PRTech Is Evolving. Is Your PR Strategy?

sharamheadshotIn a recent post, I suggested leveraging Nielsen’s research in order to create data-driven marketing and communications plans. That’s the front-end work every successful campaign entails, but the data cycle doesn’t end there.

Equally as important is analyzing campaign data after it has run its course so that those findings can inform future work i.e., once you’ve garnered media hits, it’s then time to uncover the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the work.

How much of an impact did that feature story in Business Insider make on your business?

Did it drive traffic, engagement, or sales?

This is the challenge my friends at AirPR are solving, one data dashboard at a time. Those guys preach “data-driven PR” so that PR professionals and brand marketers get smarter about how and what they measure when a campaign comes to a close.

I sat down with AirPR Co-founder and CEO Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer to talk shop, now that he and his team have officially announced their Series B funding. This excites me not because they’re awesome and deserve it (though both are true!), but because it means PRTech is getting stronger and what it’s enabling means even happier clients.

Deirdre Breakenridge: A few years ago, your team coined the term “PRTech” and championed the development of its ecosystem. How has the space changed since then?

Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer: Initially, we started referring to “PRTech” because there wasn’t yet a way to bucket what we do. The term started taking off in 2014 when one of our investors, Bryan Stolle, wrote about it in VentureBeat. It’s become accepted terminology for PR-focused, tech-enabled companies since.

The PRTech ecosystem only included a small swarm of companies when we first started AirPR, and now it spans more than 80, including things like corporate newsroom publishing platforms (Pressvine), visual storytelling tools (Canva), and measurement and analytics tools (what we do).

But to answer your question about how the industry has changed since then, I’d say that PR professionals are finally getting the street cred’ they deserve because they’re now able to show quantitative data when reporting, instead of just qualitative. Plus, now there’s a greater understanding of vanity metrics and their irrelevance compared to more value-rich success metrics like share of voice as compared to power of voice, and so forth. Did I answer your question, or walk you down a rabbit hole?

DB: You answered! And I’m glad you mentioned vanity metrics because PRTech is enabling the antithesis of that, which brings me to my next question. Is PRTech finally in the same ballgame as MarTech or AdTech? Is it all one in the same now that marketing and PR are more interwoven?

SFM: Yes, exactly. The fact that marketers and advertisers have long been able to prove their work’s value with heavy-hitting quantitative data, metrics such as direct sales, means that it’s been somewhat easier for them to get a seat at the decision-making table.

The emergence of PRTech and the tools that make up that ecosystem are allowing us to show that public relations also drives sales and other key performance indicators, like marketing and advertising departments have been able to show for a decade.

Five years ago, if you were written about in Fortune, a PR person could explain the benefits of landing that piece by way of readership, impressions, etc. (vanity metrics), but there wasn’t yet a way to show the real impact that piece was having on the business.

More often than not, whether PR was considered valuable at an organization was dependent upon if the CMO or CEO “believed in” PR or not. It was subjective. Turning PR into a measurable science means there is no longer room for personal preference. You can’t argue with the data.

DB: One of your team members wrote about “PR data bias” recently. What is it?

SFM: One of our PR Engineers, Kelly Byrd, wrote about PR data bias, which is essentially the unconscious bias that happens when we view data that does not support what we suspect to be true. For instance, if you work like a horse to land a write-up about your company’s latest product in a major tech publication, but when you view the data about that piece, you see that it didn’t really have a big impact on your business in terms of pushing leads your way, driving traffic or sales, etc. Because of the credibility of that tech publication, you may not accept that data as true.

It’s a little trick we play on ourselves when we want to believe the work we’ve done was worth it. It’s just something for PR professionals to be aware of if they find themselves convincing themselves that the numbers don’t necessarily reflect a fail.

At the same time, the fact that you’ve found out that a publication didn’t really move the needle for you is just as valuable to know as if the article actually contributed towards your goals. Maybe the next time you pitch an exclusive about a new product, you’ll pitch a different publication. There’s value in PR data even if you’re not seeing the numbers you’d hoped for.

DB: What do executive leaders need to understand about the future of PR if they are going to succeed?

SFM: With the proliferation of content marketing (and the publishing and analysis tools that support it), owned media channels have become as important of a PR instrument as traditional media. Comprehensive, data-driven PR and communications strategy must take into account all avenues of consumption, meaning the stories they are telling, the stories reporters are telling, and how all of those stories are being received by the public. Measuring the effectiveness of all of those different channels in conjugation is where you’ll find the data gold.