Big Data – Are You Ready?

Corporate success is measured in terms of growth.  Our clients, no matter what sector they operate in, know that in this fragile economy, growth can edge them ahead of their competition.  The question for CEOs is how to generate growth?  Attractive mergers and acquisitions targets are scarce, the rapid globalisation of the last twenty years has reduced the number of untapped geographic opportunities and funding is hard to find. The answer may well be found in a company’s current customer base.

With the rise of digitization companies now have vast amounts of information on their customers at their disposal.  Companies in industries as diverse as healthcare, telecommunications, financial services and retail, have already amassed terabytes of information about their customers.  The era of Big Data is upon us but it is not enough to have all of this information locked away in a virtual safe in a data-centre in an undisclosed location.  The opportunity that Big Data presents is the access to a treasure trove of important customer information. It presents a new and smarter way to communicate to customers.

Many large companies have already responded to the data driven revolution.  Walmart recently spent almost €300 million on the acquisition Kosmix, a California-based social media firm best known for its social media platforms which filter online conversations. Walmart believes this will help them better link data back to individual needs.  Hewlitt Packard cartridges, recently launched, a digital-fuelled content platform that has helped increase their targeted consumer engagement, awareness and in turn sales numbers.

For the communications professional one of the guiding principles for any campaign is to ‘know your audience’.  Traditionally the public relations profession has lagged behind marketing and advertising in its reliance on independent research to support the activities and goals of a campaign.  It was a commonly held belief within the industry that the ‘gut instinct’ of the PR advisor was better than the views of 10 randomly selected people in a focus group or a national survey of 100 people.  In addition traditional research was also too slow and expensive to justify its use for a small or reactive campaign.

Big Data and its analytics offer the PR industry the opportunity to take the lead amongst communications professionals.  Data driven insights, that are today available to virtually any company with a large customer base, can become the new power in the information game.  PR has always and will remain the owners of content and Big Data can present more content than a PR advisor can ever have dreamed of.  Not only is the data accessible, it can spot trends, meet evolving needs, help in the creation of new products and most of all inform the communications of an organization.  It can turn a company into a truly ‘customer-centric’ entity. It can help a company discover the right formula for growth.

Public Relations can offer organisations valuable insights into how to tell the story of their data.  Technology is driving society forward and Big Data has provided us more raw data to understand our society.  Communication is about connection and the ability to better understand the needs and values of the customer can help us to better communicate with them.

The increased fortunes of television due to the exponential rise of social media can offer us a simple insight into how this Big Data revolution is changing our world.  Television used to be seen as a solitary activity; people would come home from work and sit in front of the ‘boob-tube’ and escape the world.  Before social media this was the case.  Now shows like X-Factor and major sporting occasions like the Super Bowl have positioned television and the centre of vast, geographically disparate communities, all connecting on a deeper level than many other social occasions.  Programmers and brands have instant access to the reactions of their customers or viewers to story lines, advertisements and product placements.  This is instant, personalized, geo-located feedback.  A nimble organisation reacts instantaneously to this feedback.

The Public Relations profession must be ready to take advantage of this data driven world and offer solutions to our clients to manage their Big Data.  As an industry we must offer our clients an adaptable, insightful and measured approach all the while ensuring that the security of customer information is paramount.  Analytics is a core part of the capabilities Fleishman-Hillard can bring to our clients.  Helping our clients explore, analyze and measure the communications potential of their data is fundamental to what we offer as a communications partner. Big Data is transforming the public relations profession and Fleishman-Hillard is changing with it.