Elise Mitchell Interview

The smart use of data in PR is an imperative for communications professionals today. With the growing access to data and the proliferation of tools to analyze, measure, and report results, you could argue that data is everything.

That was certainly one drumbeat heard at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival. Many of the presentations, award entries and vendor exhibits focused on the power of data to drive the creative process.

Then again, without the right people who know how to sift through data, synthesize it, draw insights from it, develop a communications strategy based on it, and monitor it to know when something’s working or not, data does you no good.

While I was in Cannes this week, I had the opportunity to visit with Karen van Bergen, CEO of Omnicom PR Group. Karen was last year’s PR Lions jury chair. She is a long-time friend of mine in the industry and a fellow global leader.

We discussed data in PR, talent, trends in influencer marketing and the value of a purpose-driven business strategy among other things during our time together. I invite you to watch our interview. Here are a few highlights:

Data + talent

Karen’s comment “data is everything” underscores the sense of urgency many leaders feel. But she quickly qualified it by saying data in PR is only as useful as the sense you make of it.  “Data sharpens your insights into audience behaviors, allows you to measure performance during campaigns, and most importantly, enables you to measure your impact on the business, which is crucial for earning bigger budgets,” she said.

But it’s not just the data you need.  It’s also having the right people on your team who know how to unlock the power of data.

A better way to think of it is: data plus talent yields exceptional results.  Despite the growing use of AI in the workplace, our industry still relies on outstanding people who can work together to drive the entire communications process – from intelligence to insights, strategy, creativity, implementation and measurement.

The challenge comes in attracting, keeping and developing the best talent to help us continue growing and evolving the public relations industry. Not just in data analytics, but in many other crucial areas as well.

Changing talent needs

Finding the right talent is hard, Karen added, and it’s a competitive hiring environment.  Public relations can compete for great talent, however, in many ways. “We offer an interesting culture filled with energy and strategy — and it’s never a dull moment,” she said.

Increasingly agencies are looking to fill specialized positions. “Specialists are the future,” said Karen. Agencies are hiring employees who are skilled strategic planners, creative directors, reputation managers, and purpose strategists.

Most importantly, agencies are looking to hire and promote talent that can earn the confidence of clients. “We must be trusted advisors to our clients,” she said, “interested in the business, with a grip on the numbers and clear about what makes/breaks a company.”

At Mitchell, we have always considered ourselves business counselors with communications expertise, which means we must bring strong business acumen, curiosity and courage to take some creative risks.  The right mix of skills, expertise and gut instinct is what draws clients. Putting together teams that can deliver this combination is crucial to an agency’s success.

Public relations is also drawing more employees from diverse backgrounds such as law and psychology. Diverse perspectives ensure our ideas are relevant and resonate with audiences.

New ways to leverage influencer marketing

Last year, one of the hottest topic in marketing was ad fraud, aka domain spoofing.  Similarly, the PR industry faces the challenge of “follower fraud” – influencers with fake followers. The New York Times covered the issue in January.

Karen and I discussed the need for public relations professionals to verify the influencers they work with. Agencies in particular must stay close enough to the influencers they work with to see who is moving in/out of areas of expertise since change happens constantly, Karen added.

Mitchell’s SVP of Digital Strategy, Ann Newland, had an insightful post on the issue a few months before the Times article appeared. Ann shares the warning signs of influencers who artificially inflate their reach with bots.

Influence is still powerful. A vast majority of consumers are heavily influenced by what their friends post on social media. Influencer marketing gives brands:

  • Engagement beyond impressions
  • More usable content that can be repurposed through multiple owned channels
  • Authenticity through co-created content that resonates more readily with consumers
  • Visibility because ad blockers don’t block influencer-generated content.

An excellent approach to combating follower fraud and building greater trust and credibility for clients is micro-influencers – influencer with a smaller following (1,000 – 10,000), often more affordable, their content can go deeper on meaningful cultural touchpoints than big-name celebrities, and may be seen as more authentic and relatable.