaping other variables that impact the organization’s bottom line. With Big Data, the impact of PR on other agents of business is more visible.

In Nigeria, we have very few reputation management agencies that have understood the science of Big Data and have long started leveraging it in servicing their clients. Caritas Communications Limited is one of such agencies. Caritas is a specialist strategic communications firm providing bespoke communication services to companies across different sectors- oil and gas, FMCG, health, and ICT.

Stanley Olisa is a Media and Communications Strategist at Caritas Communications


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