At SHIFT, our approach is to apply equal parts art and science to build integrated programs that help brands connect with the people that matter most. We apply data and analytics to engineer the who, what, when, where and how behind programs. We harness creativity and expertise to craft compelling narratives, produce breakthrough campaigns and tell stories that connect on a personal level. Then we use technology to get them in front of the people that matter most.

What does data-driven communications mean? What does it look like in action?

First and foremost, it means to make informed decisions based on data and research. Many PR and communications practitioners rely on intuition, experience, or informal qualitative practices to make decisions. While there’s nothing wrong with intuition or experience, they are not the foundations of strategic PR and communications program. Insight is.

What it means to be data-driven

Let’s examine a literal data-driven experience: driving using your smartphone’s maps application.


The process is straightforward:

  • Decide on a destination.
  • Input the destination.
  • Allow the app and the supercomputers powering it to calculate possible routes, accounting for traffic and obstructions.
  • Follow the directions and drive to the destination.

This is what it means to be data-driven. Data guides our decisions. We trust that mapping software and the supercomputers behind it have better data, more accurate data, and fresher data than we have. We use data to guide our decisions about how to get to our destination in the most efficient, effective manner.

Why must public relations be data-driven?

What’s wrong with intuition and instinct? What’s so bad about crafting our narratives, media pitches, social media posts and content just from experience? Two factors work against doing things the way we’ve always done them.

First, we face content shock at scales never before seen, with almost 200,000 news stories per day and over a thousand press releases a day flooding the media ecosystem. Unless the stories and pitches we craft are wildly compelling, we will not rise above the noise. Data-driven communications often unearths new insights and story hooks that transform a good story into a great one. It’s harder today to craft fresh, unique, frequent content without data than it is with data.

Second, while it seems like we currently live in a post-factual world in which anything goes and no one fact-checks anything, we are seeing the rise of automated fact-checking. Google has begun to validate news stories using machine learning tools. While Google indicated only part of the algorithm it uses to do so, it’s not unreasonable to assume that its machine learning tools interpret content for signals of veracity in addition to provided schema.

Providing abundant, high-quality data within our stories should help those algorithms recognize and reward our work. It would be equally unsurprising to see Facebook and other content distributors do the same. By focusing on data-driven stories now, we plan for the future.

Who can be a data-driven PR professional?

Any PR professional can become a data-driven PR professional. Being data-driven doesn’t mean becoming a data scientist, statistician, or computer science professional. It doesn’t mean abandoning the profession of public relations or communications.

Anyone can be a data-driven PR professional as long as they are curious, inquisitive and persistent. The traits that make up the citizen analyst are equally applicable to the data-driven PR professional: curiosity, integrity, boldness, honesty, persistence and humility. If these already describe you, then you only need to learn a framework and a few tools.

What a data-driven PR program looks like

A data-driven PR program uses the scientific method to create results:

  • Question
  • Define
  • Formulate
  • Test
  • Gather
  • Refine
  • Pitch

In this series, we’ll examine each of these steps in the data-driven PR process and how you can implement data-driven PR practices in your own organization.

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