5 Principles for Using Data to Communicate to Senior Leadership

Credit: istockphoto.com/wutwhanfoto
Credit: istockphoto.com/wutwhanfoto

Proving ROI lies at the heart of any communication budget. All communicators know this, but too many overlook how to communicate results based on clear data that leadership across the organization can understand. Using data to show—not just tell—executives how your communication strategy impacts the overall bottom line is increasingly important.

As PR has evolved, we now have the ability to measure our efforts like never before. The good news is it’s easier than ever to clearly demonstrate the actual impact and business value of your company’s communications. The other good news is this shines the spotlight on the communication professional, allowing them to fully show their importance to an organization.

So, how can you rise to the top in clearly communicating your impact to senior leadership? We see the following five fundamental principles demonstrated time and again by successful PR leaders.

1. Establish KPIs and stick to them

The first step to be able to effectively communicate results to the leadership of your organization is to develop—and stick to—a consistent framework built around the KPIs critical to your business. Tie your reporting to company goals and initiatives.

What are those KPIs? The metrics you choose will vary depending on the nature of your business, but think about how you can quantify your efforts and your results. That includes metrics on both your outreach and your coverage.

Use metrics to show attribution for specific coverage; track which articles send the most traffic back to your site, and how that traffic performs. How many sales opportunities were created and won as a direct result of your coverage? Include reporting on impact on SEO results, growth in organic web traffic, and social amplification. And be sure to report on the quality of your coverage—that includes tonality and sentiment, the content in social shares, and the size and relevance of the audience.

SEGA Europe regularly reports on web traffic driven by their earned media, and bases decisions on future outreach based on the impact of their previous coverage. In addition, by regularly reporting on this metric, they’ve been able to demonstrate to leadership that a third of all website visits are driven by earned media, helping justify the company’s investment in PR.

If you’re working on internal communication, these same rules apply. If your company’s goal is to improve employee morale and connectedness, you can operationalize this through employee surveys and participation in company initiatives. Track how these are changing over time, and tie them to specific internal communication efforts.

2. Benchmarks maketh the marketer

Be sure to include benchmarks in your reporting, against both your past performance as well as benchmarks in your industry. Context is important to help your audience understand the full impact of your results. To make your reporting easily digestible, include visual guides like trendlines, and clearly call out the percentage changes from last month or last year for quick comparisons.

Any benchmark is better than no benchmark at all, so start with what you’ve got and build from there. Even if you only have a little data to start with, or your share is smaller than your competitor’s, that’s fine to start. Focus on growth and engagement rates, and show how you’re improving or are benchmarking for your company type. The key is to trust your own data and how it evolves over time, not some generic advice of what “successful brands” do.

And don’t get complacent if you’re consistently performing well for measures like share of voice. The automotive industry landscape has changed radically over the past few decades. One of the strongest automotive brands in earned and social media is Tesla, a car company that didn’t even exist two decades ago. Without the historical context of benchmark data, it was difficult for some car companies to compete with this new brand. Don’t let that happen to you.

3. You’re only as good as your tools

Enlist the power of technology to help you. A recent PR News poll cited measurement as the area communicators need the most help with. The right tech platforms can help in many ways by providing comprehensive, accurate, and real-time measurement of your efforts. And they can save you hours of manual effort entering numbers into spreadsheets and generating bespoke visualizations every time you create a new report. All of your activities and coverage are digital now, so a technology solution will simplify your reporting needs.

The technology you choose will vary depending on your organization’s needs, and as communication tech has grown more sophisticated, there are many factors to consider. To help inform your decision, start from the framework you’ve developed and find a product that can help you measure the KPIs most important to your organization.

4. Silos are dead. Align with the organization

Use your reporting to demonstrate organizational alignment and show how your efforts impact the rest of the organization. You need to connect what you’re doing to the larger organization by showing the impact of your work on common goals across the executive suite.

If you’re helping drive leads to the sales team, quantify the number and quality of those leads in your reporting. Find ways to report on how you’re contributing to customer retention, employee satisfaction, recruiting, investor relations and so much more. Show this with data.

Recently, Nike took what looked on its face like a bold political stance when it featured former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in a campaign. However, Nike’s PR team knew—and clearly demonstrated with data to their leadership—that the impact would be more positive than negative. In fact, Nike stock hit an all-time high soon after the campaign debuted.

5. Remember, you’re a storyteller

If you work in communication, you are first and foremost a storyteller. Every day, you craft stories for reporters, your blog, your company newsletter, and so much more. Reporting on your results should be no different; you’re telling a story using data to illustrate your points. Edelman advises clients to “be the bridge between data and the story it tells.”

So, tell a compelling story. Lead with the headline; like any strong article, your findings need to communicate the main takeaway first. After all, as a good copywriter knows, most people skim the headline and move on. This is as true with data as it is in the press, so don’t bury the lede! Find ways to compartmentalize findings into easily digestible, engaging pieces. Use attractive graphs and clear numerical tables. Make it as easy as you can for busy executives to quickly understand what you’re trying to show.

By applying these fundamental principles to your reporting, you can actively build an appreciation for communication’s impact across your leadership team. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are budgets. Start building your case today. 

Chris Hackney

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