What Is Data-Driven PR, Part 2: Question Development

We’ve used the expression data-driven PR for quite some time now, but haven’t clearly defined it. What does data-driven PR mean? How do you know whether your public relations efforts are data-driven or not? To be data-driven is to make decisions with data first and foremost. In this series, we’ll examine how to become a more data-driven PR professional.

Developing a Question

The first step in the data-driven PR process is to ask a great question, a question you want to know the answer to. What constitutes a great question to ask for data-driven PR? A great question has three characteristics:

  • Explorational
  • Specific
  • Functional

Open vs. Closed Questions

Great questions are open questions, open-ended in nature. For example, suppose we run a coffee shop. A poor question would be:

Do customers like or dislike espresso?

This is a very closed-ended question. We will learn relatively little from a question like this, certainly nothing we can pitch well with.

An open-ended question would be:

What do customers like or dislike about espresso?

This question opens up many more opportunities for us to learn, to explore, to investigate. Since data-driven PR is about making decisions using data, we want to ask questions which maximize our use of data – and that means open-ended questions.

Questioning for Specificity

Great questions are specific. The more specific we are in our questioning, the better the data we are able to collect.

In the question above, we asked what customers like or dislike about espresso? Could we be more specific in our line of questioning? Certainly! After all, customers might like or dislike the cost of espresso, the flavor, the temperature, the roast – many different aspects of the espresso topic.

We might want to specify that we’re asking customers about how espresso tastes, in which case we should narrow our question around taste:

What do customers like or dislike about the taste of espresso?

is an improved, specific question.

Questioning for Maximum Benefit

Great questions serve more than one function. PR professionals typically ask questions and collect data for the purposes of pitching, of crafting a story that media outlets will cover. However, if we align our pitching process with the needs of the business, our work can provide multiple benefits.

For example, if our company is developing a new product line around cold espresso, our specific question above could serve both a public relations and a market research function.

Ask questions which create benefits for more than just the public relations function, and we may be able to access more budgets and resources inside our companies or customers. Even if our main pitch falls flat or doesn’t receive media coverage, we still provide benefit to our organizations.

Beware Incuriosity

While we’ve discussed what makes a great question, let’s tackle the cardinal sin of most public relations pitches: incuriosity.

An incurious question is one in which we presume the answer, and we collect data to reinforce that answer. We select only the things we want to hear, or only the talking points we want to pitch. Incuriosity is one of the prime enemies of data-driven public relations.

If you’ve already got a conclusion in mind, a pitch angle you’ve settled on, or a pre-ordained answer for the question you’re developing, you are incurious. You are not doing data-driven public relations, because you have already made a decision without data.

For example, in our question above, suppose we worded it this way instead?

What do customers like about the taste of espresso?

This question presumes that customers like the taste of espresso. This is an incurious question, and is therefore invalid in data-driven public relations.

The simplest way to determine whether you’ve built an incurious question is to ask yourself whether you’re already leaning towards an answer or not. If you are, stop and determine what a truly curious, open question would be.

Next: Defining Variables

Now that we’ve got an understanding of how to ask great questions, in the next post we’ll tackle defining the variables in our data collection process.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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Posted on November 14, 2016 in Data, Data-Driven PR, Public Relations

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change.

Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim.

He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast.

Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.

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