Public Affairs is in a revolution where data and data science are forging new tools and insights into impact and influence.
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” – John Wanamaker (1838-1922)
Public affairs and strategic communication are going through a radical shift as agencies adopt data science tools to assist in building messages, identifying audiences, evaluating channels and ultimately discovering and uncovering insights in the opportunities and limits of influence. While traditional practices of access, coalitions and third-party validators remain useful tools, public affairs agencies are able to demonstrate impact through metrics-based analysis and measurement tools. Those that adopt data-smart practices will increasingly win clients who are looking for the most cost-effective, smart and efficient pathways to moving their agendas.
Our goal is to use all of the signals – from digital assets to human interactions – to provide a real-time monitoring of the status and effectiveness of outreach to aid in making better decisions on audience targeting, message penetration and engagement with key decisionmakers.
A View on the Campaign
The first step is to identify a clear stakeholder map that accounts for all key decisionmakers. Most can be identified by experienced public affairs professionals, but data science can augment their knowledge. Network analysis can reveal obscure connections and look for strong and weak ties between the known target audience and key influencers. This includes links between past schoolmates or work colleagues, experts that journalists rely upon, and patterns of donations between companies to elected officials to identify new audience segments and suggest engagement tactics.
In any campaign, as messages move out through face-to-face interactions, events, earned and paid media, they send back signals that can be collected, processed, and visualized to provide data insights to campaign managers and clients.
Data as the Next Frontier
The challenge is that most campaigns silo their data. The digital ads collect impressions and click-thru rates. Website visits are recorded. Email are sent and measured for open rates. And in-person interactions are noted for clients. However, the full picture of a campaign is the sum of all the reactions, interactions and engagement that allow for campaigns to assess impact and influence.
Bringing all of this data together – from digital signals to human reports – is the key to creating a ‘modern public affairs’ campaign. While there are services that attempt to combine data streams, they notably fall short in two key areas. The first is that these platforms are usually built for mainstream marketing, rather than the quirky diverse channels of public affairs. The second is attribution and understanding of the audience as they interact across all the channels of the campaign: email, events, digital ads, in-person interactions, video and audio content, websites and digital properties.
The next generation of public affairs campaigns are beginning to include technologists and data scientists into their teams to capture and analyze data from all the campaign signals. This means building bridges to siphon and mix data from different platforms, such as digital ad exchanges, email, event management, CRMs, plus external databases on donations, voting patterns and transcripts of speeches and public comments.
Essential to this strategy is utilizing smart attribution to allow managers to track and analyze the behavior of audience targets across the campaign. It requires additional work, but building and managing a library of trackers, such as UTM codes, tracking pixels and IP tracking protocols is extremely valuable in separating the behavior and engagement of decisionmakers and stakeholders from a broader audience.
Monitoring Impact in Real-Time
Bringing it all together is the internal and client-facing dashboards and visualizations that allow managers and clients to understand the progress and impact of the campaign. It is a real-time view of the engagement of audience segments, the engagement performance per message and per channel. A smart dashboard allows analysts to zero in on performance of messages by micro-segments (i.e. regulators vs. legislative staff) and document message performance by reach, engagement, effectiveness on action and return on investment, such as average cost per engagement.
The collection of data on audience behavior, interactions with messages and the resulting engagement form a rich database for a campaign manager to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of the campaign. Using data science, we can create confidence scores on the effectiveness of the message in reaching and engaging the intended audience. With enough data, a campaign can develop deeper insights of audience alignment with client issues and provide documentation of changes in opinion or perspectives.
By combining data science with business intelligence a data-rich campaign allows managers to monitor the campaign and form conclusions on where and how to direct resources and to tune the campaign, showing what has been effective in driving engagement and what has been less so. The client and campaign manager can work together to adjust strategy and actions along the way guiding the campaign to effectively engage the whole of the target audience
The Revolution is Here
The Public Affairs industry is in a revolution where data and data science are forging new tools and insights into how influence is generated, grown, and maintained. These tools and approaches give agencies and lobbyists an edge over the competitors and give clients higher levels of trust and confidence that precious resources are well-spent. The practice of public affairs is still embracing the role of data science in its campaigns and the importance of technologists, analysts, and data scientists on its core teams. This does not discount the role of strategies and tactics that have proven successful, rather the revolution rewards those agencies that recognize the changes and evolve quickest. As we know to the fleetest goes the race, and the starting gun is already echoing across the field.