Are PR and Marketing Entering the Moneyball II Era?

MBFor the general sports fan, statistics and data have been making their way into the mainstream for some time, similar to how online has brought measurement to marketing in a new way over the past 5+ years.  And like sports, marketing is now going through a tremendous shift that feels momentous, the way Moneyball and its ilk were to sports.  (Although I don’t know if we’ll see the Google Analytics movie anytime soon…)

Recently there was a debate going on in the media, between known provocateur/ex NBA star Charles Barkley and GM of the Houston Rockets/Sloan Conference favorite Daryl Morley, about the value of analytics.  Taking out the surface level arguments (paraphrasing: statistics are crucial vs. a bunch of malarkey), as Brian Curtis at Grantland so well illustrates, it’s really about the changing nature of jobs and who gets to call the shots.

The Barkley/Morley argument isn’t really about if statistics are useful:  points per game, rebounds and the like were prevalent throughout Barkley’s career and benefited him.  In fact, being an “undersized” big man and putting up the numbers he did was a huge part of Barkley’s case as an all-time great.  As Curtis notes, the argument is really about the measurements that support the status quo and the emerging data sets, driven by up and coming analysts, that is fundamentally changing the conversation around sports and what performance quality means.

Let’s parallel that to PR and marketing.

We always counted clips, circulation and even UVMs – let’s call this pre-Moneyball/Sloan Conference/Pro Football Outsiders statistics.  In sports, there were parallels such as batting average and RBIs in baseball, saves in hockey, rebounds in basketball, etc.  Then we entered the Moneyball/Sloan era, with PER (player efficiency rating) and WAR (wins above replacement) taking the stage, similar to how we started to measure social engagement, multi-funnel traffic patterns, etc.  This shift made the sports establishment very nervous, especially with the rise of the statistical-based general manager.  Similarly, old school CMOs started to get nervous when the CRM/marketing automation/social crowd started to bring more data into the mix and invalidate things like mass advertising campaigns as essential.

Now we’re entering what Curtis coined the Moneyball II era, where even established new-age metrics are being pushed to the envelop to determine causality.  Can the Atlanta Hawks win in the playoffs with no “true” center, even if they’ve maximized spacing and efficiency through analytics?  How did the Kansas City Royals make it to the World Series with an inverted steals/speed/swing model that defied analytical rigor in many ways?

There is a similar push coming to marketing and PR in the not too distant future.  We’re on the cusp of acknowledging that things like social audience engagement are no longer enough.  We’ll need to take the next step – what was the correlated impact on sales?  What does our content mix performance mean for client retention and license renewals?  How are marketing programs effecting R&D projects, both in saved cycles and product innovation – and what was the bottom line impact of the road not taken from those decisions?

As we enter this brave new world of next-gen marketing analytics, it will be even more important for marketing and PR pros to not only understand leading statistics, but be able to find the seams in the data, follow data sets to causality and truly become more strategic in the application of the tools and data we have available.

Derek Lyons
Vice President, Technology Business Development East Coast

Photo Credit: IMDB


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