Any good communications professional – whether in-house or agency kid through and through – will want to work on a story based on data-driven insights. While on the surface, this approach seems like an effortless way to conjure a credible story, those who have spent their entire lives working with data will tell you a different story – that it’s never as easy as it seems.
But fear not! Here’s a guide on how to started on your next data-driven story and drive the results you need:
HAVE A CLEAR IDEA OF THE END RESULT
From PR agencies to in-house communication managers to data scientists and analysts, data-driven stories usually involve multiple parties. As a result, it’s not uncommon to hear various forms of this frustrating yet classic exchange:
“Could you share your available data with us?”
“We have a lot of data. What kind of data do you want and how do you intend to use it?”
“We can’t answer that question until we see the data.”
“But how will you know what’s going to be relevant unless you tell us what data you require?”
Ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
As communication professionals, the onus lies on us to end this conversational stand-off. Remember that while the data gatekeepers are usually specialists in data analysis, they may not know what goes into creating a data-centric story. Thus, it it always the responsibility of the communication professional to figure out what they’re trying to achieve.
Provide the data specialist with a detailed overview of what the brand wants to communicate, while giving them adequate flexibility to propose the kind of data would best fit the narrative.
For instance, if a food-delivery company wanted to write a story on how their service is beneficial to F&B vendors, then a communication professional would need to provide the data specialists with a brief including details on the general overview of the story, the kind of information would interest media professionals and F&B vendors, and anything else which would contribute to a well-rounded perspective.
DATA QUALITY AND VARIETY
What makes a good data-driven story? It’s the value delivered by the data, to the target audience. Marketing collaterals catering to a specific demographic will find this relatively straight-forward – but content that also acts as a media pitch needs to also be relevant to the target publications.
It sounds like common sense, but it’s very easy to get stuck using data that is entirely self-serving or doesn’t provide any valuable insights. For example, there was a report which found that “companies that performed better in marketing metrics were more successful”. That’s akin to saying that athletes who run faster win more medals. Duh. Make sure your insights are impactful enough to provide new information and potentially affect business decisions.
Let’s come back to our example of a food-delivery company – instead of talking about average delivery times, let’s talk about other variables such as peak ordering times, popular cuisines, or frequently-ordered foods. Vendors could use these data points to not only improve their operations, but also court significant media interest.
The next thing to consider is the variety of data available. While strong statistics always make for eye-catching media headlines, and will get you the readership you desire (for instance: over 50% of all office workers in the CBD area use food delivery services for lunch), a compelling data-driven story goes beyond this.
Start out your story with the key statistic, and gradually add layers and nuance to it. In the example about food, add more depth by talking about popular cuisines, and the reasons for their popularity (price, convenience, availability). Alternately, you could also examine the same statistic but from a different angle (percentage of people ordering food in suburban areas, but at dinner time).
Lastly and mostly importantly – the viability of the data must be considered. This may be a little tricky, as different industries and publications have their own rules as to what is considered “viable” data, but the bigger the data sample, the better. Also note that if you want to generate demographic insights, ensure that your respondent pool is large enough.
COMMUNICATE AND COLLABORATE WITH YOUR DATA GATEKEEPERS
Once you have a solid brief, it’s time to get to work with your data specialists. Armed with a definitive and concrete end-goal in mind, these professionals can then advise you about the type of data which works best for the story. Thus, you must be flexible to alternative storylines or angles, and pivot your perspective if needed.
Working with data which goes against the chosen narrative is another common stumbling block at this stage. In our food delivery example, the data may show that overall deliveries are on the decline – but all is not lost. The communications and data teams need to investigate a little deeper to see if there’s an angle which aligns with the narrative of the overall story, while still providing the value to the target consumer. Perhaps the drop in deliveries could be attributed to the fact that people are looking for healthier options, or they prefer to order and collect their food.
Lead the piece with a “controversial” statistic before eventually circling back to your original or planned narrative. However, do note that data can only be stretched so far, and if it only points to negative things, it’s best to not comment on it altogether.
There are always a myriad of factors influencing a data-centric story, but starting off with a clear objective, while being flexible enough to adapt the story according to where the data leads, is how communicators can generate relevant and impactful data-driven stories.
Can’t seem to “talk” to data specialists for a story where data is the hero? We can help: firstname.lastname@example.org