PR: the least analytical marketing discipline – is this a problem?


I’ve been ploughing my way through 3 books recently – all on ostensibly different topics – but which have some surprisingly common themes with major implications for the PR industry.

I’ve listed the books below – with a quick precis on each – and some more general conclusions to follow:

Competing on Analytics by Thomas Davenport and Jeanne Harris

1181e8ksl_aa90_ There is one basic premise to this book – namely that the best performing companies today have put analytics at the heart of their strategy. No longer confined to specialists or specific departments, analytics permeates every aspect of the organisation. Decisions are made on the basis of analytics rather than intuition. Failure to adopt a strategic approach to analytics will almost certainly result in poorer performance. The key barriers to be overcome are primarily cultural – ie intuition still rules the day when it comes to making decisions. Plus you need decent data to analyse in the first place.

In terms of PR, how many companies or agencies truly take a strategic approach to analysis? Advertising and DM remain well ahead in terms of analytics – PR is still stuck in the dark ages with outdated metrics – there is clearly an opportunity for those who are prepared to grasp the nettle in terms of investment in analytics.

The New Rules Of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott

David Meerman Scott had already stirred a lot of debate with his original paper on the direct-to -consumer news release – the book expands much further on this original theme. However, at bottom, he has these basic premises (and which don’t actually sound that new):

PR and marketing can no longer be treated as separate disciplines (integrated marketing as a concept has been around for decades – but his point I guess is that the PR and marketing are blurring into one – and that actually advertising has no place in this new world ie advertising as interrupting your attention and attempting to arrest that attention when you don’t want to be interrupted. 

Media relations is still important – but not that important – he is quite adamant that companies can now generate their own news releases in order to directly reach their target audiences, unfiltered by the media – content is king – and the more news releases the better.

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The 4 Hour Work Week
by Tim Ferriss

I confess that at times this does read like one of those old style "Get Rich Quick" books – but he actually has a subtler point – namely that its all about adopting methods of automating cash flow and freeing up time to do the things you really want. He advocates various techniques to achieve this such as only checking email twice a day (he only now does it twice a week), telling people to only call you if its urgent – and perhaps most controversially, outsource everything – even the trivial items of your life, to a cheap Indian outsourcing centre.  For automated cash flow, you need to have a business you own, but don’t need to run – and sell a product not a service.

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There is obviously huge amount I haven’t touched on in all this – perhaps another book’s worth. But what intrigued me was that all three books made a lot of noise about testing – testing different analytic techniques, testing different content strategies, testing products. It made me realise that the PR business  has a pretty hopeless track record with the concept of test and learn.  How many original and creative approaches to press releases, media relations, etc have witnessed in the last few years? Not many.  And where is the hard data to back up PR decision making? And are there huge swathes of PR admin work that can and will be outsourced to India? 

All three books together potentially offer a model for the next generation of PR – once I’ve worked out what that model is, I’ll let you know.

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